90 Miles on Highway 65

Interstates may all look alike, but there are subtle differences to let you know you’re not in New York anymore.

Today I drove along I-65 from Montgomery, the sleepy Southern capital where I live, to bustling Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city.  To give you a sense of the difference:  Birmingham has sidewalks.

I had been asked to deliver the keynote address during lunch at an academic conference.  Birmingham’s only 90 miles away, and the audience was mainly professors of education, so I said yes.

For my Northeastern friends and families, brace yourself.  Some aspects of Interstates in the South will make you weep.  No tolls.  And, because we don’t have a freeze-and-thaw cycle, no potholes.  Speed limit is 70, which means you can cruise along between 78 and 80 miles per hour and get where you’re going quickly.

But don’t get too tempted.  A fleet of black high performance Camaros roams the highway.  They’re unmarked police cars, and they stop people all the time. When they do, Alabama’s “move over” law kicks in.  It says that when a police car, emergency vehicle or “wrecker” is parked with lights flashing, drivers are required to “vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle.”  It’s fascinating to watch: a cop will have pulled a car onto the broad shoulder, and all the traffic swings into the left lane.  Maddeningly, most Alabama drivers move over whenever anyone is parked on the shoulder.

Like other highways, local stretches have been given additional names.  The 90-mile stretch between Montgomery and Birmingham has at least four: Heroes Highway, Purple Heart Trail, War on Terror Highway, and Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway.

The stretch also includego to churchs somconfederate flage distinctive roadside features, including the very large sign, “Go to Church, or the Devil Will Get You.” It will take another blog to talk about religion in Alabama. A few miles past that is a huge Confederate battle flag placed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  I don’t imagine any actual sons are still alive, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

As one approaches Birmingham, the road widens to three lanes each way, and other Interstates appear.  If you take a short detour on one — I didn’t this time — you get another roadside treat: a replica (one-fifth size) of the Statue of Liberty.  I gather it was once at a corporate headquarters that has since been torn down and was moved to another headquarters in a corporate park.  It was made by the same company that cast the original.  And, in some eyes at least, it’s better because the flame really lights at night.

Yliberty replicaou can visit it, too.  It’s called The Statue of Liberty Replica at Liberty Park.  It’s #27 on Trip Advisor’s list of 63 Things to Do in Birmingham.   As you regular Staten Island ferry-riding folks can see, the proportions are not quite right.  But, as one approving reviewer wrote, “Staying in the area to get away from Atlanta. Wrapped up the day visiting this great place. Nothing fancy but a great picture stop and great way to celebrate being American.”  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

On the way back, one might be tempted — in season, at least — to stop in Chilton County, known for its peaches.  They are good, and come in different varieties.  Some have yellow flesh, some have white. Some are free stones, others aren’t.  Some are good for eating, some for baking, and some for ice crpeacheam.  Chilton County farmers aren’t about to let traffic just fly by on I-65 either.  Photos of peaches, peach ice cream and not one but three Miss Peaches — or maybe Misses Peach? — are plastered on billboards.  And, just in case you avoid those, you can’t miss the peach water tower in Clanton.

And really, who would want to?

31 From 60

It’s catch-up time.

Two years ago, I started the “60 to 60” project, in which i pledged to count off the weeks until my 60th birthday.  It wasn’t going to be a depressing count-off, but one of aspiration, of getting to a place at 60 that I’d feel good about.

And about a year out, I stalled.  Got busy.  Struggled with turning 59 (those last years of a decade are always the hardest).  Bit the bullet and had foot surgery that was overdue.  Weathered the shock of an old friend dying.

Now, it’s 31 weeks PAST my 60th birthday.  No, I’m not going to keep counting.

But I’d like to pick up writing again, and sharing whatever pops into this head about life in the South, family, modern life and green vegetables.

Here’s what’s happened in the meantime:

I’ve been taking guitar lessons for seven months, and have stuck with them.  Generally, I learn fast when the learning is mainly cognitive.  Mind-body coordination has never been my forte, as many people know (Dynamo, you’ll remember our ballroom dancing fiasco).  It’s been different to accept a slow learning curve.  But I’m practicing every day; I can switch chords pretty easily, especially if it’s not in mid-measure, and they are beginning to have a lovely ringing sound.  I’ve got some strum patterns down, including a bass strum (but nothing fancy; no walking bass).  And I’m working on fingerpicking.

