Cat Panic 3: Revenge of the Bureaucrats

Yesterday I made my (almost) daily visit to the local post office.  I found a letter in my box that was intended for the box next door, and stood in line for a while, waiting to hand it to a staff member.  I am always alarmed by mis-delivered mail, viewing it as a sign that things just aren’t as reliable as they should be. The woman ahead of me in line was trying to mail a greeting card in a square envelope. It was carefully addressed in her large, loopy cursive, and she had chosen a decorative stamp and applied it in the corner. Because of its unusual dimensions, it was going to require 20¢ extra postage. The customer produced a plastic bag full of a large number and variety of carefully organized postage stamps from her purse and explained to the clerk that she had 5¢ stamps, but felt there was not enough room for them on the envelope.
The clerk looked in the stamp drawer (which is no longer at the counter but is instead somewhere in the back and off to the side) for a 20¢ stamp to sell her, but they had none. They also had no 10¢ stamps, so four 5¢ stamps was her only choice. Together, the clerk and the customer placed the stamps in the remaining space in the upper left hand corner of the envelope. Then, the clerk hand-cancelled the envelope with two rubber-stamps.
Next, I drove over to the local UPS store to send my youngest son’s clothes to summer camp. I was greeted cheerfully by a staff member as I walked in.  The cheerful clerk took my heavy boxes from me and struck up a conversation with me about the retailers whose boxes I had used and about summer camp and about how long it might take the packages to get there.  Customers are listed within UPS’s database by their phone number, and the process is so quick and confidence-inspiring that it was not until I was driving away that I had time to reflect on the contrast to the post office.
Right before we moved in to the Big Red Barn, I was strong-armed told by the belligerent detail-oriented listing agent to apply for a post office box instead of using the mailbox at the top of our drive way. Her argument was, “Yes, you need to.”
The post office in this community is staffed by grouchy detail-oriented people who send back any mail addressed to our street address rather than the post office box number. In large grease pencil they write: NO RECEPTICLE (or sometimesNO RECEPTACLE). The post office is approximately two miles away from our house, which makes it just far enough away not to be a walking destination. It also has a lot of signage about allowing no dogs except service dogs, about the special penalty for robbing a post office, about their brief hours of operation, and about their rates for various sizes of boxes for their state-of-the-artslow shipping.
The mailbox that is/isn’t at the top of the driveway
If you come to visit the Big Red Barn, you can find our driveway between our trash hutch and our non-existent mailbox. If you open our non-existent mailbox, you will find a single letter to a former tenant and several receipts for filling the propane tanks last December. I look in there all the time, just to see if anything happened. If I had a large rubber spider I might want to put it in there when we move out in September.
Within 24 hours of my cat-bite, I had been contacted by Beth at the Westchester County Health Department, who left me a message saying she wanted me to know that they have a process she wanted to explain to me.  We then played phone tag for about a day. When we did have a conversation, Beth told me that as the pet owner I was going to be receiving a letter from the health department which I needed to fill out and return after a 10 day quarantine. She may have described the letter as “harsh,” or even “threatening,” and she assured me it was for public safety.
 There is really nothing funny about rabies, or the possibility of people getting rabies. Even though my cat is now and has always been an “indoor-only” pet, I have always kept him current on all of the recommended vaccines, including rabies.  I am aware of various educated and otherwise law-abiding people in this country who do not vaccinate their pets and/or children based on some sort of logic that common vaccines cause bad things to happen to them.  I don’t know what to say about that kind of thinking other than to wonder about how science is taught in this country.
I do marvel at Beth’s job: she gets to send out a letter to people that is so threatening that she needs to pre-empt it with a friendly phone call. In my case, the post office never delivered my letter, because it was addressed to our physical address and not our post office box. I had the forms emailed to me.
Here are the three emails I received:

Just print out the attached documents. I will call you on 5/31 to check on Schwartz’s health status. Beth
Maggie…was able to print out. I am closing this case..Beth

