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


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.




Caring for One’s Inner Teenager and Picture #9

The Mush naps atop Lifelongnewyorker back in Staten Island.  RIP, Mush.

The Mush naps atop Lifelongnewyorker back in Staten Island. RIP, Mush.

This photo was taken, without Lifelongnewyorker’s knowledge or consent, about five years ago.  With a few circumstances changed, it could have been today.

What’s different: We no longer have that loveseat. Lifelongnewyorker is five years older. The cat pictured, lovingly nicknamed The Mush (for obvious reasons), died this year.  Our current cats nap by themselves.

What’s the same: After a long week, Lifelongnewyorker likes to take a nap on Saturday.  She pays lip-service to the cover story that she is going to read; a book is nearby.  But the lying down, the strategic placement of the pillow, and the addition of a coverlet all show that she’s fooling no one, including herself.  It rarely takes more than two or three pages before she sinks into unconsciousness.  Today’s lasted for three hours.

How nice, you’re probably thinking, to take such a long nap in the middle of a long weekend day.  Well, sort of.

The “inner teenager” of the title is a short dose of Mr. NYer’s wit and warmth.  You see, Lifelongnewyorker’s nap began only a few hours after she had gotten up from bed.  Yes, Lifelongnewyorker slept until 10:30 am.  More to the point, Lifelongnewyorker CAN still sleep to 10:30.  And then, a couple of hours later, take a nap.

She also falls asleep on airplanes before take-off.

Sadly, most people of Lifelongnewyorker’s vintage can no longer sleep much past 7 am.  They cite too many years of waking up for work, waking for children, waking to get an early start on the day’s worries.  Is it that they failed to nurture their inner teenager? Did they grow up too completely? You decide.

Lifelongnewyorker knows that having one’s inner teenager still hanging around is a gift.  Now if she could only do something about the clothes strewn on the floor.

Becoming Alabaman

According to a recent report, Alabama is #2 when it comes to obesity, outweighed only by our neighbor, Mississippi.  Nearly a third of my fellow residents are obese, and fully two-thirds are “overweight or obese.”

Perhaps this helps explain recent trends that have been registered on Lifelongnewyorker’s  bathroom scale.  Two members of our household have, to use a phrase my mother favored, “filled out.”  On the other hand, two other members have maintained their trim or perhaps even lost weight. For those of you puzzling over this — our household includes the two cats.

Harpo has always struggled with his weight.  He has a large frame, and generally wears it well.  But a couple of years ago, his vet suggested he would be better off shedding a few pounds.  Mr. NYer oversaw his diet and the big guy managed to lose a pound or two–he seemed to level off at 15 pounds and that was fine.  In Alabama, he has ballooned to 18 pounds.  We think it’s emotional eating.

Simon, the younger cat, maintains his youthful figure by collecting and chasing those little plastic plugs that come on containers of orange juice.  The sound alone of the refrigerator door opening in the morning can summon him, and if it’s a day to open a new container, he is on that nickel-sized cap with lightning speed.  A session or two of orange cap floor hockey every day keeps his boyish figure.

Likewise, ample time for exercise has resulted in Mr. NYer shedding what little body fat he had.  Shortly after Lifelongnewyorker leaves for work in the morning, and before the real heat of the day settles in, he takes off for an hour or two of bicycle riding.  On days he doesn’t ride, he goes to the pool and swims laps.

And that leaves Lifelongnewyorker, who is way too close to topping her own personal record.    Twelve more pounds and she’d match the weight when she was ten months pregnant and about to give birth to a nearly nine-pound Abandoned One.  Otherwise, she’s approaching the highest non-pregnant weight she’s ever seen.

Why? Oh, the usual.  Age and time of life.  Lack of exercise contributes.  In New York, the day began with a brisk walk to the bus stop and, on most mornings, a 15-minute walk in Manhattan from Worth St. to Spring St. Now, she rises from the kitchen chair, takes about ten steps into the garage, drives into her designated spot in the office garage, and takes the elevator up to the 4th floor.  There’s time in the evening to take a bike ride, true, but Lifelongnewyorker attracts mosquitoes and the OFF doesn’t seem to work down here.

And then there’s the companionable before-bedtime snacking.  Around 9 o’clock every evening, she and Mr. NYer settle down to watch some television together.  Two glasses of wine and a box of crackers later, we go to bed.  Mr. NYer exercises it off the next day.  Lifelongnewyorker adds it to her waistline.

It’s all part of becoming a real Alabaman.

Settling in?

