Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Crazy Cat Person

I am not a crazy cat person, though I am a crazy cat person.  The italics make all the difference here.

Let me explain:  A crazy cat person is the one most people think of when those three words are strung together.  That is one who has a houseful of cats who dominate the person’s life, social and otherwise.  He or she (usually she, frankly) talks to them regularly and treats them more like people than pets.  I am most assuredly not one of those types of people.

A crazy cat person is someone like me, who “owns” (if such a word is applicable here since it often is questionable as to who owns who) cats who are out of their freaking minds most of the time.  I am cursed/blessed with three crazy cats, named “Stop It”, “Get Down”, and “Don’t Bite Me”.  They have actual names, but those are the ones they believe they have, since that’s what each hears from me the most often.

“Stop It” is marginally the least ridiculous of the three.  He was run over by a child with a bicycle as a kitten at his original owner’s house, and suffered a broken left front leg, which was set and has since healed.  It is still a bit stiff, but he gets along just fine.  The incident with the bicycle has made him a bit cautious, I think, but not nearly enough.  When he is not getting what he wants, whether it is attention, food, human sacrifice, or whatever, he knows exactly how to push my buttons.  Passive-aggressive activity is his strong suit. His favorite trick is to claw something.  He typically uses his scratching post for such things, but has trained me to respond to his whims by scratching less appropriate things on occasion, such as the sofa or the woodwork.  He is also the one who will lay directly on top of anything I am using if there is something he feels that he needs me to do for him.  Most of the books on my shelf have cat hair on at least a few pages.  “Stop It” has been known to walk across the keyboard of my computer while I am working on it as well, which does not exactly add a great deal of spice to my writing.  And don’t get me started on his affinity for napping on clean laundry.

"Stop It" in one of his favorite napping locales.

He will also stare at the ceiling from the top of the refrigerator for extended periods of time, and no matter how many times I take him down, he jumps right back up there immediately.  I once removed him from his perch ten times in a row within the span of about two minutes, just to test his tenacity, before I gave up. There’s probably a mouse or something between the floors, but he’s never, ever going to catch it.  It has never shown itself or left any evidence of its residency, so I suspect it wisely lives a quiet life entirely between the walls, out of reach of felines.

“Get Down” is the sister to “Stop It”.  She is a sweet and gentle soul with whom you can do just about anything.  If I hold onto one of her feet, for example, she will just stand there and stare at me, even sighing in disgust, waiting me out until I just stop.  She doesn't react much.  Same thing if I start to tap her tail while she is napping: stare and sigh, wait the dummy out until he gets bored.  She just tolerates whatever shenanigans I am subjecting her to, which she must see as the path of least resistance. 

"Get Down", living up to her name.

As her name implies, “Get Down” has a habit of jumping up on things that she should not.  One of her more benign tricks is to sit on top of the television set and dangle her tail over the screen.  She is also fond of trotting across nightstands covered with “stuff” at two in the morning, laying in the seat of my recliner just as soon as I get up to go get something, and napping in the middle of my desk when I am trying to get some work done.  She loves to snooze on paperwork spread across any table or desk.  “Get Down” is the reason that anything light and of value on a flat surface in my house has two-sided tape on the bottom to keep it secure.  Delicate things literally have a short shelf life in my home thanks to “Get Down”.

“Don’t Bite Me” is the newest addition to the household, having lived with me for not quite a year yet.  He is just over a year old, whereas the others are nearly five.  Much stockier and less athletic than his housemates, and a lot more in touch with his inner kitten, “Don’t Bite Me” is as mischievous and playful as the other two put together.  If the mood strikes him, which it often does, he will suddenly try to take a bite out of you without provocation.  They are not vicious bites, but he’s so rough and foolish that he ends up hurting me or the other cats.  More than once I have been reading in bed at night, absorbed in a book and absently stroking “Don’t Bite Me” who is lying on the bed next to me, and he will just clamp down on my hand out of the blue.  Not hard, mind you, but enough to get my full attention.

"Don't Bite Me", in time out again.