The Peony of Coincidence

Before my parents put a pool in the backyard of the house I grew up in, there was a peony in the yard. I think the flowers were dark red. It was memorable for being a plant that emerged from the dead dirt like a miracle, and most especially because of the large black ants that were to be found crawling all over the buds.  
I have read that if you want ant-free peonies, you can cut them when the buds are “marshmallow soft.” You brush off the ants outside and can let them bloom inside in a vase.  The ants are irrelevant and do not facilitate the blooming; they are simply tasting the sugar on the flowers.
Ants were part of my childhood. Our house had the small kind of black ant, the ones that would find a bit of food on the counter and march in a dense line to dismantle it and carry home the crumbs. I watched them often. Despite being afraid of many interesting things as a child (my grandparents, bees, throwing and catching, swimming, dogs, crows), I have no specific memory of being afraid of ants. My younger brother would lie on the pavement on his belly and squish them with his finger, saying, “Gee-um! Gee-um!” I can also recall a couple of experiments on ant hills involving water or hot wax, but I wielded no magnifying glass on them.  
As an adult, I take a keen interest in most of the things I was fearful of as a child (my grandparents, bees, dogs, crows), and I can recommend a book about ants that I read a number of years ago called, “The EarthDwellers: Adventures in the Land of Ants,” by Erich Hoyt. Ants, like bees and termites, live in colonies which function as a single organism.
As for peonies, they are always blooming on my birthday in early June, and in the past I always asked for some. A few years back, Schwartzdeveloped a taste for the peony petals and heartily consumed a number of them. This produced in the cat some projectile vomiting of a surprisingly violent and comical nature. After I did some superficial research online, I was able to find peonies listed as “toxic to cats” on an ASPCA web site and “mildly toxic to cats” in most other forums. I also observed that there are other resources that consider red peony root to be a traditional herbal remedy for people for “clearing the blood.”
Today is my birthday, but it is also the anniversary of the massacre of Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square.   The powers that be in China seem to believe that censoring the Internet by banning search terms will contain or erase or alter the memories of its people. The Shanghai Composite Index managed to provide its own random reminder by closing down by 64.89 points and so had to be added to the list of banned terms.  
Of course, peonies are said to have magical properties, containing nymphs inside their petals which escape when they bloom. Everyone knows that the peony nymphs are freed to call to the snapping turtles to tell them to come to shore and lay their eggs, but perhaps they also wish to promote democracy for the 1.2 billion people who live in China.