I cannot imagine, however, being able to play guitar and sing at the same time.  Everything considered, that’s probably just as well.

color-version-TTeditorial-toned-275x412The day before my 60th birthday was the last time I dyed my hair.  I’ve let it grow out and go gray and, amazingly, it’s neither like my father’s nor my mother’s hair.  It’s my own, and so far I’m okay with it.  Here’s what it looked like earlier in the summer, when the remaining red glinted here and there as highlights.

I’ve been traveling more this year — yes, mainly for work — and not staying at the office as late.  And I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to retire, even though I agree with MrNYer that I’d probably hate it.

But I am thinking about it.  MrNYer and I are now on the top rung of the ladder, generationally speaking. Our last parent, his Dad, died in January.  We’re spreading his ashes in Staten Island later this month.  Our son, TheAbandonnedOne, turned 30 in June.  And between them, my sisters have eight grandchildren.  It all leads me to wonder what’s next.

Another project I’ve worked on in a desultory way is digitizing photos.  So one day I calculated what year it was when my Mom turned 60. (It was 1975.) And I looked at photos of how she looked then to see who looked older, her or me.  She did.  In fact, at 60 she looked really tired and worn out.  She would ascribe all of that to the trials that I put her through.

But here’s the great news:  I looked at her pictures from ten years later, and five years after that, and she didn’t look at all tired. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

Next up: We’ll be revisiting Desiderata, because it visited me today.

Mother and Child Reunion

I’m on a plane flying back home from a quick trip to the bustle – and the cold – of Philadelphia and New York. And as much as I am thankful that I no longer live where winter can arrive in November and stubbornly make life miserable for four months or more, and that I no longer endure commuting for more than three hours a day, I have to admit – Lifelongnewyorker misses both the cold and the bustle.

This particular trip included more adrenaline-producing moments than I anticipated, and that too made me a bit nostalgic. Because living, walking and working in a city means constantly being alert, making quick calculations and decisions, balancing options and making choices. The mind and body are active. You feel alive. That’s just not life in Montgomery.

As an aside, I learned during this trip that “nostalgia,” or extreme homesickness, was a diagnosis occasionally listed on 19th century death certificates. But I get ahead of myself.

A work event offered the chance to be in Philadelphia on Monday. Philly is close to New York, I haven’t seen the Abandoned One since Christmas, and he’s been coping with a bout of unemployment. Since I wanted to see him face-to-face to reassure myself that he was okay (he is), I volunteered to help out at the Philly event. I booked my flight into Philadelphia with a return from Newark, and planned to hop the NE Corridor train to get to New York on Tuesday morning and spend the day with Abandoned One.

And, because I’ve long since learned that it’s not smart to call it too close when it comes to flight arrivals – or to put it more simply, it’s foolish to assume that your plane will be on time – I arrived in Philly on Sunday. The Dynamo lives about 60 miles away, so we planned to get together.

Between booking and going, Abandoned One got a job. No daylong visit with him, but still a chance to have dinner together. I made reservations at the Jersey City Hyatt (big rooms, right next to the PATH station, 5 minutes from lower Manhattan, and about $100 cheaper than anything comparable in New York), and he made reservations at Landmarc in Tribeca.

But now, what to do on Tuesday? A museum exhibit? Shopping? Wait! Trenton is between Philadelphia and New York! And in Trenton is the NJ State Archives, where birth, marriage and death records from 19th century Jersey City are available in microform for genealogical research. Perhaps I could find records there that I’d been unable to find so far online.

Perfect. I had lots lined up: visit with the Dynamo; free time on Monday to hunker in my hotel room and work on a memo; a radio interview in the afternoon at WHYY, which came with a lagniappe – the chance to catch up with a former student who works there; the work event; research time, at least four hours, at the archives; dinner with the Abandoned One and home on Wednesday.

Sunday and Monday went off without a hitch. Dynamo and I walked a bit and I loved feeling my body move through the brisk air, loved the way, when the wind picked up at night, you feel so cold but then so warm when you get into a heated spot. Loved the way the cold air hit the face and got the blood moving and provided a good reason to keep up the pace. Loved having a city to walk in.