He has nearly four pounds over the others, so they have developed a low tolerance for rough play with him.  When “Don’t Bite Me” wants to wrestle, “Stop It” will indulge him for a few minutes, but then some line is crossed and “Stop It” starts hissing and growling.  “Get Down”, who is the smallest of the three, does not like to play rough at all.  Her strategy here, since ignoring him has long since been ruled out as an option, is to run away.  Of course, “Don’t Bite Me” thinks this is a great game of chase.  They run from one end of the house to the other and back again, over and over, sounding like a herd of small buffalo, until “Don’t Bite Me” gets tired or is put in time out in a bedroom by me. 

“Don’t Bite Me” spends a LOT of time in time out.

One thing that will get him there in a flash is when he plays Guardian of the LitterPlex.  I have an area in the house with litterboxes for the cats, the aforementioned LitterPlex.  “Don’t Bite Me” tends to like to guard this area, especially during high demand times, like just after meals.  If one of the others cats wants to use one of the litterboxes, they have to get past the Guardian of the LitterPlex, much like Cerberus at the gates of the Underworld.  Needless to say, I do not want the other two to start using other places in the house for their bathroom, so “Don’t Bite Me” spends at least an hour or so after breakfast most mornings cooling his heels whilst shut in the bedroom.

The funny thing is, big bully “Don’t Bite Me” is actually the most timid of the three cats.  The vacuum cleaner will send him into hiding for hours, and even shaking a plastic bag will send him scurrying off.  The other two cats look at him as though he’s lost what little mind he has when he reacts to these things which do not phase them in the slightest.

One would think that petite little “Get Down” would avoid big, silly “Don’t Bite Me” like the plague, since almost everything about him is the opposite of her, but you would be wrong.  She is relentlessly curious, to the point where she just cannot resist being nearby and seeing what kind of trouble he is going to get into.  Then, of course, she gets caught up in the middle of it, usually against her will.  What seems to be true with people also applies to cats: good girls just can’t seem to resist bad boys.

What’s most amusing is when the afternoon sun spills in onto one of the beds during this often chilly time of year.  The cats, being solar powered, will all find a spot in the sun to nap.  It’s not unusual for me to walk in to find “Stop It” and “Don’t Bite Me” doing some male bonding and blissfully snoozing next to each other.  Meanwhile, “Get Down” can be found a safe two feet or so away from “Don’t Bite Me”, with literally one eye open at all times.  Those two feet of space may as well be the DMZ in Korea.  She wants to be in the sun too, but doesn’t quite trust “Don’t Bite Me” enough to relax while he is so close by.  It’s kind of an interesting metaphor, actually: Those who irritate us always seem to be enjoying themselves much more than we ever are.

The cats make things interesting around here, to say the least.  Right now, “Stop It” is sitting next to me watching me type this, patiently waiting for his supper.  I just hope he doesn’t get it into his head to jump up onto the keyboafweuag0[p9o;jlk,[o;pfasdvzcsoie][‘;l.hre’aghpIZ;lng;.vfzd

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Phased" Out: A Post of Music and Me

I am a pretty consistent person in most aspects of my life.  Routine and structure are comforting to me.  On work days, I always wake up at 6:00, while on non-work days, it’s 7:30.  I have cold cereal for breakfast every day of the week except Sunday mornings, when I get all crazy and make French toast or waffles.  Every morning, it’s two cups of coffee for me, no more, no less.  Whenever I log onto the Internet, the first thing I do is check my e-mail, just like clockwork.  My days for serious writing are Saturday through Wednesday.  I fuel my car at the same service station in town, usually at the same pump, and often on the same day of the week.  Before falling asleep at night, I have to read something, at least for a few minutes, no matter how tired.  I've awakened more than once with drool on my Kindle.

None of these routines are set in stone, of course.  This is not obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I won’t sit behind the wheel and wait for pump #5 at the Shell station to come open if another one is available, for example.  (Well, I won’t wait for long.)  And if I am on a serious roll because the idea fairy has bludgeoned me over the head with inspiration, I will write on a Thursday or Friday.  But still, I have my preferences and try to stick to them.

One area of my life where routine and structure do not apply is in my musical taste.  With music, I go through phases, especially over the past couple of years.