Cat Panic: Part 1

A housecat, when provoked, can make at least three different liquids, and mine did not want to be confined to a crate and driven in the car from New York City to far Northern Westchester County, so he promptly made all three in that crate.  At that point, he panicked, and who wouldn’t? Trapped in a plastic crate with an inch of three nasty cat liquids is horrifying. Schwartz started thrashing and tearing wildly at the metal bars of his crate with his claws. Soon he was bleeding as well.  
I was liberally splashed with the nasty cat liquids while I drove, and so was the interior of my (then) brand-new car.
When we arrived at the Big Red Barn, Schwartz got a bath before I unloaded anything else from the car.  It was early September, so he dried pretty fast on his own.  I was able to clean the dashboard and window and seat and steering wheel of my new car. Schwartz had damaged a nail which ended up taking months to heal, but it did heal after all that, on its own. I unpacked and got busy having this long, bad vacation.
Schwartz was due for shots this week, and even though he is an indoor-only cat, he has a talent for slipping out the door as you bring in the groceries, so I keep him up to date on all his vaccines.  Did I know what I was getting myself into yesterday when I headed out to the vet? I certainly had not forgotten the cat panicking in the car in early September, but I must have indulged in some magical thinking: “He’s been good, he’ll be good,” or “He’s forgotten,” or “It’s not that far.”
I was wrong.
This time, I put the crate in the back of the station wagon. This time, I put an old towel in with him.  This time, I covered the crate with an old blanket, in case of splashing. This time he behaved in more or less the same way he had behaved on his last trip.
It was raining very hard, and in my distraction with the ruckus going on in the way-back, I drove past the proper exit. I turned to my car’s built-in GPS for help, and it disagreed with what Google Maps on my phone was suggesting. Three miles and fifteen minutes later, I stopped in a park to call the vet. “Oh, you have to tell your GPS it’s Bedford Road, not North Bedford Road.” As I drove out of the park to re-trace my route for the third time, I saw a family of Canada geese enjoying a pond that had jumped its banks in the torrential rain.  The adult geese looked like they were having trouble getting the goslings together.
At the vet, it was agreed that they would take Schwartz to the back to do the exam, give him his shots and clean him up. We had brought two stool samples, one planned, and another was Schwartz’s spontaneous contribution in his crate. He had torn out two nails this time, and so along with the planned vaccines, he got a shot of antibiotics and some Buprenex, for pain.  We were late picking up The Battlefield from school.
Wet cat is freaked
Once home again, I felt that Schwartz needed another bath. I was reacting to the third stool sample he had produced which was stuck to him. I scooped him up, and began the bath routine.  By the time I realized that the traumatic vet visit, sandwiched between two terrifying car rides and including several shots and a dose of pain-killer, might induce some unexpected behavior, I was forcibly opening his jaws with one hand in an effort to get his teeth out of my left arm. He scratched my arm and my back, and gave me two cat bites, one of which drew blood, the other just left marks.  The frenzy of his panic and the ferocity of his attack were unlike anything I had ever seen him do.  I left him alone and wet in the bathroom for a couple of hours.
The scratches hurt more than the bites. My shirt was torn. Poor kitty. Poor me.

An Absolutely True and Unexpected Message #5

Once again, an exciting bit of information in my Hotmail inbox. 
I didn’t know I was going to Chattanooga tomorrow! I wonder what airport I’m flying from. The subject line read “Your Order#656869506‏.” A zip file (39.4 KB) was enclosed!

From:American Airlines (
Sent:Fri 2/10/12 6:01 PM


DATE & TIME / FEBRUARY 12, 2012, 09:30 AM
ARRIVING / Chattanooga

Please find your ticket attached.
To use your ticket you should print it.

Thank you for your attention.
American Airlines.

Why I Hate Houseplants

  1. They drop leaves on the floor.
  2. They don’t tell you they are hungry.
  3. Their names never really suit them, so I find them really hard to remember.
  4. They die.
  5. Dirt in a pot indoors is good for a cat to dig in.
  6. Dirt in a pot indoors is good for a cat to pee in.
  7. Dirt in a pot indoors is good for a cat to poop in.
  8. You are supposed to keep them alive.
  9. They never pay for dinner.
  10. Sometimes they get horrible little tiny insect infestations.
  11. They cast dreadful shadows.
  12. They fall off the shelves.
  13. Their methods of reproduction are very confusing.
  14. Most of them are poisonous.
  15. Any time anything interesting happens, they attribute the cause to a magical invisible being that lives in the dirt.
  16. They have all these needs (light, water) where you can’t give them too little or too much.
  17. Most of them look delicious to cats.
  18. They don’t know any funny jokes.
  19. They don’t help with housework, and they never answer the phone.

Absolutely True and Completely Unexpected Message #4

This appeared in my inbox yesterday. How unlikely for Mark Zuckerberg to have a Hotmail account! What an opportunity! Yeesh.

Dear Friend, 

My name is Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook. We have recently partnered up with Apple regarding a one-time test project today, we are finding people who can test the upcoming Apple iPad3 and keep it for free. Apple mackintosh want to make their product perfect before going public. We select users from our system database randomly and you have matched with our latest drawing. 

We are operating this project for one-day only. All you need to do is CLICK HERE to check out our web site made for this project and fill out the short survey to obtain your chance of test an iPad3 and keep it for free. Simply make sure you enter your email so we can locate our records to guarantee that we have reserved one for you. That’s it! 