Those were the days that worked. Tuesday was another kind of city day, typical in some ways, not at all typical in others. I checked out of the hotel in Philly, grabbed a cab and headed to the 30th Street Station. Ate a poppy seed bagel that was about five degrees of magnitude more authentic than anything I can get below the Mason-Dixon line. Bought a ticket on SEPTA to Trenton — $9 versus $28 for Amtrak. Congratulated myself for being so thrifty.

Discovered the trade-off soon enough: The next Trenton train was in 40 minutes (Amtrak was 10), and it was a local. Where did I get the idea that Trenton was “just across the river” from Philly? It may be, but who knew about all those stops in between?

Got to the Trenton Transit Center and realize I’ve never been in Trenton before. It reminds me a bit of Albany, a bit of other Delaware River towns. Run down but interesting Victorian mansions. Lots of brick row houses, a historic section that might be worth a visit someday. I saw this all from the short cab ride to the Archives. When I arrived, I asked the driver whether I would be able to get a cab when I was done. I expected him to hand me a card with a phone number, but he assured me that “cabs come up and down this street all the time.”

I spent more time than I should have at the archives spooling through reels of microfilm, which reminded me just how slow research took when I was in grad school, before the Internet. The net at the end of the session was disappointing: I found no marriage certificate for my grandfather and his first wife; found another marriage certificate I sought that was so faded it was unreadable; but struck pay-dirt with a death certificate for a great uncle who was the first to be buried in a family plot that would eventually hold eleven of my forebears. I printed the death certificate and paid my $0.50 for the copy. The woman ahead of me at the desk forked over $31. She had a good day.

That great uncle’s death underscored how hard life was in the 19th century – well, not just his death. To find the certificate, I had scanned indexes that listed name, date of death, age and cause of death. Illnesses that are simply nuisances today – or those we have vanquished entirely – killed people then. Scarlet fever, bronchitis, infected wound, childbirth – all were perilous.

I’d always assumed Terrance, my grandmother’s oldest brother, died in a workplace accident. I was wrong. Instead, he was an otherwise healthy 21-year old, sick for only four days, who succumbed to double pneumonia in 1880. I knew that his mother – my great-grandmother – was already suffering from the neck tumor that would kill her – by asphyxiation – three years later. Looking at the death certificate, I recalled that my grandmother was born in 1876. She was a child, only four years old when her brother died, and seven when she lost her mother. Before she was 20, she’d attend funerals for more siblings, nieces and nephews. My father was 17 when she died. I come from a line of people who lost their mothers at a relatively young age, but that’s probably true of most of us.

Single photocopy in hand, I retrieved my luggage, coat, purse and pens (forbidden in archives!) from the locker I’d been assigned and left the building to hail a cab. I’d planned to leave around 3 pm; it was closer now to 3:40. Did some quick calculations – an hour to get to Newark Penn Station, about 20 minutes on PATH to Jersey City. No problem; I’d still have over an hour to check in and freshen up.

You guessed it, reader. There was not a cab in sight. I moved to the corner to multiply the chances of hailing a cab going either way on the cross street. Nope. I wondered what bus or combination of buses went to the Trenton Transit Center, and whether one needed exact change or Trenton’s version of a Metrocard. I conjured contingencies – could I find a hotel and get the bellman to hail a cab? What risks were involved in asking a stranger for a ride? Too many. Finally, I decided to walk toward a more densely built-up part of State Street, where I might find a hotel. Meanwhile, I pivoted back and forth, sometimes walking backward, to scout a cab.

One came, at last. But I’d lost 15 minutes. In the cab, I pulled out my iPhone to check fares: Amtrak’s Northeast Regional cost $78, left in a half hour, and would get me to Newark in 38 minutes. At the Trenton Transportation Center, I discovered that NJ transit cost only $11, and an express NE Corridor train was leaving in four minutes. With machine-dispensed ticket in hand, I hurried to Track 2. The train was at the platform! But why were the doors closed? The train stood there for an eternity, doors closed, not moving, me standing hopefully next to it before it finally sighed and pulled away.

