Along Interstate 80 stood Bambi,
Concentration–at best–namby pamby.
At the wake later, Crow
Paid respects to his bro:
Said, “At least you taste better than spam, B!”
Inspired by The Daily Post 4/14/13: The Satisfaction of a List
We Pennsylvanians have a rather tenuous grasp on weather, that is to say we’re not exactly meteorologically savvy. At daybreak every February 2nd, we gather by the thousands at a knoll in Punxsutawney–warmed by nothing more than beer and stupidity—and wait for a groundhog (also known as a woodchuck, a whistle-pig, or a land beaver) to announce that winter is over. We pass the next six weeks nursing our hangovers, lopping off frostbitten fingers, and cursing the animal for misleading us.
So deeply committed are we to our belief in animals as harbingers of weather events, we continue to do so straight through March. You know that saying if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb? In Pennsylvania, that’s science we can get behind!
This year March came to Pennsylvania roaring like a lion—snow, freezing rain, blustering winds, the whole deal. But even if…
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I am a zookeeper.
A menagerie of my own making lives beneath my skin.
Years have tamed the mustang,
Transformed her into a brood mare
And finally a workhorse.
I am both cougar and kitten.
I am a chameleon,
And such a jackass.
This soul has known puppy love,
Unleashed the hell hounds,
And learned to let sleeping dogs lie.
A big fish in a little pond,
A paper tiger,
But never a wolf in sheep’s clothing,
I am both lamb gentle and mule stubborn.
Finally: a beastly beauty.
At the big home improvement store where I work, there are managers and project specialists and customer service associates. There are cashiers, loaders, and night stockers. But of all my coworkers at the big home improvement store, my favorite is the little sparrow who lives in the rafters.
In most stores, the presence of any animal would be an oddity at least, more likely a disturbance. But because of our store’s size and openness, birds fly in and out at will. They’ve become our unofficial mascots—ad hoc good will ambassadors at whom adult customers smile, and which their children regard with unabashed glee.
What is it about birds that makes us humans feel all homey? Our vocabulary is seasoned with bird-related idioms meant to evoke home and family: A couple just setting up house is said to be nesting, with that first shared home likely referred to as a love nest. Advancing one’s position in life is sometimes called feathering the nest. An expectant woman is on the nest, or on the egg, and when the children are grown, we say they’ve flown the nest. At that point, we nickname their parents empty nesters.
So charmed are we by our winged friends, that many of us openly invite them into our lives— transforming our yards into bird havens by decorating with feeders, baths, and nest-friendly houses. Perhaps you’ve seen that clever commercial in which Mama and Papa Cardinal use their local home improvement store to build the bird house of their dreams. That’s no coincidence.
Still, it’s not the result of advertising that I’m so fond of the store sparrows. It’s the harmonic relationship which has developed between the two; it’s what the birds have come to represent to me: adaptability and survival.
Snugged in the beams above the lumber area cash register is a nest built by a little brown sparrow. I watched as the nest took shape; at first she flew out the loading doors and back in again with twigs gathered from the ground, but soon she was incorporating materials from the store itself. Tufts of insulation were carried up into the beams, along with snippets of twine and other packing materials. The little brown sparrow and her mate made themselves at home in their adopted, block- and- steel meadow. Undaunted by the noise, the clutter, and the close proximity to creatures of a much larger and much different species, they learned to raid the seasonal shop for spilled bird seed and other goodies. And unless I’ve misjudged the signs, they’ve filled their carefully-built nest with a clutch of eggs. How could my heart not be happy at such good news?
Who knows what brought the little brown sparrow into our store weeks ago? It’s a big, wide world out there. But journeys tend to begin and end as they like, and we make our homes wherever that road leads. Sometimes the journey is geographical, with starting and ending points in different physical locations. But for many of us, the journey is an emotional one—or a spiritual one, or one of self-discovery, or of self-improvement. The point of some journeys—so it would seem—is to overcome an obstacle or survive a crisis with perseverance and grace.
Likewise, the home we make might be a three-dimensional structure built of supplies found in the aisles of a home improvement store; yet, home can just as accurately be defined as that state in which a person feels comfortable with his situation, or within his own skin. What a home, sweet home that must be!
