Cat Redux

And so it ends.

The cat came down.  

I had no idea that posting an ad on Craigslist would evolve over the course of one day into news reporters doing live stand-ups in front of my tree.  Though, on second thought, I guess that's a little like saying "I had no idea the gun would actually go off."  

I suppose I was expecting a squirt gun and not a canon.

The night after the Post's visit, I stayed up until five in the morning completing work that I had neglected earlier during the neighborhood tree climbing championship.  In my mind I had imagined that the piece the Post put online would get the word to a benevolent bucket truck owner.  They'd roll by in the early afternoon and the cat would come down with little fanfare.  

In reality my doorbell started ringing at eight in the morning, three short hours after I went to bed.  By 8:30, the ringing had become incessant, enough that the idea of privacy or sleeping in seemed like a foregone conclusion.  Through the window in my front door I could see a woman dressed all in white, sunglasses, bright red lipstick with a shiny Prada bag tucked in the crook of her arm.  She's in my yard, pacing around the tree.  

I'm not sure how other people operate, but when I'm tired, I kind of do a little warm-up gymnastics in my head, something like the Haka dance the New Zealand rugby players do to psyche up for their games.  [step 1] Act like you're awake.  [step 2] Act like you're attentive.  [step 3] Act like anything but how you feel.  [step 4] Don't talk too much because you're bound to say something dumb.  Clap twice, turn on your right foot, gyrate, repeat.

The woman in my yard introduces herself as Julia Morgan and tells me that she's bringing a bucket truck to get the cat down.  I thank her for being so thoughtful, take her across the street, point to where the cat is slumped quietly over one of the tallest branches, and tell her that I need a little coffee.  

As I reach my front doorstep, the first news van pulls onto the block.  Sinking feeling.  So much for the squirt gun.

My telephone has nine new messages on it, all since I stepped out into my yard.  I pour a mason jar full of coffee, unheated.  Add ice  Then cream.  The phone rings again.  The number is out-of-state which, lately, has meant work.  I quickly retrace the steps of my mental dance and click Talk.  "Hello, this is Matt."  

It's Noah Rabinowitz.  "You'll never guess where I'm at," he says.  

Oh god.  This calls for something more than a yes or a no.  Mental summersaults while I try to recall the last place Noah interned. Virginia.  D.C.  New Hampshire.  That list seems to grow every few months, and rightfully so.  He's a talented photographer.  "I'm on Newton Street," he continues.  

Newton Street is my street.  Colorado.  

The moment passes kind of like that scene where Luke finds out that Leah is his sister, something so overwhelming to my sleep-deprived mind that the best explanation I can summon is that some east coast paper has found this cat story so compelling that they've airlifted Noah --no doubt in the same black helicopters that fly the secret missions over Idaho --all the way to Colorado.  I expect to see his parachute at any moment.

Before I can explain my wild speculations about the real purpose of his secret mission to Colorado, he fills in the gaps.  He's the Denver Post's new intern.  Which, as nice as that is for him, sure put the lid on the story I had cooked up to explain his sudden presence on my block.  No black helicopters.  No secret missions from the east coast.  He's coming to join the progressively growing circus that is forming on my lawn.  

By the time it is all done, my voicemail has filled several times over; my email inbox is stuffed to overflowing and the steady stream of men with their bucket trucks stop by every few hours for the next three days.  The Xcel Energy trucks come out on their lunch break.  Davey's Tree Service.  Matt's Tree Service.  Names that I don't even remember, small groups of hefty men plodding the walk to my front door, ringing the bell and politely asking if the cat has come down safely.  One of the local television stations returns long after the cat is down to do a live stand-up in front of the tree.  Helen Richardson, the photographer from the Post, is interviewed at the top of the hour on one of the local radio stations.

She explains to me over the telephone later that day the same thing she expressed on the radio: people are interested in this story because it is accessible.  It is something that they feel is within their powers to impact with a positive force.  Hence the overwhelming response to such a trivial event.

This, however, is precisely the razor's edge that ultimately begs the follow-up question: would the support have been the same were it a human and not a cat?  The division between man and beast usually being drawn with a line where man is somehow more responsible for his own predicament in a way that an animal cannot be.  It's the nature vs. nurture dichotomy at its core.  Cat is nature.  Man is nurture.  

At least that's how it appears on first blush, but the dots are a little more connectable than they seem.  

It turns out that in Denver alone, there's an estimated 150,000 feral cats.  Enough to fill each seat in Mile High Stadium with a cat three times over.  The difference between the dozens of feral cats that live on the colder side of the six inch wall that separates my two house cats from their outdoor counterparts is best illustrated in terms of life expectancy.  Depending on what figures you consult, the average feral cat can hope for somewhere between three and six years; my indoor cats may make it to 30 --a number that seems to bend the nature line heavily towards nurture pole.