I have been a huge fan of music ever since I can remember.  While I have always gravitated most strongly toward rock and pop, I've dabbled in country, jazz, and even classical to an extent.  Over the years, I've amassed quite a bit of musical knowledge and a decent-sized music collection as well.  Some people I know lament the absence of a physical product in today’s MP3 music files, but if I had to have a CD in the house for all the music I have these days, I’d be forced to live in my car and producers of that Hoarders reality TV show would be knocking at my door.  I collect music in the same way that other people collect Elvis memorabilia or paintings of kittens with big sad eyes, only less creepy. Much less creepy.

Source where you can buy this if you are so inclined. I'd have to cover it at night or whenever I ate if it were in my house.

Having so much music from which to choose and ridiculously easy access to it, I find that I have evolved into a tendency to go through phases, much like young kids often do with superheroes, dinosaurs or TV characters.  You parents who had to endure their toddler’s “Barney phase” know what I am talking about.  Some of you still have that nervous twitch you developed during that period.

The phases are kind of interesting.  I’m sure a psychologist could write a heck of a paper on them after a bit of analysis.  They began about five years ago.  Some might say I went over to the dark side then, when I got into modern country music for much of 2008-2009.  Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban were particular favorites.  Maybe it was a country with a “K” phase?  However, much like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, I came back to the good side of the Force (rock music), and spent much of 2010 alternating between Stone Temple Pilots and the Eagles.  2011 was when I went through phases with the Foo Fighters, George Harrison, The Cars, and anything “unplugged” (a.k.a.-acoustic). 

At this time last year, I was musically reliving my twenties with lots of 1990s alternative and grunge, which narrowed itself to almost nothing other than Pearl Jam by spring.  In early summer, I had moved on to Nirvana, and that was followed by a kick for 1980s rock and pop, which is the stuff I listened to the most in my teens and is the bedrock of my music collection.  Fall brought on a mini-obsession with ZZ Top, followed by the Rolling Stones, and right now I cannot get enough of Led Zeppelin.  I wouldn’t be surprised if another Beatles jag was looming on my musical horizon too, since I often develop an intense interest in some aspect of their work every year or two around this time.

Looking at it now, the current trend seems to be one of going back further and further in time.  If the pattern continues, I’ll likely be rocking out to Thomas Edison’s wax cylinder recording of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by the middle of 2014.

Even after a phase passes, I do not throw the artist on the trash heap.  I still listen to them, just not as intensely.  While Pearl Jam was last spring’s phase, I still click on Vitalogy or Ten from time to time.  Neither do I listen to the object of my current obsession exclusively during a phase, though they do tend to dominate.  In spite of my current Led Zeppelin phase, I just finished listening to an album by Fitz & the Tantrums, a current band specializing in retro-Philly soul style stuff.  (They are really good, by the way.  The link is to their album on Amazon. Highly recommended!)

I've discussed this tendency toward phases in my musical taste with some fellow music lovers of my generation, and they've noticed much the same in themselves.  In our conversations, we've all reached the same general conclusion: Since most of today’s music isn't really directed toward our demographic, we are mining the music of the past in hopes of unearthing some new nuggets that will set us on fire like music did when we were younger and “in the mainstream”.  It is one thing to listen to the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits over the years, but quite another to explore the contents of an entire album from earlier in their career that you've never heard, as I did with Let It Bleed last month.

On a wider scale, it gives those of us who are moving into middle age the hope that, while maybe there is nothing (or precious little) that is new under the sun these days, there are plenty of things, in music and in life, that have been around a while but that we just haven’t discovered yet.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Don't Give Me Any Static

January is a trying time in this part of the world.  The holidays are over and spring seems eons away.  The nights are long, and the weather comes in one of two varieties: clear and cold enough to freeze the snot in your nose, or furious blizzard from hell. Those such as myself who are into snow sports cannot even enjoy them very fully, since the temperatures routinely are lucky to make ten degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, kids) and a howling wind is almost constant.  So, we huddle inside as much as possible, dreaming of spring and watching funny cat videos online.

There is one nasty aspect of winter that follows us inside however, and that is static electricity.  During December, January, and February, which are typically the coldest and driest months, we practically glow with it.