Mr.  NYer has been in Alabama for almost two weeks now.  We’ve quickly resumed some aspects of familiar life.  Lifelongnewyorker loves coming home to home-cooked meals; on the other hand, it’s amazing how quickly the family routine has diminished the sense of novelty.

But not entirely.

The first day he was here, Mr. NYer examined the stock of food I’d  stowed in the pantry and decided on a simple meal of pasta with clam sauce. After all, I’d bought a box of spaghetti and a can of Progresso.  What I failed to do was check whether I had a pot big enough to cook pasta in.  In short order, Mr. NYer discovered just how insufficiently equipped the kitchen was, a realization that had eluded me in my burnt pizza and frozen dinners time alone.

After four nights in hotels and two solid days in the car, the cats took to the apartment like frogs to a swamp.  They explored the heights atop the refrigerator and the cabinets, spelunked the depths under the beds, and marveled at the miracle of the glass-top dining table.

All three–the two cats plus Mr. NYer–were on their own for four days while I traveled to San Antonio for a weekend conference.  Like the last time, it was an easy drive to the airport, and no line at security.  Which left plenty of leisure for the blue-shirted Homeland Security personnel to notice the Swiss Army knife in my bag.  In NY, it would have been tossed.  Here in Montgomery, they offered suggestions.  Had I checked baggage into which it could be packed?  No, I didn’t.  Well, then, they offered, did I drive here?  There was a good half-hour before the plane left–why not put it in my car.  So I asked my colleague to take charge of my bags and walked out to the car, threw the knife in the trunk, and headed back to security.  Where I realized that my boarding pass was in the bag with my co-worker.  “No problem,” the Homeland Security guy said, “I’ll go get him–what does he look like?”

I described him, and my bags, and waited for what seemed like a long time given the fact that this airport has but six gates, and only two of them are used at any one time.  But eventually Thom arrived with my bag and boarding pass and I passed through.  “Did they have trouble finding you?” I asked.

“No, not really,” he answered.  “They found me in the men’s room at the urinal.”

Try that next time you’re flying out of Newark.

We’ve had time to notice a few other things about life here in the South.  For one thing, it’s spring.  The first tree to bloom, the saucer magnolia, burst forth with glorious purple and white flowers.  The yellow Bermuda grass is greening up, and the temperature today climbed close to 70 degrees.

Thunderstorms follow a different pattern, too.  In the northeast they break out in late afternoon and early evening, typically during hot weather.  Here thunder storms roll in during the night and sit over the city for three or four hours.  It’s kind of nice to sleep to.  Yesterday, though, brought a threat of severe weather, which in this area means tornados.  There’s  about a 210 degree view of the sky from the office window, and yesterday’s black, blue and purple panorama impressed.  Watching TV at home last night I saw little maps pop up in the corner of the screen showing where the tornado threat loomed.  The only problem?  You had to know the shape of the counties, and I haven’t a clue yet. 

And that’s the key to the odd dislocation one feels.  Not knowing the lay of the land, literally.  In New York, I could glance at a map and find where I was and recognize the shapes for fifty or a hundred miles in all directions.  Here, they throw a partial map of Alabama on the screen, and color code the counties by degrees of danger, and I don’t know if I’m in the yellow shapes or the red, in which case I should probably be seeking shelter somewhere.

The landscape is shifting in other ways too.   In recent years we’ve divided our labor so that Mr. NYer has taken on more of the household duties, but now the contrast between what we each do and how we spend our days is quite stark.  I leave for work around 7:30 and return 10 or 11 hours later.  How exactly has he spent his day?  He has errands to be sure, and he’s getting to the gym, but just how many chores and how much exercise can one do?  A seismic shift is happening in our lives, but it’s less about moving a thousand miles away and much more about the new roles that are emerging.

Homeward Bound?

Dateline: Wytheville, Va.  Halfway between home (old) and home (new).

Yesterday we relaxed.  With 15 inches of snow on the ground, it was good to wake up in a hotel bed and hear the sound of plows clearing the parking lot.  Over omelets cooked by someone else, we chortled at not having to dig out the cars or shovel the sidewalk in front of the house.  Ha!  Talk about timing.

After spending three nights in a hotel room with cats, I can confirm that they are, indeed, nocturnal creatures.  At 2:30 I arose to get some water and found them darting about like eels on the ocean floor.