And feel free to stop reading if the comparison goes too far, but the dangers for a street cat are things that are completely unheard of across the threshold of my doorway. Malnutrition, feline HIV, feline leukemia, violence, cars, infection, exposure --all symptoms of an environment where the population exceeds the resources required for sustenance.  It is a cat-eat-cat world and the greatest dividing line between the cats that die at three years and the fat ones that live into their twenties being, largely, a function of access to essentials.  It is, then, more so a question of where a cat is born than anything else.

The analogy, of course, doesn't stop here.  

Oh, television.
Julia Morgan and cat.
My neighbor, Red, listening to the live tree update from inside the news van.
Live standup, part II.  You can't make this stuff up.

You Never See A Dead Cat Under A Tree

There is an idea floating around in the political spheres right now that explains why constituents will vote contrary to their best interests.  It's not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, its root being something that theologists and artists of all walks have known since before written history.  The idea, however, is unique in the sense that it is currently being packaged for politics.  It  goes something like this: a logical point alone is insufficient; one that also allows the possibility for an emotional connection will win every time.  It's something the pundits practice in their daily, caffeine-induced frenzies and advice that Hillary Clinton rejected early in her campaign from a man by the name of Lakoff --the very man who put this idea into shrink wrap for sale on the political market.   

Not very smart to downplay the human heart in favor of the brain.  The heart wins every time.  I'm quite confident on that point.

The thing that is most incredible about the heart is its capacity for empathy and its willingness to see possibilities where the brain would weigh in favor of prudence.  It's the kind of heart that I wasn't expecting when I posted an ad to Craigslist explaining the situation on my block these last four days.

On friday one of the feral cats climbed up the tree in my front yard.  And when I say climbed, I mean took up the sport of climbing like a pointy-eared Petrach and went for the top of the tree some 60 feet above the asphalt.  Nobody knows why he went up there, nobody knows if anyone owns the cat (all signs point to no), and nobody knows how he's coming down.

One thing is for certain, though: he's not coming down on his own accord.  

He's let the entire block know this with his sad siren song, cat wailing that drags on for minutes at a time before he slumps his head back on the branch where he has made his stand.  My inbox fills up with people responding to the Craigslist ad.  Everyone has an idea.  Someone has tipped off the local media and the Denver Post shows up in the late afternoon.

Bob, a man who dismisses the Denver Post photographers by curtly explaining that the media is too opinionated and that he doesn't read the paper anymore for that reason, suggests openly that we could shoot the cat out of the tree.  The photographer running the HD camera stops recording Bob's tirade.  But the thing about the cat wailing for four days is that, secretly, it has obviously reached him on some level.  The photographers move on to interview other neighbors and Bob surreptitiously slides across the street, pounding on my door.  I step onto the porch and he produces a can of mustard packed sardines.  It's all he has to offer the cat, he explains.  

The cameras have brought everyone out.  Jesus, the garbage collector who called the fire department about the cat on friday, leaves his house, taking the corner real slow to have a peek back at the tree.  The fire department, it turns out, has no time for these kind of childish games.  Put a can of food at the bottom of the tree, the dispatcher tells him.  The cat will come down.

That would stand to reason.  

But, like Mr. Lakoff told Hillary, reason alone won't get you results.  And the internet is littered with accounts of people who have lost their cats when fear made it impossible for reason to prevail, for the cat to back itself down the tree.  Dehydration, hunger, exhaustion and, at some point, the cat just falls.  It's a tragic ending that I wouldn't have expected, something dreamed up by a kitty Cormac McCarthy.  The god of cats is not a benevolent one. 

Giovanni and her sister, Delia, have come out with their kids.  The Pentacostals from Chihuahua, the ones who blather in tongues into the early morning hours once a month when their congregation gathers next door, have come out.  Juan, a quiet, young man from Zacatecas who has suddenly been crowned "Chacarron" has joined them.  The hood rats with their boom car --the loudest one on the block, the one that I have made a game of cat-and-mouse with asking them almost daily to shut it the eff off --have all come out.  They want to know who's dog is in the tree and then post themselves at the corner to watch the show.  The Paletero stops pushing his ice cream cart to watch and Shaquille, Delia's oldest boy, yells at him: "Una paleta por el show."  A popsicle for the show.  

Giovanni ignores her sister's advice not to climb the tree and takes her first steps up the wooden ladder I have propped up to reach the first split in the elm that holds the cat.  "I can do anything I want to," she yells down, setting off a back-and-forth exchange of Spanglish that won't let up for the next two hours.  