I applaud the little brown sparrow: her determination, her creativity, and the moxie with which she hops among employees and customers, shopping for bits and pieces to take back to her nest, are the embodiment of home improvement, both literal and metaphorical. I can only hope to do my job as well as she does hers!
She feels the pull of four heavy horses,
One tethered to each trembling limb.
With great, cup-shaped hooves they paw the dirt
And quivering, await the signal—
The signal to begin her ending.
Still as a photograph, she lies awake
Willing her molecules to cling together
—Please God, just a little while longer—
As she tries to conjure the music
That will calm these wild-eyed, heaving beasts
Threatening to tear her piece by piece,
Straining at twisted harnesses of
Fear, mistrust, anger, and bitter regret.
Already her seams are starting to fray;
Already her edges begin to blur. . .
How did this nightmare come to be
From childhood dreams of sun-dappled afternoons
And pony rides on sleepy, sway-backed roans?
She could swing so high her toes touched the clouds—
But the return to earth is cold and dark as blood.
Steady, she begs her body, steady now
And counts the long moments between each breath
—IN two… three… four; OUT six… seven… eight—
Her eyes are shut tightly against tears,
But her mouth still echoes bile and Prozac.
A few hours more and daylight will come,
Her fists will uncurl, the horses will stand down;
Reduced to nothing more than vapor
And the wish that tonight’s slumber might be
Accompanied not by a dirge, but a lullaby.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, cats are cool. Of course, cat lovers knew this long before our feline friends had the world LOLing with cheezburgerz and invisible sports equipment.
Pop quiz: What’s your favorite cat breed? Stumped? That’s because surveys show that while most people can identify dozens of dog breeds and list their favorites, when asked to name cat breeds those same people respond with an astonished, “Wait. . .cats have breeds?”
honorable mention: the Norwegian Forest
stealing the breath from a baby debacle, cats can be a PR nightmare. Except for the Japanese Bob! He has been a constant figure in Japanese art and folklore, with the tricolor mi-ke considered especially fortuitous. Ever seen one of those quaint “beckoning cat” trinkets at flea markets or in the odd-smelling homes of ancient people? Those suckers are Japanese Bobs, and are guaranteed to bring good luck. And perhaps you’ve heard of a little manga character called Hello Kitty? She’s one
Japanese Bob who’s laughing all the way to the bank. Combine those cultural bullet points with a loquacious personality and the willingness to walk on a leash, and you’ve got a bad ass cat breed which has learned how to work its resources.
honorable mention: the Havana Brown
4. The Bengal
History: A number of cat breeds are rumored to result from Tristan and Isolde-style unions between domestic cats and wild animals; few
actually prove the claim. Consider the Bengal, if you will. In the 1960’s, a California breeder set up a blind date between one of her domestic cats and an Asian Leopard Cat she kept as an exotic pet. The resulting half-wild kittens were the first of what would become known as Bengals. Today’s pet Bengal must be at least four generations removed from the Asian Leopard Cat in its breeding line, but retain that exotic, just-out-of-the-jungle appearance. The Bengal is athletic, opinionated, and vocal. He’s a jumper, a climber, a swimmer, and–when bored–a mischief maker. Put simply, the Bengal is a trip.
Why the Bengal is Bad Ass: Despite that unfortunate business with the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA won’t recognize the Bengal breed because it’s a hybrid), Bengals have become one of the most popular cats worldwide. Celebrity owners include Kevin Bacon, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Anderson, Calvin Klein, and the Sultan of Brunei. Don’t expect to pay chump change for your pet Bengal, though. A low end pet quality Bengal can cost $650, and fine breeders routinely ask more than $1,000. In 1998, a foundation Bengal was sold at auction for an extremely bad ass $40,000–the world’s record for the most expensive cat ever sold!
bald creature must have been, “Ew.” But, being a man, his second response quite naturally was, “Know what would be cool? If I could make that happen again!” So he named the unfortunate, wrinkled kitten Prune and raised him to manhood, at which point poor Prune was encouraged to mate with his own mother, as if looking like a foreskin with eyes weren’t traumatic enough. After a rather fretful trial run in which only a few more hairless kittens were born (the bald females tended to have convulsions and the males possessed such low self-image that they were uninterested in mating at all), a dependable breeding stock was established, making the Sphynx that long-sought-after missing link between Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the Cat Fancier’s Association.