Having skipped housekeeping on Thursday, we decided to allow it on Friday while we enjoyed our omelets-cooked-by-somebody-else.  We scooted the cats into their cage and asked the maid to freshen the room.  We came back to an overturned litter box, upset water dish, and two very distraught cats.  We unlatched the cage to mop up and the two cats dashed under the bed for the next six hours.

Lifelongnewyorker seriously wanted to take advantage of the hotel’s spa and went as far as to grab a menu of services.  But there was some work to do, the papers to be read, and a final visit to Mr. NYer’s Dad, who is still in the nursing home but has improved markedly.

Mr. NYer’s retirement party turned into a moveable feast.  Morning news was that the restaurant at which it was scheduled was closed by snow and the party canceled.  By late afternoon, word was out for the fearless to join us at the restaurant at the hotel.  Unbeknownst to Mr. NYer, I conspired with the Abandoned One to get him there as a surprise.

So a scaled-back retirement dinner went on despite the snowstorm, with the surprise appearance by the Abandoned One, and the added boon of not having to drive.  Lifelongnewyorker got a last taste of the Staten Island-small-world-phenomena by running into several former newspaper colleagues.

The first was Ms. Realestatebeat, whose only daughter was about three years old when Lifelongnewyorker worked in the newsroom.  Ms. Realestatebeat, whose little girl is now 15 and who has added a 15-month old caboose baby to her family, took the latest buyout — a wise choice to anyone young enough to consider a career other than print journalism.   At the tender age of 40, she told me she worried about reestablishing herself in a new career.  It was good to be able to tell her that I didn’t start my “new” — i.e. non-teaching career — until I was 45 years old.  Having changed jobs three times since then, I was able to reassure her that life is full of possibilities.

After chatting for awhile, I headed to the ladies room via the bar, and ran into The Editor, my former boss at the paper.  “You’re supposed to be in Alabama,” he bellowed.

I sat and described the last five days in four-part harmony, with 8-by-10 glossies with a paragraph on the back of each one … well, I told the tale.  And we talked about the move, the new job, why his daughter decided not to look at my house (the stairs scared her), the state of print journalism, people we both knew, and, of course, we shared some stories from the past.  I was glad to run into him — he’s mercurial, to say the least — but he gave me the job that allowed me to discover what I was capable of, and I am grateful for that.  Plus I got to work in a newsroom, which is a great experience.

This morning we again herded the cats into the cage in preparation for a long day’s driving.  The vet prescribed a sedative for the Lunatic, suggesting we try a half a pill and see if he needs more.  We’re up to a full pill for him and find that it has a minimal effect:  it turns him into a normal cat.  The Mush has been more vocal, in a plaintive and heart-rending way, whenever we cage him, so we decided to pill him as well.  Given that he’s nearly twice the weight of the Lunatic, we gave him a full pill, too.

Every time we stopped for gas, a bottle of water or a bathroom break, we lifted the rear gate to check on the cats.  They blinked warily and huddled.  After nine hours on the road, we stopped here in southern Virginia, took them into the room, and un-crated them.  The Mush staggered about, over-sedated, and stumbled on several attempts to jump atop low furniture.

The Lunatic operated at about half warp-speed, so the pills still worked for him, too.

Another long haul tomorrow, and home to Alabama.  And that seems very strange.

D-day Minus four

No sagas, reveries or wry observations today folks.  Tonight’s post is purely to catch up.

We hosted 45 friends and family at an open house on New Year’s Day.  Last night, we went to dinner and played Beatles Trivial Pursuit (not for the faint-hearted) with six friends whom we hadn’t seen on New  Year’s Day.  I have one or two visits planned over the next day or so, but most of the goodbyes have been said. 

Long-distance movers have visited to survey my belongings, take inventory and provide an estimate.  Looks like just under 12,000 pounds.  But I have been giving them a worst-case moving scenario, including furniture I probably won’t take, so maybe we’ll squeeze in at only five tons.

One mover, very practical, looked at the bumper-to-bumper parking on my up-the-block-from-a-school street favored by the teachers and asked if I would be able to talk to my neighbors and get them not to park.  “Figure,” he said, “we’ll need about ten car lengths.”

I may have to hire a different kind of muscle for that. 

Another mover came in, looked at the strapped up bundles of boxes UPS had left in my entry and living room and laughed, telling me it was “a drop in the bucket compared to what you’ll need.”

