Archive for May, 2023

Happy Barkday

Burke came into the flat yesterday afternoon from a brief shopping foray. She was carrying a wee box out of which a box of toy French fries jutted. As is our habit after shopping, we commenced in the kitchen to take stock of the trip’s booty. There were some things for us. Hummus. A bulgur salad. Smoked cheese. And then there were some things for the dog. Some jerky sticks of duck meat. A donut of bacon. And the aforementioned French fries.

“I couldn’t find actual fries. So this is the next best thing.”

The dog seemingly understood the words and received her gift with open-mouthed joy. She dropped it for a couple sticks of duck jerky, but when she was done she ran off to the other room with her new toy. I made an extra large bowl of wet dog food and brought it into her. We then sang Happy Birthday. The cat was unamused.

I never knew what to think about people who don’t throw their pets birthday parties. Every pet I’ve ever had has a birthday party every year – either accurate or observed. On this day we shovel gifts and meats and treats towards them and then clean up the vomit afterwards with a smile. Just like everyone’s birthday. We grant her wishes and forgive her rude behavior.

We took her out then. Not to a place we always go to, but to a special Sokol near a big soccer field. We sipped (gulped) beers while she ate sticks and barked at the butterflies. I took her out on the field and let her chase me until I was entirely winded. So about a whole three minutes.

My sister Amanda threw our first cat’s birthday. Wicket. Named after the affable Ewok in Return of the Jedi and who looks a whole lot like my current dog. Amanda gave Wicket part of a Nestle bar and we tried to give her a tea party from which she bolted early to go decapitate a robin and bring it back to us as either an offering or a warning, we could never be sure which. Wicket was a foundling and was so large she bordered on puma size. She did not enjoy her birthday. She did however kill and decapitate two birds. Though we forgave her her trespasses, my mother was not so generous as she cleaned up the partial remains of two birds from our welcome mat.

Maisy does no such thing. But she barks at a fat pigeon out on the field. After consultation and a relatively strong degree of certainty that she couldn’t catch it in a million years, we let the dog off her leash. She takes off for the bird, who turns her snobby beak towards the dog as she bolts after her. It is at this moment I become concerned about three eventualities. I have listed them below in most to least horrifying.

  1. She would actually catch the bird, which would lead to  
    1. Her eating the bird in front of 15 or so horrified drinkers.
    1. The bird gouging out her eyes in front of 15 or so horrified drinkers.
    1. The bird carrying our 12-pound Shih-tzu into the trees and leaving her there.
    1. 15 horrified drinkers taking videos of A, B, or C and then me and Burke ending up on Reddit and then being arrested for cruelty to animals.
  2. Some other stuff.

In the end, the bird leisurely took off into the afternoon sky with no conflict. Burke and I celebrate remaining off Reddit for at least another day. But when she comes back we sing Happy Birthday and I saw one or two phones hoisted, so our birthday wish might not come true after all.     

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Last Wake-up Call

At 6 am on Sunday, while I was lying in bed reviewing in a dream a class I had taught the day before, dozens of old friends were actually enjoying their lives about 4,500 miles west. The pub where we had all worked and where we had all met and became friends has become another victim in the current trend of sky-high rents. And so, another little guy bites the dust. But to us, a living landmark and this place with so much history is disappearing, her space on Oakland Avenue no doubt to be quickly filled with a Costa Coffee or a Sbarro.

Friday night, however, many generations of its employees – current, former and former former – got together to send her off. With booze. So it was a wake, but it was an Irish wake.

At 6 am, my phone sprang to life. And whoever chose the ringtone for Facebook Messenger should be forced to enjoy it as his alarm for two decades. Once my heart stopped palpitating, I ran in the bedroom, Burke pretending to be asleep lest she be pressed into service to walk the dog, the dog awake and wondering what all this noise was at 6 am and whether it meant food.

It was the gang from the bar. It was midnight there, so they were not only in a different time zone, they had been drinking for 8 hours so they were on a different planet of existence. The conversation was fast and loud and I got a little dizzy from the phone being spun around and different cherry-red faces of old friends saying hi. There was nudity and there were epithets. I loved it all. When they got off a few minutes later, I was sent sprawling down a rabbit hole of nostalgia. And I tortured Burke with it for the rest of the day.