Next train: 4:28. It would arrive in Newark at about 5:30. I’d get to the hotel by 6 pm, and still have a half hour to check in, change and wash my face before having to leave. Not what I had planned, but entirely acceptable.

For $11, it turns out, you don’t get electrical outlets, something Amtrak does provide. My iPhone’s charge was dangerously low, but it would last until the hotel. I calculated whether I’d be in the room long enough to give it a boost. I would.

I spread out over two seats – the train wasn’t crowded. Directly ahead of me a quartet of 20-somethings chatted back and forth. In the handicap-accessible area just out of sight, but not hearing, a toddler was getting cranky, along with his mom. Across the aisle a white-haired professional man in a black overcoat and with an old-fashioned leather briefcase – the kind that looks like a satchel, not a box – busied himself with phone calls.

From my westward-facing window seat I looked up from time to time to watch the familiar New Jersey landscape go by. Soon we were passing New Brunswick, an old town, home to Rutgers and one of the larger cities in that part of the state. I’ve never been there, and gazed out of the westward facing window on the northbound train toward a lovely looking downtown, park and river view.

And then the train stopped, after the station but just short of the bridge over the Raritan River. Trains stop all the time; a train ahead could be delayed, or a signal is out, or a repair crew is on the tracks and needs to move. It’s hardly worth noticing.

But this delay went on and on. After about 10 minutes, the conductor announced that we were stopped for an unknown reason and, as soon as he had more information, he’d let us know. He promised that he would keep us informed. We got reruns of that twice over the next half hour, with little additional information.

With my iPad in hand, I found the page on the NJ Transit site that accounted for train delays and learned that train 3960 – my train! – was cancelled due to a “trespasser incident.” Googling “trespasser incident” revealed the likely truth behind the euphemism – it usually meant that someone was on the tracks and got hit. Monitoring the NJT site, the impact of our “incident” began to spread as more and more trains were delayed and none were stopping northbound at New Brunswick, Edison or Metuchen.

The people in front of me weren’t in a hurry and continued chatting. The toddler needed a nap, clearly, and I felt for his mother. And this is when Mr. Professional showed his colors. I heard him on the phone to his wife complaining about the delay and the lack of information. When he was done, I turned to him and filled him in with what I knew – “trespasser incident,” and what I suspected: a fatality, involving this train.

He argued with me. It couldn’t be this train if the incident was “at the station.” I told him that the news now reported that a northbound train had struck someone at the station. We were a northbound train, a few hundred yards past the station, and we were stopped. He shrugged, thanked me for the information, and muttered.

Next, I overhear Mr. Professional, whose first name I decided was Self-Important, call 411 and ask for the phone number of Something Bank in a NJ town. He gets the number, calls the bank and asks for Mr. Somebody, who must really be a Somebody – “I’m calling him,” Mr. Self-Important Professional says, “in his capacity as a member of the NJ Transit Board.” The person at the other end – whose job no doubt includes protecting Mr. Somebody from these calls – says she’ll take a message. My train-mate explains that he doesn’t know Mr. Somebody, but they have a mutual friend, Mr. Well-Connected, and that he’s calling because he’s been sitting on a train just past the New Brunswick Station for over a half-hour and the conductor has not adequately explained why. He demands that Mr. Somebody call him back.

The conductor comes on and tells us that the train is being taken out of service “because of police and medical activity,” the closest he ever gets to informing us that the train has just hit a human being. The dispatcher, he says, will be sending a train for us to transfer to, but he doesn’t yet know when that will be.

My iPhone is almost dead, and my chances of meeting the Abandoned One at 7 pm have vanished. I text him, “Can you pick up email on your phone?” His answer comes back: “No.”

Urban woman steps in: the phone may be dead, but the laptop is fully charged. Hook the iPhone to the computer USB. It works, and the iPhone begins to recharge.

Meanwhile, the local NJ news outlets are painting a fuller story. A man on the station “leaned out over the platform” and was struck by the passing train. Flying debris from the collision, it was reported, injured four people on the platform. Later reports identify the debris: body parts.

I desperately wanted to see the Abandoned One, but it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself over delayed trains, missed meals or other inconveniences when a person lays dead a few hundred feet away. Hard, but not impossible. Mr. Self-Important Professional was still fulminating.