If you have any question or concerns, feel free to e-mail me back. However, you need to claim 1st to ensure one will be set-aside for you before the deadline ends. We do understand that you may not receive this e-mail until after the deadline, but, we suggest you check out the web site to see if we still have yours on hold, which we often-times do because others may haven’t claimed theirs in time. 

Mark Zuckerberg 
CEO, Facebook

Vacations and Imaginary Places

How often does a person need a vacation?  Certainly vacations are a first-world luxury, and even within the developed world, standards for appropriate amounts of time off vary from the American two weeks to countries like France and Finland where they have 10 national holidays and 30 mandatory days of vacation.  Even within the U.S. there is wide variability about holidays granted by employers; my husband, the Bacon Provider, earned his keep at Microsoft for almost 18 years, never once getting to enjoy Martin Luther King Day because it’s business as usual at Microsoft on Martin Luther King Day.  By my accounting, he worked 18 days that the federal government set aside to honor a civil rights leader and encourage shopping after Christmas.  This is almost four weeks of vacation.
For our spring vacation last year, we planned a trip to Japan and Hawaii. The Bacon Provider has been to Japan on business a number of times, and has been talking about taking me there for years. We were also taking our two kids still in the house these days, boys aged 17 and 13. I have been looking forward to going to Japan for a long time. We bought tickets in advance to visit the Ghibli Museum on April 14th. You have to buy these tickets in advance, but it is not possible to purchase tickets from the U.S. online. Instead, you must make reservations over the phone. It is a complex transaction, where the purchaser is required to give the full name and birthdate of each ticket-holder.  This memorable phone conversation took up the better part of a morning, to a local Japanese tourism office in Seattle.
Obviously, rolling blackouts and food shortages and radioactive fallout from catastrophic failure at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Daiichi meant that we did not go to Japan for this vacation. I have waited a long time to go to Japan, and I will have to wait some more. 
When I was a little kid and still believed in the possibility that the world was a very magical place, I used to imagine that nothing happened outside of what I could currently see and experience. If people went out of view, they stopped existing. Sometimes this was kind of a cool idea, because it meant that I did not need to worry about missing interesting things. Other times, this was a very scary idea, especially when my parents took me to stay at my grandparent’s house while they went out of town. I do remember wondering if places that I had never been actually existed, or if they would be conjured up just before I arrived.
One of the many side effects of being a parent is sometimes phrases get stuck in your head  from books and movies and books-on-tape enjoyed by your children when they were young.  My oldest (now an adult) loved Thomas the Tank Engine, and I can hear in my head, “A change is as good as a rest!” whenever I think about vacation planning.  I don’t think we travel to rest up.  I think we do it to get out of our ruts.
People closest to me know that this moving-to-New-York-thing has been a bit of a long, bad vacation.  A number of things have not worked out how we expected, and I find myself living in a spooky and lonely rural/suburban town for which there are no freeway exit signs, as if living here means getting away from it all, whether or not you want to get away from it all. I do not have all of my clothes or books or sewing supplies.  In early July I took a road trip, across the U.S., which ended with moving in to a furnished apartment. From there we moved to a furnished house. In the summer there were days when I had so much trouble getting going that I would sometimes get back in bed, fully clothed, at mid-day. The pets thought it made perfect sense. It was more of a function of needing a place to sit in a small apartment than a sign of suffering, but I did do it more than once.  These days I have too much to do.
That I am ready for a vacation means that this is where I live: amongst the long drives to everywhere, the deer, and the spooky water which goes to the faucets in Manhattan.   Right now, I am planning a trip to Barcelona in a few weeks. Only my youngest son will be able to come along, but the Bacon Provider has reason to go there for work and it sounds pretty interesting to me. I have never been to Spain.  Those magical people better get to work building Barcelona before I get there.