Why the Sphynx is Bad Ass: Bitch, please. Although she is frequently mistaken for a walking spleen, despite her susceptibility to chills,
sunburn, and a waxy buildup on her skin, the Sphynx has become a popular pet (among cat lovers of certain tastes) and a staple of popular culture. Austin Powers’ nemesis, Dr. Evil, commits mayhem with his beloved Sphynx Mr. Bigglesworth at his side. A series of children’s books called Bad Kitty (by Nick Bruel) features a Sphynx cat called Strange Kitty. And in an episode of FRIENDS (The One With The Ball), Rachel brings home a show quality Sphynx named Mrs. Whiskerson, whom Joey insists is not a cat at all, Gunther suspects to be some kind of snake, and Ross claims must be inside out. Though not an ideal pet choice for everyone, the Sphynx has truly earned her swag.
honorable mention: the Devon Curl
And there you have it: five varied, yet totally bad ass cat breeds . One more thing—this list is subject to the author’s opinion only, and the author is only too happy to acknowledge that whatever cat belongs to you, the reader, is truly the baddest cat in the land. So no hate mail, please.
Though she’d never admit it, my cat Nikita enjoys a pretty sweet existence. Oh, she loves to tell anyone who will listen how she started life as a street urchin, but once rescued by the SPCA, it took mere moments for Nikita to size us up, relocate to our home, and establish herself as the dominant domestic panther. Our smaller emergency back-up cat, LC, knows her place, as does our dog, a sheltie named Emma. A herder by instinct, Emma will happily chase anything that runs—say, for example, LC. Nikita, however, will have none of it. She plants herself, fixes the dog with a green-eyed stare, and if necessary, unleashes a wicked right cross to Emma’s tender muzzle.
Being the senior pet has other perks, as well. It’s Nikita who decides who can—and cannot—share the bed with my husband and me, while she herself never cedes the prime real
estate. More than once we’ve found ourselves separated by her furry little body, belly-up, beneath the covers, and right between us with her head next to mine on the pillow. And although a chronic ear infection has left her deaf as a post, Nikita is still as fat and sassy as your old Aunt Flo. A solid sixteen hours’ sleep each day, ripped to the tits on catnip much of the time, and smart enough to realize if she gets one paw in your bowl of ice cream the rest is hers. . . yes, Nikita has lived a queen’s life for many years. But as Queen Elizabeth I said in 1603, “I’ve had a helluva run, blokes, let’s hope that Scottish lad James doesn’t muck things up too badly.”
Nikita’s reign as queen is being threatened, and the usurper is a fearsome beastie:
Here’s another picture of Nikita’s tormentor:
Susie Q. started life as a stray as well, but thanks to the kindness of strangers she was hooked up with my daughter and consequently became an adjunct member of our family. Needless to say, Nikita has been less than thrilled. Her first response was simply to ignore the intruder, but when refusal to admit Susie’s existence didn’t cause the tiny, striped kitten to explode or disappear, Nikita moved on to low, threatening growls and some fairly impressive hissing. Push nearly came to shove when Susie had the nerve to cozy up to my husband, whom Nikita considers to be her own, personal human. Beyond her limit, Nikita had to break out the bitch-slapper and send the kitten packing.
But Susie Q. perseveres. She approaches Nikita with a posture of submissiveness coupled with an abundance of God-given adorableness. Inch by inch she closes in on Nikita, flirting and cooing, knowing full well that as new kid it’s up to her to win the trust of the bossy old broad. And in time, Susie Q. will be an important part of our family’s working machinery.
And what about Nikita? Well, she’s about to learn a lesson no one escapes: Adapt or die. This state we share is called life because it lives. It puts down roots, yes, but it throws out shoots as well. It climbs, trellises, intertwines with others, branches out, and changes with the seasons. Occasional pruning encourages lush fullness. Some of us are transplanted, some only bear fruit when grafted to another. And no matter how many seasons we’re given, our lives at the end will look different from the start.
It won’t be easy for Nikita to adapt to a new kitten in the house— after all, she’s been queen for a long time. In the end, though, she’ll benefit from this change, and once she stops fighting her new circumstance, she might well enjoy another warm body to cuddle and find renewed youth in the form of a persistent playmate.
If Nikita could still hear, I’d share with her the words of Marcus Aurelius: Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast, and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.