Chacarron follows and the Norteños from the corner bring an extension ladder over to help.  "Para el gatito o para la chica?" the round one jokes.  For the cat or the girl.  Giovanni yells something back at him, but she's already too far up the tree.  She conducts herself like a surgeon talking to her assistant.  Martillo.  Hammer.  Clavos.  Nails.  Escalera.  Ladder.  She is creating a path along the trunk that takes her to the fifty foot mark before it becomes to difficult for her to continue.  The cat, the unreasonable and emotional creature that it is, won't budge, just barely out of reach.  

Tomorrow starts day five.  

The fantastic Lyn Alweis and Helen Richardson of the Denver Post.
Take Two.
Shaquille and the climbing rope.
Just in case the cat falls.  Nevermind Giovanni.

And the very nice piece that the Denver Post put on their website, featuring yours truly as the puffy-faced guy who appears like he just had all four wisdom teeth wrenched from his jaw and sounds like he may be high on Percocet.  Go figure.  Click Here.


Percocet Blues

This whole thing hasn't been nearly as bad as everyone told me it would be.  All the horror stories covering everything from losing feeling in your neck to being down for two weeks really scared the hell out of me.  In the end I drove myself home, waited for the lidocaine to wear off, and then spent the rest of the day filing a stock request and working in my yard.  No swelling, no bleeding, no bloody pillow, no loss of sensation, no significant lost time, no pain, and I finished the day off with a plate of Salmon and fried shrimp.  If someone had told me just to go to an oral surgeon --not a dentist --and that would be the outcome I could have expected, I'd have done this 13 years ago when I was supposed to.  I even had the procedure with a local and it was just fine.  No crappy sounds, no prying, no cracking.  

That said, the one lesson that I will take away from this is that it's best to take Percocet on a full stomach.  Otherwise you start having hot flashes, your blood pressure takes a little nose dive, you feel nauseous, and the associated dysphoria is a far cry from pleasant.  Had to take a breather yesterday from hanging out with friends and shot some pictures while I sat outside trying to figure out what the hell was going on.  


Wisdom Teeth God Damn

No doubt my surgeon thinks I'm a drug seeker.  I lost the prescription she wrote for Percocet several weeks ago after completing the x-rays and consultation to have my four wisdom teeth yanked.  I lost the prescription and then, faced with the sterile, silver tray of torture instruments that she had neatly displayed next to the dental chair I'm sitting in, I find myself explaining that the last several times I've had Percocet, it didn't work for me anyhow.

"Well, what was it prescribed for?" she asks.  

I am not sure how to answer that, and my pause implies that whatever I'm dreaming up is untrue.  I can read that much in her eyes and hesitate before stumbling through a bad answer.  "Um, hell, I don't remember."

The truth is that my regular doctor, an old ER resident formerly of east coast domicile, sends me away with bottles of "worst case scenario" narcotics every time I travel.  In case I break my leg, lose an eye, land in a third-world operating room with appendicitis --the list goes on.  I'd love to tell my surgeon about my doctor but don't think she'd be as receptive to his story as I was.  The stories he's shared about working as a deck-hand on smuggling boats that moved hashish from north Africa into Italy and France are a little un-doctorly.  Somewhere before his decision to go to med school, the good doctor had another life.  He's never shared the full details with me and I'm sure the medical board knows even less, but his traveling days sound like something from a movie.  And every time I've left the country, he's lit up with stories from a life he left behind 30 years ago, the romance of travel, the adventure inherent to anything where you don't know what comes next.  

The last time I took one of the doctor's Percocets I was stateside, wandering around a college town with a couple of friends when some kids from a fraternity started throwing snowballs at us as we passed on the street below.  Two of us had the sense to keep walking.  The third, one of my closest and most life-by-his-own-rules kind of friends, took the snowball a little harsh and stopped to pick up a handful of rocks from the garden in front of the frat house.  Then, like an eager outfielder, he plunked them one at a time back at the snowballers.  

All I can say is that if this were a choose-your-own-adventure book, that choice is the one that lands you in the wide world of Percocet.  Trying to break up my buddy with the rocks from the spillage of white ball caps and popped collars that poured out the front door of the frat house like an Abercrombie & Fitch-filled flood of testosterone cost me the ability to chew food for a week.  Percocet didn't touch the pain.

In the end the frat kids didn't get to take any of my teeth, though they gave it a pretty good shot.  Seven years passed before my surgeon-so-gentle, the good Dr. Lesnick, finished their work and took a few for herself.


Mint 'n Mulberries

I've been in this house for four summers now, long enough that you'd think I'd know there was a mulberry tree in my yard.  It's not that I hadn't been put on notice; one of my neighbors pointed it out the first summer I was here.  