After about an hour, the conductor came through and told us to move forward to the first two cars. From these, we’d be transferring to another train that would be pulling up alongside us on the express tracks. I finally saw the mom with the toddler. He was acting up, and she was struggling with him, the stroller and the requite mom bag with snacks and toys, but she also had her mother in tow. They would be fine. Many passengers had luggage, as I did, and some were elderly or overweight. I had no idea how we’d transfer but hoped it would involve some kind of ramp or gangplank over the divide.

By the time we arrived in the first two cars, most people had heard some version of events, and the complaining had abated. Finally, the train pulled alongside. Waiting in the car, I heard a woman exclaim, “This step is so far!”

Indeed, the step was far. We had to drop from the train step, which is normally at platform level, to the track bed, which was paved with blue stone. I estimated the drop was at least three feet (I’ve since looked it up and found it was a bit over four), but after I handed my luggage down to a rescuer and got to the bottom step I had doubts about whether I could jump down. I didn’t have to – the guy told me to put my hands on his shoulders as he grabbed me around the middle. He lifted me and placed me on the ground. And he did that with every passenger.

It was 6:30 now and this new train was making all the local stops. I wouldn’t be in Newark until 7:15 at best. Texted Abandoned One: can you change the reservation to 8 pm? Yes, he said, done.

At first people complained about the speed of the new train (slow) and the fact that it was making local stops. A woman visiting from India had theater tickets. A man had a plane to catch at Newark airport. But around me, I also heard folks reading aloud the news reports, and the complaints stopped. Some perspective taking was taking place.

At Newark I jumped on the PATH train and got off at Jersey City. Checked into the hotel and hesitated when the desk clerk said, “I hope your travel here was good today.”

“Not really,” I said. “But it’s better now.”

And like the city woman I am, I changed my clothes, splashed some water on my face and returned to the PATH. Got to the Trade Center – where the new PATH station is the whitest place I have ever seen – and grabbed a cab. As I closed in on the address on West Broadway, Abandoned One texted me: “eta?”

I texted back: “3 minutes.”

For the next two hours, Lifelongnewyorker and the Abandoned One had dinner and good conversation. Within a few minutes I saw that he was fine, and would be fine. And I realized that he’s not a kid anymore, which is great.

We left the restaurant and walked south. He descended into the subway at Chambers, and I continued on to the WTC. Grateful for the cold and the lightest of flurries, for the chance to walk, for the bustle around me, and for getting there at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

56 to 60: The road reveals itself

Four weeks into the slog Lifelongnewyorker is realizing … well, a bunch of things that don’t have a lot to do with this 60 to 60 initiative.  But they have to do with life, and figuring out what we’re about, and so I’ll report them here.

It’s been a hard week. 

But there’s been some progress to report:

 

Objective 1: Do at least one new thing every week.

Mr. NYer loves music.  Last week I proposed that we start something new: the Lockwood Boogie (Lockwood is the name of our street).  The principle was simple: Mr. NYer would create a playlist of dance music.  After dinner every night, he would play one song from the queue and we would dance in the living room.  Exercise and bonding.  What could be better.  On Wednesday, we began with The Locomotion.  Thursday brought Aretha and Respect.  Anyone spying us through the French doors would think we were slightly insane, but the three minutes or so of post-dinner dance brought a little exercise, and a lot of joy, into our lives.  Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Objective 2: Exercise. Regularly.

Got to the gym three times and stayed with the planking.  Think love handles are diminishing but probably should have a caliper.

Objective 3: Confront the negative.

Yikes!  A tough week at work had me in full immersion mode, and sometimes that meant waking with what can only be described as an anger hangover.  But it’s a soul suck, really, really, really.  One of my colleagues, Big Wig Lawyer, told me today about her own decision to “live in the good.”  I won’t go into the whole explanation, but the general idea is that we can choose to live according to our values and ideals and not play in the dark lands of our souls — or those of our colleagues and bosses. 

Objective 4: Cook at least one meal each week.

Pizza last week.  Off at a work retreat this weekend, but will cook soon.  Asking a colleague for some authentic southern recipes.

