Mount Shasta, California, Memorial Day, May 28, 2007: My cat Percy was found in the Mendocino countryside by a short-term roommate when I lived n Mill Valley. The roommate was moving and I asked to keep the kitten.
“Sure,” said the roommate.
There we lived with Morgan, my durn ol kitty, who liked the kitten, and taught him such cat wisdom as she could. Then we moved and became trailer trash in San Rafael. Percy the kitten grew quickly into a long-legged male with yellow eyes, and a short gray coat. Together they roamed the trailer park. There Percy discovered a vile enemy. Black cat.
Black cat, and Percy had many rumbles. It was a scandal.
At the end of the day, as the sun sunk slowly over Toys ‘R Us, I’d step from the trailer and whistle loudly twice. From somewhere up the way would come wandering Morgan and Percy, tired from the day’s toil, and ready for supper.
And then we moved to San Anselmo.
We’d been invited to live with Adrienne and the dog Tulip. Morgan and Percy spent three days locked in the bathroom while Tulip went ballistic outside the door. And when Tulip became used to them living in the bathroom we introduced them all around, and as expected they became fast friends. Tulip and Percy invented a complicated and fun game which involved who could get their paws around the rungs of a chair. This game made Tulip smile.
We weren’t sure how trailer-trash cats would fare in this more upscale neighborhood, but you’d never know their origins from their behavior, as if they’d always been ritzy cats.
And then in his travels around the neighborhood, Percy discovered an evil enemy. Orange cat.
There were fabled rumbles. It was a scandal.
When the sounds of battle arose, Tulip leaped up as if electrified and ran out the door, followed swiftly by myself. There, in the distance of the drive way, the two battling cats froze, as Orange cat stared in growing horror at Tulip bearing down the driveway, and at myself on the deck.
(I waved my arms and gibbered like a wild ape and made loud growling threats, you see.)
Flying away into the underbrush, Orange cat beat a hasty retreat.
Percy, his tail much larger than usual, stormed grouchily into the house. We told him that he was whipping Orange cat’s butt, though sometimes that wasn’t totally clear.
So we lived, and then in time packed a household into the Big Yellow Truck, and Percy into his cat carrier, and moved to Mount Shasta. He complained all the way. Morgan had left us in San Anselmo, so she couldn’t make the ride.
Percy and Tulip enjoyed the yard, and Percy discovered that the railing and the apple tree led to the roof, and like a pirate of old, he kept a weather eye on the neighborhood.
It was not long, wandering the neighborhood, before Percy discovered an dreadful enemy. Striped cat.
There were wild rumbles. It was a scandal.
He’s been happy in Mount Shasta. He likes the weather, except for the snow, which he blames on me, and he likes the water. He likes watching the birds. He leaps the gate to the fence, and comes and goes, and in the twilight can usually be found on the front porch steps, watching passers-by. When he’s not there, I whistle loudly twice, and then call his special call.
This is his name with a loud gargle in the middle, and then “What you doin, boy?” These sound wacky, and perplex the neighbors no doubt. However, the sound carries, and he comes trotting from whatever errand he had in the vacant lot woods behind George Brown’s house.
In the night, he likes to slip into my room where he snores on my chest until I fall asleep, and then, offended when I begin my own snoring, he scratched at the door so I have to wake up and let him out.
Then he goes to Adrienne’s room, and entertains her during the night.
However, no more.
Today, he appeared to have some sort of intestinal blockage, as he’s had before. He’s fifteen, which is getting on for a male cat. I found a vet willing to help us on this holiday, and so I bagged him up the carrier, and assured him that he’d be right as rain soon.
But the vet had other news. Serious and bad news. It was something else. Percy was very lethargic. In my way I asked him if he could get well. He said no.
I stayed with him while the deadly injection made its way to slow and still his breathing. Tough fellow, his heart beat on, and grew weaker. I stroked his face the way he likes, and told him how grateful I’ve been for his staying with me all these years. I reminded him of our many adventures. And finally he was gone.
The world is a smaller place without him. Percy was his name. A great warrior. My good buddy.
Medford, Oregon, March 28, 2017: A friend on Facebook was wailing about expressing her feelings, and the resulting reactions from others that didn’t go well. And it took me back, to remember …
I don’t remember where or when, or what had just happened, but I recall the exact moment, so many years ago, that I had a brainstorm, and I realized that I didn’t need to share every thought I had, every view, every observation, every opinion.
I realized that everyone else around me was busy living their own lives, and that at any given moment they had their own battles (sometimes bigger than mine, and certainly bigger to them). So there were good times for me to share my views, and (lots of times) to not share my views at all.
