Cat Manoeuvres in the Dark or A Soupcon of Rest Please

We have three cats living here.


From left to right: Cathy, Pete, and lovin’ life in his new home, Ted

Cathy is 13 years old, grumpy but lovable; Pete, an enormous and gentle guy who can be flighty, and Ted, our daughter’s rescue cat. Ted is charming considering what he’s been through (there is still a bb lodged under his hide at the base of his tail). Ted is two years old and a high energy fellow. The following is a FB note I wrote earlier this month about life with them.

When the Cat Circus Drops In

We are creatures of habit. We are used to getting up at a certain time, we have certain route we like to drive to the grocery, we always stir our coffee with either our right or left hand – and, if you’re like me, you use a spoon and not just your hand. But whatever. Pets are creatures of habit too.

Submitted for your approval: This morning

0236 – Cathy the gruff but lovable cat wakes me up. She wants to let me know that in a mere two hours, she expects to be fed. From here on out, every fifteen minutes or so, she will pester me until the alarm goes off.

0430 – The alarm. My wife gets up to feed the cats and she returns with a 20 oz cup of coffee for me. Why yes, it is very very good to be married to her. I drink the coffee and fall back to sleep. It’s Saturday and this is the one day of the week we get to slack off, maybe sleep in ’till 7:30 or so. But here’s the thing, pets don’t understand a lot of things, like Saturdays or daylight savings time or the electoral college and so in their own little ways they start to become unhinged when you deviate from your routine. To them, as my high school German language teacher used to yell at us, “Ordnung muss sein!”

0510 – The bedroom door is pushed open wide. Cathy is back from chow and she’s not very happy. [Usually, by now the mom human is in the shower and Cathy is crouching angrily (that is, happily) on the bathroom counter top (we think she likes the sound of the water) And me? I’m supposed to be down stairs making human food or sitting at the computer with Petey sacked out on the floor next to me.] Cathy jumps on top of the cedar chest at the foot of the bed, then she jumps moodily to another cedar chest in front of the bedroom window and from there she disappears behind the curtains to survey – possibly angrily – the backyard. I get up and mostly close the door.

An aside about door opening: We leave the bedroom door slightly ajar so the critters can come and go as they please. Each cat has a distinctive way of negotiating the the threshold. Cathy, if the door needs to open toward her, simply walks up and with her left paw grabs the door and pulls it past her, then walks through like she owns the place. If it needs to open away from her, she walks up to the door, pauses and then raises up on her hind legs and pushes the door, usually with a lot of gusto. Pete on the other hand uses his head. If the door needs to swing in, he too grabs door with his left paw and then swings it squarely into the middle of his head. Bonk. He does this three times, bonk, bonk, and after the third bonk, he pulls the door past his face and slithers by. To push a door open he lowers his head bonks it like a billy goat would. Opening doors this way leaves him a little rattled and nervous. Ted, the new guy, doesn’t use his paw at all. He just jams his head into the opening and squeezes through. This long description is crucial to what comes next.

0513 – Pete bonks the door open with his head. He hops up on the bed. He’s concerned. I haven’t come downstairs yet and he needs to take a nap on the floor next to the computer desk. He’s so concerned that he stretches out to take a nap. He’s purring pretty loudly – it sounds sort of like somebody trying to start a chainsaw over and over, but it goes on and on unlike trying to start a chainsaw where after a certain number of pulls you fling that stupid stupid Homelite to the ground.

0520 – Ted walks into the room to see what’s up. I know this even through my eyes are closed because we hear Cathy, from behind the curtain, starting her low “stay away from me or you’ll be sorry” growl. This makes Ted curious. “Who do you want to stay away from you? Me?” , he asks in a single long trill as he jumps up to the cedar chest next to the window and jams his head through the curtains. I know this even though my eyes are closed because the next sound is Cathy snarling with the intensity of a real life wolverine. This sound startles Pete, who leaps off the bed, runs to the door and with a single Bonk! that makes the door sorta vibrate, runs out into the hall. Pete is followed by Ted who is either terrified or thinks this is great fun. Cathy is still howling mad. I see that she is still on the cedar chest but she is sort of dangling from the curtain, having lodged her front foot into it somehow. I get up, free her from the curtain. She yells at me and then exits the room presumably to execute a proper whaling on Ted.

“I don’t like it when the cat circus comes to town,“ I tell my wife as I get settled back in.

“Yep,” she acknowledges, in the clipped manner she uses when she’s trying not to laugh.