As for the hard week, well, the message is that growing old is not the same as growing wise.  Or maybe it’s that growing old does not guarantee that you won’t have the self-doubt, conflict and soul-searching that you had as a younger person.  Being a certain age doesn’t guarantee you know all the answers or that you have resolved all the issues you seem to have been born with.  What gives?  I did a Myers Briggs self-assessment and, not surprisingly, don’t entirely like the results.  I’m the type that “exudes confidence,” and I’ve learned, from college to this very day, that “exuding confidence” is a distinct turn off for some folks. 

I learned this today while at a company retreat.  Because of this retreat, I missed going to my newest grand-nephew’s Christening, which also happened to be my sister’s wedding anniversary.  I have seven grand nieces and nephews, and have not been to all of their baptisms … after all, I’m in Alabama and they are over a thousand miles away.  My son attended this one, and we joked that he had our proxy and represented Mr. NYer and myself.

But I woke up this morning acutely aware that I was not with the people whom I care most about in this world.  Mr. NYer was home in Alabama while I was at a hotel in Georgia.  Our son, who lives in Brooklyn, NY, was staying with my sister in New Jersey.  Both sisters, together with their husbands, children, and grandchildren, were assembling in New Jersey for the event.  And I missed them all, terribly.

At the same time I thought about the friendships I’d built over 50 years growing up in New York. Some of them dated back as far as 5th grade.  I’d gathered others up over the years teaching, working at the local newspaper, participating in community theater.  They are, literally, irreplaceable. And I’m feeling even more tender about them because of news that one of them has died.  I read it on Facebook, and will hear about the wake and funeral there as well.

I’ve been in Alabama for four years and have a nice circle of acquaintances, but few close friends.  And today, perhaps for the first time in four years — don’t ask why — I realize how much I miss my friends and my family.  They are not fungible, or easy to replace. 

And so, the road to 60 seems different this week.  Maybe it’s less about who I am, and more about who I value. 

 

 

Becatted

When Lifelongnewyer and Mr. NYer moved to Alabama, we brought two cats with us.  Like us, they were ex-pat cats.

Image

It took only a few weeks before these guys became buddies.

One of them, Harpo, aka, “The Mush,” has passed on and is buried next to a pond in our development.  He loved to munch on tulips, so Mr. NYer planted a clutch of them atop his grave.  Rather than make his steady companion, Simon, an only cat, we adopted a new guy, an Alabama native named Stan.  The two of them get along better than any cats we’ve ever had.  Our household was complete.

In the last few weeks, however, we’ve become a three-cat family, having added a female tortie to the mix.  The adoption was entirely predictable as it was in the works for over a year.  How it happened tells a lot about life in Alabama, and about

Mr. NYer.  Let’s just say that retirement changes a man.

Some background:  In NY we were a one-cat household for many years.  Lifelongnewyorker lobbied for a second cat, and Mr. NYer resisted. His reasons were sound. We had a single bathroom shared by us, the Abandoned One, and the litter box.  The idea of making that a multi-cat litter box appealed to no one.  Finally, though, Lifelongnewyorker got a second cat (Harpo) as a Mother’s Day gift and we settled into life as a two-cat family.

In Alabama, we have four bathrooms. 

Our third cat appeared on our patio one warm Friday in May nearly two years ago.  She was young, probably less th

an a year old, comfortable around people, and healthy looking.  We had a cast party that weekend for a play that Mr. NYer was appearing in, and the cat schmoozed with the guests and sat contentedly on several laps. 

We had no idea whose cat this was or where she had come from.  Our corner of the development has six townhouses,

only three of which were occupied and, as far as we knew, none of our neighbors had a cat. It was hot, so we put out water.  She seemed hungry, so we put out food. 

Days passed and the cat made camp on the patio.  By day three, we began to scour the “lost pet” section of Cr

aigslist, looked for flyers on telephone poles, and called animal shelters to see if anyone was looking for a tortoiseshell cat.  Mr. NYer was hopeful when a woman whose tortie was missing called.  She and a friend came to rescue her cat, “Muffin,” but alas, patio cat was not she. 

Finally, on day five, we decided to take patio cat, who we were now calling Sunpie, inside, but not until she’d been thoroughly vetted.  Mr. NYer took her in to our vet, who shaved her belly to see whether she’d been spayed.  She had, and it had been done by the local Humane Society.  She even had an ID chip implanted, and the owner was contacted.

