Saturday, April 17, 2010

Timon Cat: A Friend's Decline

By KJ Hannah Greenberg

Timon was born in the fall of 1981, in Iowa City , Iowa . His initial human caregiver was a student in my officemate Jerry's class. I had been urging that officemate, a young fellow who had helped me secure a space in his rooming house, to adopt a pet. I believed a pet could help Jerry be less introspective. Timon, I believed, would socialize Jerry.

I adored Timon. Often, I would knock on Jerry's door to invite Timon to my room for a visit. In addition, I readily volunteered to watch Timon whenever Jerry went out of town.

While I was becoming enamored of that feline, Jerry, too, was experiencing love. Not only had he begun to engage other folk in conversation, but he also acquired a girlfriend. Ironically, his newfound darling despised the very kitten that had helped Jerry become available to her.

Jerry made plans to move out of the rooming house and into his gal’s apartment. I made plans to adopt Timon.

While I prepared papers for my Master's tutorials or assessed my students' work, Timon grew. Having never owned a cat, I raised Timon as I had raised puppies. Consequently, Timon greeted me at my door when I returned from classes. He slept with me, shared my food, and enjoyed the company of my housemates.

The following year, when I married my husband, an East Coast fellow I had left behind to pursue my education, Timon and I moved east. Interestingly, although my mate had grown up with cats and knew how to coexist with them, Timon continued to select only my lap for comfort. Accordingly, we adopted a second cat, Cleo; it was important to have marital harmony.

Timon and Cleo seemed to like each other. They groomed each other, slept as a single ball of fur, and otherwise practiced mutual destruction of our small plants and delicate objects. Yet, Timon continued to sleep only on my pillow.

Meanwhile, we erred. In our misguided attempt to successfully integrate Cleo into our family, my husband and I admonished Timon for not sharing food or other important elements of his territory. Later, we’d repeat that same mistake when introducing CDR into our small, domestic pride.

CDR, too, was a potpourri cat and, like Cleo, incommoded Timon. Beyond annoying our original familiar by constantly trying to snuggle with him or to otherwise bond with Timon, CDR was an intruder.

In the interim, I wrote my dissertation. Timon’s neurosis emerged.

His first abnormal behaviors were his seeking out my husband and his spurning me. When those actions failed to capture my attention, he took to overgrooming. Several vets later, we concluded that our “first born” had no physiological ailment, but rather was despairing of receiving enough of my time and energy.

The overgrooming was a destructive, but self-comforting action. Timon would lick a spot on his body, usually one of his inner thighs, until that spot was denuded of fur.

We tried to deter our cat’s self-destruction by applying ointments to his legs, but our cat gave little regard to those potions’ supposedly bitter taste. What’s more, though I meant to give him more time, I failed since I was juggling a full-time job, a dissertation deadline and personal issues.

Despite Timon's reflected dissatisfaction, he remained a fiery Tom. Once, when my sister mistakenly let our indoor cat out, he treed four of our neighbors’ fully clawed felines. Thereafter, he attacked another neighbor's collie.

When, at last, I completed my degree, I accepted my first "important" position. Sadly, Timon continued to groom and Cleo began her own deviant behavior; she began to pee on select spots in our livingroom. Likely, the cats sensed my work-related tension; by year’s end, I resigned from my job because of sexual harassment. The subsequent litigation and mediation sapped my energy and further pulled me from our cats.

Eventually, the legal battles ended. I found a new job, enjoyed the publication of an academic book and received a significant academic award. My husband, our cats, and I relocated. In our new town, we continued to seek help for Timon and Cleo's behaviors.

One vet's suggestion to dose our furry children with semi-lethal chemicals sent us in a new direction. We hired a holistic animal doctor. Timon (and Cleo’s) behaviors did not improve, but they ceased to worsen.

A short span later, we purchased our first townhouse. Each of our cats selected a site within our home that suited him or her. We had long since stopped trying to making our pets abide by human or by canine rules for interaction.

Thus, we were amazed when the three cats seemed to peacefully share the sunlit portion of the carpet on the diningroom floor. As the amount of time during which my husband and I ran no interference grew, Timon even began to tolerate CDR's unflagging affections. Two years later, though another interloper arrived.

All three of our cats watched our oldest child’s homebirth. Timon and Cleo snuggled with me when I used the "nursing chair" with Cleo usually purring loudly. The cats maintained their destructive ways, but did not increase them.

When our second child was born, the dynamics again shifted. Whereas Cleo still purred and snuggled while I nursed and CDR continued to try to nap with the baby, Timon had become dispassionate.

At about that time, our oldest offspring became sufficiently developed in cognitions and motor skills to learn how to gently pet the cats. First Timon, then Cleo, began to snuggle with her. Soon, Timon was found on her bed as often as on mine.

When our second child also became a toddler, he, too, learned how to gently touch the cats. Timon sometimes tolerated our son’s ministrations.

By the time that our third child arrived, Timon was increasingly keeping to himself. Moreso, during that span, whenever I was stressed by personal or by professional issues, Timon became "bouncy" as well as overgroomed.

I took meditation classes to help me regain my center and to aid my unhappy cat, but little else seemed to enhance his serenity. It was as though his feeling of safety had completely vanished. Timon lost much of his body weight.

Perhaps age was a contributing factor to his decline. Perhaps he was shrinking because of his prolonged, over almost a decade, experience of vomiting up the hair he ingested while grooming. Perhaps he faded away from grief.

We gave him enzymes to help him digest his food. We gave him purposeful attention. Time passed. Another child joined our family.