The pub in all its forms – the corner pub, the local pub, the dive – are such important places for a local culture. People meet and talk, they socialize, they make new friends, they lose friends, they move on, they bring out hairbrained ideas in the only place they’d find an audience for it. Doctor Alexander Hamilton travelled through the colonies that would become the United States in 1744 and found the pub and the inn and tavern to be the place where ideas bounded and meetings of the mind bloomed over rum and game pies. In taverns he found a microcosm of America – charming, interesting folks, great conversationalists, and buffoonish, boorish drunks (I paraphrase his summary: the colonies are a great place, all people here are the same everywhere and awesome, except for Boston, which is full of assholes.)

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Shut Up and Drink

In early spring of 1996, I went for a job interview at a restaurant pub opening in Oakland, Pittsburgh. Though freshly 21, I had been visiting the pubs in Oakland and beyond since about 4 years earlier on a series of fake IDs and inside men who’d let me, a 5’6, 130 pound (well, until my sophomore year Cambrian explosion), peach faced fool walk through the door with a nod and an extended two-eyed wink.  

Oakland was rife with bars. Zelda’s, CJ Barney’s, Peter’s Pub, in a pinch down the road there was Babylon and Denny’s. The as-of-yet opened pub I walked up to on that afternoon had been another: Caleco’s. A lean orange cartoon cat slinked up its narrow sign from at least 1992 to around 1994. We used to go there to see a friend’s band and though they had a particular attachment to Rush that I could do without, I would go to support my friend the drummer, drink warm beer, and ogle the singer whose physical beauty made her Geddy Lee voice bearable.

So as I walked into the restaurant, still in the far-off-sound-of-saw, plastic tarp, wooden beam, and sawdusty era of its reconstruction, I felt like an old timer. I was one of the ones who knew what things had been around before the things that were there now. I was greeted by a guy who looked like Ned Flanders – pushbroom mustache, light blue in-too-good-condition jeans, belt up to the nipples of his forest green golf shirt, glasses whose wide, circular rims pegged them as leftovers of a late 1980s fashion sense. (A decade later my wire rims would be pegged as a leftover of a mid-1990s fashion sense.)

“Vic. Hi.” He told me about the place. “A west coast bar food with a twist.” Stuck out in my head – or it does now, since I heard or said it about 659 times in the following 3 years. As I tried to figure out what that meant, Vic caught me off-guard.

“Tell me a funny story about yourself.”

I panicked and told him an embarrassing story of a graphic nature. Correction: the most embarrassing story of a graphic nature. Vic stared.

“OK, you’re hired. As long as you come back Wednesday and tell that story to Mike. He’s one of the owners.”

We were given T-shirts: Shocks and Struts or Shut up and Drink. The staff became instant friends. Like every bar on earth, characters became famous. Jimmie Kuhl. JC. Sam. Nikki. I’d work there for about 6 months. You see, before I was the paragon of responsibility I am now, little things like ‘showing up to work’ used to be a problem, made worse by not informing anyone about it. These are called ‘no call, no shows’ and after three such of these occasions, I was let released into the wilds of working at other bars. This was like being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, with no west coast bar food and no twist. After a three year statute of limitations, I was hired back.

History has told us of the importance of the pub in a sociological kind of way. The first pubs (called tabernae or taverns) popped up along the Roman road network to cater to travellers. They were places to offer drink, food, and company. Stories were told, news was shared, gossip was enjoyed. The Bubonic Plague gave rise to the British pub, which started in people’s homes. The current day British pub still has all the hallmarks of this transition of home to pub – fireplaces, cozy chairs, intimate atmosphere, comfort food, throwdown fistfights three times a week, the police. Home. We about-to-be-Americans brought this overseas to the New World.

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I am Distressed to Learn that there is an Astral Plane and that My Cat Might be Elvis In It

It’s a peaceful morning. The sun casts wide beams across my bed. I – terrified of heat – spend the time in my living room, which is in the shade at this time of day. (Later on I’ll migrate to the shady bedroom when the sun makes it way to the living room. There’s a solid chance I’m Dracula). I sip my coffee (no blood).

The peace of the morning is destroyed when my dog realizes that my cat has gone almost an entire 45 minute period without being tortured by a dog. To rectify such a crime against canine, Maisy the Shih tzu springs off the bed, runs to the cushions where the cat enjoys a deep sleep in a position impossible but permanently envied by humankind, she jumps up and buries her nose in the cat’s face. The cat, whose makeup is about 30% fur, 30% ears, 20% razor sharp bits, and 10% deranged war criminal reacts in the way you might imagine given that description.