Imagine our surprise when we learned that the cat belonged to our newest neighbor, a judge who had moved into one of the townhouses.  He and his girlfriend had gone out of town for five days and left the cat outside without adequate food or water.  Somehow we found out that the girlfriend, who maintained her own place with its own cat also wanted a cat in the judge’s new place.  They went to the Humane Society, signed the adoption papers agreeing to keep the cat indoors, and took “Angel,” as they named her, home.  The judge, though, wasn’t really fond of cats and used one accident in the house as a reason to cast Angel from paradise.

I was furious that anyone could leave a cat for five days, but it appeared that the judge and his girlfriend now realized the cat needed to be fed and watered and that was that.  She became a fixture on the property, and spent many hours lounging on our patio, where we kept a bowl of water for her.

Just as a matter of note, Mr. NYer and I theorize that Alabama is more of a dog state than a cat state.  So many people have dogs that we wondered whether it was a legal requirement for residence.  In our neighborhood, many of these dogs spend days outside on their lawn and rush barking at you as you walk by.  Which explains why most walkers carry big sticks.  But all these properties also have “invisible fences,” so the dogs come rushing at you only to skid to a stop six inches from the street.  It’s scary. 

At some point last spring the judge moved out.  He left the cat. 

Yes, you heard that.  He left the cat.  I don’t know about you, but in my book that’s grounds for impeachment.  Certainly for a complaint to the local bar. 

Mr. NYer slid farther down the slippery slope as he put food out in addition to the water.  She was out in all kinds of weather, and the rain was particularly hard as the patio is fully exposed.  Mr. NYer would open the patio door, pick her up, carry her through the living room and place her outside the front door where a covered entry offered some shelter. 

She grew from a cuddly people-oriented cat into a savvier outdoor cat, less likely to jump on a lap and wary of being approached.  Occasionally she left gifts of mutilated birds for Mr. NYer on the doormat.  She learned what time the food came out and showed up promptly, meowing if it was late.  Often, she scooted into the house when the door was opened and had to be retrieved and brought back outside. She lounged on the windowsills with only a screen separating her from one of our cats lounging on the other side.

In short, whether Mr. NYer admitted it or not, she had become our responsibility and thus, our cat. As the weather got cold, he fretted about her being in the cold.  I pointed out that the one unoccupied townhouse was still in construction mode and the garage doors were kept open; she probably took shelter there.  Mr. NYer put out a house for her with blankets.  She was having none of it; her sights were set for indoor life.

And then the polar vortex was forecast. I knew what would happen, of course. The first night of cold weather, Mr. NYer set up a litter box and food in the garage and brought her in. I asked what would happen to our belongings if she freaked out in the middle of the night and felt trapped. He raised one door a few inches. She ate, rested, and left. 

The next day the temps were projected to fall into the teens that night.  A colleague advised me to turn on our taps and let the water run to avoid freezing pipes.  Our house is well-insulated, but it’s built on a slab and several sinks are on outside walls.  It seemed smart, but I knew Mr. NYer would object that this was over-cautious.  So I was surprised when I came home from work and told him I thought we should run the water and he said OK.  I took off my coat.  “Oh,” he said, “the cat is in the guest room bathroom.”

It was just for the bitterly cold weather of course. 

That night, I heard her bumping against the door a few times, trying to get out, but she was fine when we visited.  The next morning, I asked, “How’s the hostage doing?”

“I let her into the bedroom.  She seems happier.”

Great, the cat now had her own suite.

And so it went for a few days until one night at dinner Mr. NYer said, “We need to decide if we’re going to bring her indoors.”

And so it happened that we added Tortie to our cat house.  He took her to the vet where she got her shots and a clean bill of health.  She was introduced to the household.  The boys are not thrilled.  She has made herself at home. 

It’s been a good two weeks now, and she has never tried to go outside, even when the temp went up to 70 last weekend.  She doesn’t even look wistfully out the door. 

Clearly, this was a cat with a plan.  And patience.  And a willing accomplice.

 

 

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Look What's Cookin'

It’s not impossible to find passable Italian sausage in Alabama.

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