Timon seemed temporarily interested in our last baby. He even: experienced intermittent perky periods, tried snuggling with my husband, and began to chase imaginary critters. During his final weeks, he even took a passing interest in a piece of string. At seventeen human years of life, however, he died a sad cat.

KJ Hannah Greenberg and her hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs fly the galaxy in search of gelatinous monsters and assistant bank managers. Although Hannah had worked as a rhetoric professor, she gave up all manners of academic hoopla to raise children. Evidence of that endeavor can be found in Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting (French Creek Press, Spring 2010).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Robbing Banks Isn't Big or Clever

Robbing Banks Isn't Big or Clever

(spoiler alert if you're never done it)

By David Whitehouse

Holiday time and I'm watching movies. My girlfriend is here, cooking up some pasta in my open-plan kitchen. She's pretty normal looking. She's not good looking or ugly. You wouldn't notice her on the street. She works at a zoo, giving children guided tours. She gives them talks about seals. The kids stroke guinea pigs with her.

She holds the guinea pigs on her long pleated skirt. Between her breasts there is a snake tattoo.

In her purse she carries a pair of pink fluffy plastic handcuffs, ready to put on anywhere at a moment's notice.

It's Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino has just watched himself in The Godfather and now he is robbing a bank. The robbers have no masks or anything. One guy chickens out at the start so the gang is down to two. The bank has hardly any cash and the two hang around fielding personal phone calls to the staff when they should have been getting away. Soon the place is surrounded by cops.

Al, it would appear, is the only winner here.

The guy, the real one who did the, later wrote from prison that the film was a piece of crap. The FBI didn't need to kill his accomplice at the end, like the film made out, he wrote. But of course he loved Al Pacino. I can see his point. Al standing there outside the bank entrance, white flag in hand, with a pretty tidy female bank clerk. There's a massive armed police presence and a huge crowd. The accomplice has the rest of the hostages at gunpoint inside. Al boots the glass door and tells the cops to get back and put their fucking guns down. Attica! Attica! Bring on the prison riots. The crowd goes wild. The blonde bank clerk, tinged with sweat, refuses to go with the police and follows him back inside.

Yeah, you need to be a bit of a showman to pull that off.

-The real robber said this film is a piece of crap, I tell my girlfriend. They didn't really need to kill the accomplice at the end. They had him restrained already. But he loved Al Pacino. The trouble is, robbing banks is 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. Like anything. Like writing, y'know. Planning, execution, hard work. Gotta have all the ideas yourself, like he said, gotta do everything to keep it moving along. Just like Bukowski. Don't try being a genius if you aren't one. This guy tried to do it on inspiration alone. But you can't just watch The Godfather and wander in there. Doesn't work like that. Doesn't work unless you're a total genius.

-If you're going to be an accomplice, you have to choose your friends very carefully, she said. Can you get me a strainer for the pasta please?

-I mean, no masks? C'mon. How were they ever going to spend the dough with no masks?

I can see the attraction with Bukowski. Unfettered male freedom. A life of debauchery, playing with words just something to do until drinking and the horse races start. It's a hobby, 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. That kind of hobby. Tricky if you have to go to work already. The same as robbing banks, I guess. Which is also more fun as a hobby. Doing over a bank can hardly be counted as a serious activity. The act is essentially petty: what you want is a quick heist and a long boozy lunch. The guy might have got away with it if he'd played it cool. It would have held drinking time back until early afternoon, at least. But he started to take it too serious, that's the problem. Demanding planes, choppers, this and that.

A letter to the bank manager would have had a better chance. If you told him the zoo needed the dough, to extend the seal aquarium for instance, they might go for it. They'd just write it off if you couldn't pay it back.

A couple of weeks later and you just phone up and ask them for more money.

I pour myself some wine. I ask if she wants some. She says no.

-A stroke of genius could have got him through, though, I tell her. When he was chucking the money around and everyone was scrambling to get it, he should have run into the crowd. He could have got away. He was just a 95% genius. Didn't quite have 100% star quality. That's why Al Pacino had to take over.

Stop trying to act like you're something, the bank manager told Al. Stop showing off and just leave me alone.

-In Asia in the second world war, I tell her, the Japs had to shoot all the animals in the zoos. Korea, Burma, places like that. They knew that no-one could stay there to guard the zoos once they retreated. So they gunned down the big game down so that it wouldn't escape onto the streets. Just like that stupid accomplice in the film.

-Pass the parmesan?

I walk up behind her as she stands at the sink and put my hands on her hips.

-I want to see the look on the lama's face, I said.

-I'll never put the cuffs on in the zoo, she said.

-We could wear masks.

-Stop asking me that.

I get some more wine.

-Typos are worse than fascism, I tell her. You know who said that?

-Why not just do it, she said, if you want to lead the same sort of life as Bukowski. There's nothing to stop you. No-one's relying on you, certainly not me. Chase girls and puke up the side of trees at 9 in the morning if you wish. Stop tucking yourself in to bed with your Bukowski book and your mulled
wine and just do it yourself. If you think it's so very nice to live like that.

-Do you realise that the surrender of comfort required to write a sentence is enormous?

The big bountiful plates of pasta are now visible.

-Another thing, she said. Even if Al Pacino had got away his friend would still have been shot. Are you going to lay the table or what?


David Whitehouse, who is British, works as a journalist in Paris, where he has lived for 14 years. Previously he lived in Japan. He's married with three children and edits the The Lesser Flamingo ezine, which accepts poetry, flash fiction and short stories.