After three estimates we’ve decided not to pack ourselves, but to focus on what I’ve talked — and written  — about all along, which is weeding.  Since My Hero has offered to run our moving sale, the weeding has been much easier.   We’ve weeded the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the TV room and the linen closet completely.  The computer room and sun room have gone through the first pass and will get the second tomorrow.  Great progress has been made in the attic’s dark, dark room — and brought the discovery of Soon-to-be-Abandoned’s dinosaur comforter, which we didn’t realize we still owned.  We all hugged it briefly before consigning it to the trash heap.

Even the basement is beginning to empty out.  We’ve identified about 60% of its contents by eventual disposition: moving, moving sale, or dust heap.  There have been some grungy, yucky finds, and oaths have been uttered under Mr. NYer’s breath.  Vows have been made to never let this (the mindless accumulation) happen again.  And there’s a lot of stuff that can’t be moved.  Turns out you can’t move flammable liquids (reasonable), aerosol cans (understandable), or nail polish (huh?) via long-distance movers.   The movers all come with attractive presentation folders with helpful  moving tips.  Consider taking these items yourself rather than sending them on the moving van:  furs, fine jewelry, bonds, coin collections, important papers, gold bullion.  Do not pack frozen food or fresh produce.  Roger that. 

Soon-to-be-Abandoned, who seemed to slump about the same time I did, has emerged from his funk and begun taking charge of his own stuff.  He’s coming around to the “travel light” philosophy, beginning with his hair, which he had shorn for the first time since entering college seven years ago.  After packing one book box and feeling its weight, he told me that he’s reassessing which books he really needs. 

Mr. NYer gave up another bunch of LPs.   I threw out make-up that I bought to cheer  myself up, most likely because there wasn’t a shoe store nearby, and which I will never wear, since I rarely wear makeup anyway.  There’s only so much you need in your case for those occasions when you’re onstage.   The grey wig I bought for character roles lies in a box; it is not Alabama-bound.  I keep passing it thinking it’s one of my cats.

Speaking of cats, Mr. NYer and I successfully got Lunatic Cat to the vets.  We have two cats.  The older is a mush who doesn’t mind being picked up or handed to complete strangers.  As long as he is fed, he is happy.   He doesn’t like travel, but if you want him in the carrier, well … your will be done.  And then we have the Lunatic, an 18-month old who can read minds and believes everyone is out to get him.  He does not like to be picked up and has no intention of being put into that cage.

We adopted the Lunatic when he was a year old.  A woman who already had somewhere betwen five and 23 cats fostered him for a year but felt she couldn’t keep him permanently.  However, she has remained attached, deeply attached, and leaves messages on Mr. NYer’s cell phone every two or three months, weepily asking for news.  She thoughtfully included a three-page hand-written letter with the Lunatic when she put him up for adoption, and she noted that he was a bit skittish.  Later she admitted that it was so difficult for her to trim his nails that she resorted to sitting on him.  No wonder he runs when people approach.

A few months ago the Lunatic needed booster shots, so Mr. NYer scheduled a vet’s appointment.  I called on the way home from work and asked how it went.  “It didn’t,” Mr. NYer told me.  “I never got to the vets.”   Although he managed to catch the Lunatic, Mr. NYer had failed to wear protective gloves.  A few scratches and one major bite later, the Lunatic was deep under the bed and refused  to come out.

We rescheduled on a day that we would both be home, and placed the carrier in the living room a day ahead of the visit.  To limit his escape routes, we closed all the bedroom doors.  Mr. NYer rubbed himself with organic catnip.  The Lunatic knew what was up, I don’t know how, and zipped about the house, caroming off walls, doors and furniture.  Both armed with bath towels, we lunged and captured him, only to see him slide out and zoom off at 90 miles an hour.  Twenty-five minutes later, he ran into a corner where I was able to lean down, grab him by the scruff and life him up in time for Mr. NYer to wrap a towel, like a straight jacket, around his legs.  We then stuffed the entire package, cat and towel, into the carrier and checked for bleeding.

At the vets, of course, the Lunatic was a model of good cat behavior.  He was docile, but clearly terrified, and when the vet concluded the exam, he actually walked back into his carrier. 

We have put off thinking hard about transporting the Mush and the Lunatic, but the vet gave us drugs (for the cat), and we think we’ll live through it.  He warned us NEVER to let them out in the car. 

So that’s where we are.  We know the cats can be caged; one of them will most likely be sedated; and we will endure two or three days of hell with them on the road.   The lucky mover who gets the job will pack up less stuff than we have now.  We’re concentrating not on packing but on lightening the load.  This week, I will gather up the clothes and personal belongings I’ll need for the next couple of months and, in just four more days, we will hit the road for Alabama. 

Oh my.