And thus starts my only day off.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends

We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside……

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Away in Buick – A Christmas Present Story

I wrote this almost a year ago to the day. Last winter, for the first time in my life, whatever cold and flu bugs were going around ended up finding temporary duty in my bod. That is, I was sick a lot. I was discouraged – I was sick, but I thought back to a time when things were a whole lot worse and how I got a nudge from God. “You’ll be ok”

And so here’s the note I wrote:

Ugh, I used to be able to have my brain issue orders to my body, “You are not sick anymore, you are not sleepy, get up and get going” and my bod would at least attempt to comply. But this stupid body don’t take orders as well anymore. I’m sick and sleepy, I’m very sure that this story didn’t happen exactly as described, although parts of it did. My theology back then was dodgy, my motives were (and still are) suspect when thanking God, my focus was self centered and sad. That is to say, not a whole lot has changed. So here’s a story, a story about a perfect gift given to an imperfect, petulant child, told by an older, imperfect, petulant child.

Away in Buick – A Christmas Present Story

My wife, my sister, and my mom came back from candle light service, it must have been around 11:30. Me and the girls had been holding down the fort at mom and dad’s. My brothers and probably – usually- a couple of their friends were home from various places were out there too, and as the girls played and watched TV and did little kid stuff, we spent the evening talking. I listened a bunch – I had nothing on the story telling abilities of these guys. My brothers and their friends seemed to always be around or work with interesting people. For instance, I never worked with a guy from Kentucky who’d been both stabbed and shot in the course of his misspent youth and who’d tell you up front that he prefers being shot to being stabbed. A guy like that brings a certain pizazz to a work crew. You get mixed up with guys like that and the stories pretty much tell themselves!

We loaded up the girls to leave: One inna carseat, one inna booster, one next to the door no booster, no nothing, just a seat belt. It was snowing like crazy and had been for about an hour. The flakes were huge, the size of a quarter, and fell in a back and forth rocking motion from a nearly windless sky. We backed out of the folk’s drive, and started up the road. Except for the ones leading in, there wasn’t a single set of tracks in the fresh snow on the way back to the main highway.

The sky was pink from the street lights reflecting on the low clouds. Even at low speed and with a back-lit sky, the snowflakes were mesmerizing in that way that makes you feel like you were moving through a star field. My wife – who was going on like 98 hours without rest – dozed, the youngest in the car seat was zonked, the middle daught was repeatedly leaning forward and then banging herself off the seat back about once every couple seconds, and the oldest, her eyes wide open, looked out the window at the passing Christmas lights of our little town.

Cars approaching from the other direction were almost silent, the snow soaked up the sound of the car’s motor until just as it passed. Our big Buick was already a pretty quiet car, and the thick layer of fluffed up snow on the road made it more so, and also amplified the car’s interior sounds. The tires made a scrunchy sound in the snow over the sound of defroster fan, and I could hear the steady breathing of my youngest from her car seat just behind me. We turned up Park Avenue from Washington at the Stop and Go service station.

The Stop and Go had a few cars there gassing up, but other than that the streets were deserted. I switched the radio on. It was tuned to WGLE Lima public radio and as luck would have it, was playing the Nutcracker Suite recorded live from somewhere, probably Toledo.

We made our way up the Park Avenue hill, huge snow flakes falling, car nice and warm, the streets outside lined with Christmas lights. I drove along glancing in the mirror at the kids.
Those that were awake were still taking it all in. For a split second and not much more, I remembered being that little, that secure, that full of wonder. The outside lights and music, the snow, the lateness of the hour combined; for about a minute there, it was love. Love and beauty and light, that drive back to the apartment.

I told myself, “Remember this. Things might not ever be this sweet again”. And I did – or I tried. I tried to mentally record that night, like some small town hick on his last day in a big city, trying to take it all in, make memories and stuff.

I experienced for the first time in a long time, an “everything is OK for now” moment. It was so beautiful. So beautiful it broke my heart. It’d been an awful first few years back home from the military. Some of the girls needed blood transfusions and visits to Children’s Medical Center, cars that I really really needed to be dependable were breaking down right and left, I had serious doubts that pursuing an engineering degree was a good idea (in fact, I had a math instructor address me on the first day of class, in front of everybody, ” I was surprised to see your name on the roster – I thought you’d have given up by now”) . In those years I swear I coulda feasted a month on a single compliment or word of encouragement from anybody. Yep, that was a couple years when I didn’t know if I was coming or going or making progress or what, but tonight was different.

God patiently showed me that I was doing OK: I’d passed all my classes for fall quarter – a huge relief – , the car was running (for how much longer was always a question), I’d been in tighter spots and when I finally turned to God – He always worked things out. Yeah – things were OK. I was incredibly blessed if I’d just open my eyes and look around. Hmmmm – the Lord “is” good to me, what am I doing in return? I sort of made a halfhearted prayer of thanks………… And then we were home, and then we put the girls to bed. And that’s another story of the ongoing gifts from God to me.