And then, with the seamless grace of a practiced comic,  he transitioned from mulberries to a story about the Air Force landing a fighter jet on the highway to medivac him from a bad car wreck.  His hand --the one he is using to make the gesture of a plane landing -- was torn almost completely off.  Fortunately for him, he tells me, the Air Force commanders wouldn't have him sit on the interstate and just die when they had skilled pilots that could race him to the hospital and sew his hand right back on.  So the jets were scrambled, the finest surgeons assembled, and the hand was salvaged.  Good as new.  

Needless to say, I figured the mulberries were part of the same tall tale and, each season, the blossoms seemed to fade directly into dried husks.  No mul.  No berries.  

A few weeks ago I put out a half-dozen bird feeders for the sparrows and a pair of mourning doves that camp in my lawn.  Little, winged hippies, they crash on my grass, eat my food, and leave their shit all over the place without so much as a thank you.  

This afternoon I came out to find the the birds perched in their usual spots, taunting the cats behind the windows using nothing but the power of crass indifference to rile their feline counterparts.  The birds, unlike the cats, seemed to understand the concept of glass, the smooth, clear pane that served to separate predator from prey.  Perhaps something like a zoo for birds.  

"Look, darling, in the display --a cat," one dove says to the other.
"Yes," she sneers her best Gsa Gsa, "I've seen them in the Audubon.  We simply must have one."  And, with that, the dove drains the last of her ice tea, slurping her straw momentarily before pushing her sunglasses up into her feathers, waving one wing over her head like a half-inflated windsock.  Pouting her beak, she snaps her fingers.  "Garçon? Garçon!"  She snaps again.

The dove, I gather, is trying to attract my attention.  I look at her and, before I can say anything, she waves her glass over her head, signaling for a refill with her index feather.  I pretend not to notice, turning and walking towards the other side of the yard.  My feet, both bare, step through something sticky.  Something that pushes through the webbing between my toes like meat through a sausage maker.  It is warm, the kind of warm that makes you wish you had shoes on.  I look down at my feet and discover, to my surprise, that I am not standing in a pile of dog shit, rather on a pad of fallen mulberries.

Peering up into the tree I see, at each bifurcation between the branches, long, raspberry-like fruits dangling improbably like some kind of mythical, deciduous unicorn.  The birds, apparently kept at bay by their new feeders, have spared the fresh berries for the first time since I moved in.  I suddenly have a change of heart about the dove's ice tea, wondering to myself how, exactly, a fighter jet would look landing on the interstate.



Meet Megan.  Model.  Hunter. Gun Owner.  Skunk Slayer.

I've updated the Gun Culture work on my website to include some new photographs from one of the NRA's top-ranked shooters --a woman who started shooting at the age of 54 --and the beginnings of a visual exploration of the gun and its iconic role in American pop culture.  Have a fresh look.


Dad Turns 64

I started blogging with the intention of pairing images with writing --something that is, for me, an exercise that takes a lot of time and thought before I really feel like the final piece is suitable to be plunked out into the ether.  Over the last month I've been toying with a follow-up gun piece, something about gunslingers and the wild west, the arc of history that seems to shave the rough edges from those long-dead and awkward-living men into the modern incarnations that play on the silver screen.  History, it turns out, is a lot like an old man who refuses to wear his hearing aids.  He only hears part of the truth, picking and choosing aspects of the story that are convenient, discarding the bits that are unhelpful to his line of thinking.  

But that's another story for another time.

Speaking of old men who don't wear their hearing aids, my dad turns 64 on the 22nd.  My mom threw a surprise party for him in their new warehouse, a building that my dad spent over a year building himself.  And by himself, I mean exactly that: himself.  They've grown their construction business over the last decade, filling in the costly gaps by footing the labor themselves.  Their new warehouse is no exception and pretty much par for the course as far as my dad goes.  He built the house I grew up in --twice.  Once before the tornado.  Then again after, landing spots in the local and national news, sounding much more upbeat than he looked, framed in the wreckage of his smashed work.  He built the barn with the lumber salvaged from the first house.  The scrap that was too small to use cut into firewood and burned in their stove for more than twenty years now.

Anyhow, with the next installment of the gun project stuck somewhere in that limbo between first and final draft, I'll post some pictures from the big surprise 64th.  That's what you're expecting from a photographer anyway, right?

My mom reminding me that it's a long fall.
Photocopied pictures of a younger dad (ahem, cough) --four decades younger.
Laughing as people line up to tell stories and jokes about my dad.
The man himself.
My mom in green, probably looking for me.  I bet she'll never see me hiding behind this pink lady.
This place looks quiet.  I know she won't find me over here.
More dancing.