Despite my pleas for peace, a scuffle ensues. The cat makes horrible yowls, hisses, and guttural warnings. The dog barks once or twice and like the soldiers do to Sergeants Elias and Barnes, Burke and I pull them apart and calm things down. Burke takes the dog into the living room and I soothe the cat’s fur which is now reaching towards the ceiling. I offer her ham, the only known sedative for my cat, and she sniffs it and allows me to pick her up. While perched on my shoulder, she meows into my face. It’s not aggressive, but as if she’s trying to tell me something. I put her down and she disappears into the flat somewhere.

Later, I notice the dog looking from room to room. She stomps in, looks around, comes out, repeats in the next room. She gets on the bed and snuffles through the blankets. It’s then I realize – she’s looking for the cat.

At first I don’t really care. If anything I feel for the cat. But when the dog’s search ends in frustration, I can’t help but notice. Why can’t the dog find the cat? What the dog lacks in sight and personal hygiene regimen, she makes up for in an amazingly strong nose. She should be able to sniff out the cat with no problem. I am now worried. Did the cat escape? We’ve not left the house, so it’s unlikely she’s outside, unless she’s learned to push a stool to the door, stand on it, turn the key, open the door, move the stool away from the door, and then leave while shutting the door, then this isn’t an option. But it’s happened before.

After dinner Burke brings up the Astral Plane. I ask many questions and she answers them. I will provide a summary now so that you too do not require an aspirin. The Astral Plane is something like an invisible realm between the physical world and a spiritual realm. This is the hunting blind from which our guardian angels watch over us – some of them are drinking, evidently, and some of them are not. (Mine’s in recovery, I think). I believe it is where Elvis lives and where Bigfoot hangs out just after he’s stomped into someone’s campsite. This plane has been postulated since before Plato and its existence is part of the mythology of dozens of cultures. Not coincidentally, most of these cultures have comedic queries regarding the mystical whereabouts of a sock’s lost matching sister.

Only occasionally are we are allowed to project into this plane and it’s done through intense meditation, hallucinogens, lucid dreams, or when our favorite sports team wins a game simultaneous to the pizza guy’s arrival. When we pass through into this world we apparently come through the Astral Plane – a uterus having exclusive through-way rights. And we evidently pass through it again on our way out of this world – hopefully the tunnel which leads to the light doesn’t require a toll.

And it’s where my cat goes when she’s hiding from my dog. Of course I consider this dribble, but after a couple of post dinner Scotches, I get to thinking. My cat is 15 years old and should have died a number of times, but she always seems to manage to eke it out. She leaps up on tables like a ninja, she can disappear for hours on end and then appear out of nowhere .005 seconds after a package of ham is opened. It only makes sense. Also, she seems to notice things around the flats we’ve lived in that I couldn’t see. Often behind me. And seconds before I was thinking of getting into bed.

At Scotch #3 I begin a search of her hideouts: the hallway scarf box, under the blankets on the bed, the chair in the office, in a pile of recently laundered clothing. Nothing. I naturally decide on a fourth Scotch and then fall into a deep sleep.

That’s where I find her. Or rather, she finds me. My flat’s Astral Plane looks just like my flat only the floors are cleaner and all the plants are alive. The moonlight and the shadows switch spots here, but it’s somehow still darkish. My cat walks around it on hindlegs. Columbo is on TV there. I make a note of this, as I gather it’s her favorite show. She points towards my couch, where I take a seat. She sits on the armchair. I await whatever wisdom she will impart that she has gathered through the ages.

“More ham.”

I am surprised, but not as surprised as the fact that she’s got Elvis’s voice.  

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What’s the Catch?

The place is small. Really small. We’re in the kitchen-living room-wardrobe-closet-TV room. Burke is holding the dog, who is breathing on my neck. I am counting the flat owner’s nose hairs. Her husband is trying to turn around, but gets caught and breaks into tears. He raises his elbows and manages it. I can actively see him decide against a glass of water. I feel like I’m at the buffet table at an orgy. The realtor raises her hand and presses a portfolio to my midsection. The dog snorts.  

“Shall we go to the kitchen?”

She speaks in Czech so it takes me the requisite 21 seconds to understand. She turns to the left. “Here we are.”

The owners squeeze past us and go out onto the balcony. I think the woman is having a panic attack, but it turns out she’s just drinking.

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