And I felt — But I gotta express myself! — and then realized that no, actually, I didn’t gotta, and sometimes it would be self-destructive for me to do so, or damaging or hurtful to others around me, in spite of my powerful urge to do so.
Well, my life didn’t change over night, but over years, it did.
And now I sometimes share “who I am” and sometimes I don’t. Because, really, you are who you are, but what you do — talk, express yourself, remain silent, wave your arms, sit quietly — these are just behaviors.
Who you are is an eternal truth, and only evolves over time as you learn and grow. But mere behaviors? They are within your control, to select (or not) in each moment to advance your survival, and the survival of those around you.
That’s my two cents. Maybe it might be a useful viewpoint to explore.
Or maybe not.
North Texas State University, Denton Tex 1965as, Fall: Just north of town was a super-secret Nike missile launching facility, and nobody was supposed to know about it. Here’s a picture of it —
The road at the top of the picture is “Locust Street,” or as locals called it “Missile Base Road.” Because how could you not know? I knew, and I was just an undergraduate.
You see, an engineer was brought in because it turns out that the missile pad was actually just a tiny bit too low for proper launching so as to wipe out some foreign city far away. And this guy needed to figure out how to raise is very slightly.
He stayed at the Holiday Inn, where I worked the night shift, and that’s how I know. After all, it was a secret but he told me because I was a trusted motel employee, right?
Then, a couple of days later, he came in to check out, with a huge bag of nickels. They were left-over nickels he explained. He was real happy. Turns out that the thickness of a nickel was exactly the amount they needed to raise the floor.
So he’d gone down to the bank downtown on the square, [Read more…]
1308 1/2 W. Hickory Street, Denton Texas, Spring, 1963: The movie ‘Hatari’ was unmemorable, but the Henry Mancini song called ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ had been on the radio for weeks and weeks and weeks.
That warm day, an abundance of visitors from the HobNob to my minuscule apartment somehow drove us all to clamber up onto the flat roof. We also had beer. That may have been part of it.
On the front edge of the flat roof, with our feet dangling two stories above Hickory Street, we lined up to tell stories and watch the students and passers-by across the street on the campus.
Michael Murphy had brought his guitar.
You may remember Murphy from later, because in 1975, along with Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, the Carpenters, Doobie Brothers, and Ozark Mountain Daredevils, his pop single was at the top of the charts with lots of airplay across our great nation. His song was about a horse and a blizzard, and some mountains in Nebraska. The song was called ‘Wildfire.’
(Want to hear it? It’s on this musical video from a tv performance.)
That song haunts me still.
Odd, too, because back on that day when we were all sitting along the edge of the roof, Murphy had earlier come busting into the HobNob, grinning and giggling and just beside himself. He’d just sold his first song, for actual money. He’d made $50. That was a *lot* of money.
For a song!
He’d sold his song to the New Christy Minstrels.
Murphy was a handsome kid then, with a square jaw, blonde hair, an engaging smile and a friendly manner. We didn’t know just how good he was. But he was focused. He was going somewhere. And I guess selling an actual song, for actual money, to an actual known group … well, maybe this was something that consoled him, drove him forward, perhaps he heard fate whispering in his ear, ‘You can do this. You can do this. Just keep on.’
But on that day, as was common, he’d brought his guitar, and after he scrambled to the roof, we passed it up to him, and so, sitting on the roof above the street, he played for us, and we sang snippets of popular songs.
The sun was warm, and we had beer and comraderie. I suppose school officials would have been horrified, but nobody noticed us there despite our catcalls and hooting and laughter.
Down below, an ongoing parade of people walking provided more amusement.
Then a very rotund girl came chugging up the sidewalk. It wasn’t that she was fat, though that was unusual in those days. It was something prissy about the way she walked. She was swinging her shoulders as she came, walking all prissy, and moving right along.
From the guitar, suddenly we heard a tune we all knew. Baby Elephant Walk.
We fell apart, laughing.
And that’s how we’ll remember that day, on the edge of the roof above the street, with friends and laughter in the warm sun, and the Baby Elephant Walk.
Dallas, Texas, Spring 1966: The first time Texas got Daylight Savings Time, Paul the Bellman laid down the law!
Yes, folks, early this morning you were supposed to set your clocks ahead — Spring Forward, Fall Back! — and that means I get to tell my Daylight-Savings Time story, about when I was the room clerk at the Cabana Hotel in Dallas.
In one of the last scenes in the fun movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the heroine makes a statement about the leading man. She says, lovingly, “He’s a pirate.”
As you may recall from the movie, that young man started out hating the pirates, and yet, in the course of his adventures, he’s become bolder and he has dared great things, and by golly he has become a pirate. And that’s a good thing.
And so … why is it a good thing to be a pirate?