As I understand it, the lack of moisture in the air at this time of year causes things to retain stray electrons and thus build up electrical charges.  When it is humid, the tiny water droplets in the air tend to draw those electrons off and keep our electrical charges relatively low, but in the winter when it is dry, watch out! Having those excess electrons clinging to us is just not cool with Mother Nature, who is a big fan of balance.  So, if you are more charged up than something nearby, the electrons are going to jump from you to it, and a spark, large, small, or otherwise, is going to result.  (This same principle on a larger scale is what causes lightning.  Why we have lightning in the summer when it is very humid and not in winter when it is very dry is completely beyond me.  Who do I look like, Mr. Wizard?)

Except for the kitchen and the bathroom, every room in my house has carpeting.  As someone with a very, very low tolerance for cold feet, it’s pretty nice actually, and I don’t regret having it installed.  Nonetheless, I still wear wool socks and slippers around the house from November until April.  The problem I have is that carpeting and warm, fuzzy footwear are two of the key ingredients in creating static electricity.

I get zapped constantly from every direction.  I get shocks from touching the TV remote, from picking up my laptop, from petting the cat, from grasping the handle on the refrigerator, from a faucet on the sink, or even from a soda can.  You can never be sure from where the next mini-electrocution is coming.  It reminds me of the old Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers.  In them, Sellers’ character, the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, has directed his manservant Cato Fong to attack him unexpectedly and repeatedly.  Cato is skilled in martial arts, so these are some pretty hard-hitting attacks.  Clouseau’s thinking is that these will keep his combat skills and vigilance sharp, though it usually just ends up getting him beaten senseless at the most awkward moments.  Static electricity is like my own personal Cato Fong.

Static electricity likes to play practical jokes on me too.  I am pretty faithful about using antistatic sheets in the clothes dryer, but don’t always locate all of them when I take out the laundry to fold.  More than once I have been working with a client and patient at the animal hospital, and a dryer sheet that had adhered to the inside of my medical scrubs has fluttered to the floor.

Getting dressed and undressed is the worst when it come to static electricity.  Anything that I need to pull over my head brings down a shower of sparks that you can actually see in the dark.  When I drop the shirt or whatever to the floor, it often is still sparking.  I’ve never heard of house fires starting from such phenomena, but it does give one pause.  Plus, my hair is so dry and light that it stands straight up in every direction in these situations.  The extra money I spend on hair gel alone in the winter could probably fund a winter vacation to someplace less staticky, like Barbados.

And mind you, these are not small tingles I’m experiencing.  They downright hurt sometimes!  I’ve inadvertently shut off my television and closed programs on my computer thanks to static shock.  Animals, being more in tune to nature than the rest of us, seem to know when the risk of shock is greatest, and I can see the cats visibly cringe if I reach for one of them on an especially dry, cold day.  There have been times when they and I  have shocked each other so badly upon contact that the cat in question has run away and hid, thinking I have done some horrible wrong to them.  I can’t blame them, frankly.

I’ve wondered at times if a shock from sitting down on the toilet seat is possible.  It’s never happened to me, and I truly hope it never does, since it could have ramifications that I’d really rather avoid.  Most likely, I don’t need to worry though, since any electrical imbalance would discharge when I reach to lift the lid.  Ladies, if you ever needed to give your man another reason for putting the seat and lid down, there it is.  You’re welcome. 

As irritating as this static electricity problem is for me, I’ve never bothered to do much about it.  I am NOT giving up my cozy warm slippers, so don’t even suggest it!  Taking up all of the carpeting, removing all metals from the house and shaving the cats and myself are also not options I choose to entertain.  I suppose I could buy clothing made out of fabric softener sheets, though it would probably make me sneeze a lot.  On the upside, I would save money on deodorant.

The most practical solution is probably to get myself a humidifier.  I’ve had them in the past, but find that they not only can only do so much in preventing static electricity, but can also invite a new set of problems if not used carefully, namely in the form of mold.  If I had to choose between high voltage shocks at every turn during a few months in the winter or a slick of smelly and possibly toxic black slime forming on various surfaces around the house, I guess I’d prefer the former to the latter.  Air ionizers are said to be good antidotes to static electricity, so maybe I should look into one of those.

As problems go, I could have much greater ones than the constant zapping of static electricity in the house.  In olden times, there was a belief that static electricity was the result of demons.  Maybe I could get the parish priest to stop by and exorcise my fuzzy slippers.  For now, however, I will just have to endure this adversity with a brave face.  Watching funny cat videos on YouTube will surely ease the hardship.