You may know the battle is won, you may know that as good (or bad) as it gets here, isn’t close to as good as it is where you’re headed, but honestly, if you’re a dumb young guy like I was, that knowledge sounds trite and crazy – not comforting – when you are in the ER pinning down your baby so they can start a large bore IV. But listen: God knows – he knows what it’s like to be a human in this sin-sick, fallen world – and He sends you encouragement. Sometimes it’s a night so beautiful that it grabs your attention, sometimes it’s a cup of coffee in peace and quiet, after you’ve written checks for the monthly bills, sometimes it’s at the bedside of a passing family member who you know you’ll see again. Life is a beautiful, awful, complicated, simple thing. A gift from the God who called you into existence and made a way for you through the cross to be with Him when it’s all done, that’s what it is.

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My Lost fb Notes and the Repostening

Well facebook is deleting my notes. I don’t know why or if it will get fixed, so I’m starting to move more of my fb stuff over here. I don’t know how many I’ll post – I don’t want to move an obnoxiously large number at once, I’ll probably do a couple a week.
So here’s post in which I talk about a favorite old short story and how it tenuously relates to the Christian’s walk.

Wheel! Of! Faith?

Ralph Ellison wrote this short story called King of The Bingo Game way back in the last century. In the story, this young man, broke, out of place, with a sick wife on the verge of death, wins a chance to spin the grand prize wheel in a bingo game. The story has had layers and layers of stuff to say, but one theme I want to focus on is this: How does one cope with and navigate a world of cold stochastic organization? Do you dig in, charge on and overcome? Do you try to take shelter in the randomness?

Let’s look at the bingo game in the story. In this game, a bingo winner doesn’t get a prize right off the bat, instead they win a chance to stand on stage before the rest of the players and spin a big wheel for “the” prize – the big one. This wasn’t like wheel of fortune or one of those game shows where the contestants take hold of the wheel and spin it themselves. Nope, in this one, the big roulette wheel was spun or charged-up with a button attached to an electric cord. When you held the button down, the wheel spun and spun, when you let go, the wheel coasted to a stop and you got whatever prize it landed on.

The setting was a movie theater/bingo parlor in a big city during the late 30′ or early 40’s. The stage was decorated all modern and electric. Buttons, cords, lights, drum rolls, smart talking MC’s (like wheel of fortune) all confused the guy who’d basically just moved to the city from the farm.

Confused or not, he hits upon something when he’s up there on stage. A transcendent thought crossed his mind as he stood there with the button in his hand: As long as he held down the button, the wheel kept spinning, the outcome didn’t exist. As he suddenly saw it, one thing always follows another, doesn’t it? And if he won the jackpot and paid the rent and the doctor, and his wife still died, then what? And if it landed on a lesser prize and he couldn’t pay for a doctor and they got thrown out in the street, then what? But – but, as long as the wheel didn’t stop, he’d not have to face up to the outcome. This, he thinks, is a stroke of genius, but he’s a little drunk, and can’t articulate this epiphany too well with the irritated crowd. And boy, do they get irritated as he won’t release of the button.

Do you get this guy? You get this guy, don’t you? Well most of us do, anyway. Can you see yourself doing this? Not with a bingo button, but in life: You know you have to make a decision, you don’t actually know the ramifications of the decision, and so you are tempted to stall. There seems to be some sort of comfort in stalling, some safety in not making a decision. Don’t be fooled by it, it’s a false comfort and it can burn you.

Ever stall around in making up your mind up about somebody? You finally let go the button, ready to see where it’ll all lead, only to find out it’s no longer your turn, and you’ve been OBE’d, as they say. Something like that happened to me. I was a newbie in a fractured unit – I was courted by each faction but I took too long to decide on the side I’d cast my lot in with. Guess what happened? They all disliked me and I never did quite fit in there with anybody. (Meh – I won the cold war without’em or they won it without me – somethin…… )

Now then, if you are a Christian – and if you aren’t, I wish you were – you have a wonderful knowledge that decisions to move out on faith aren’t really a big spin of an impersonal wheel of fate. Even if it feels like it is, the “spin” is God ordained – and he’s promised to supply you with whatever you need to live with where it lands. And he knows where it’s going to land and why. That, my friends, ought to give you real comfort and courage when you need to step out on faith, let go the button, and see where the Lord wants you.

The guy in the story does finally release the button, by the way, and it lands on the grand prize. He is escorted off stage and gets his “reward”.

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Mopin’ and Music

My wife is off to the True Women conference in Indianapolis and I’m sorta moping around. I’m an introvert in that I recharge by being alone, so moping around is just fine with me. The laundry will get caught up, I’ll get some cleaning done, and when she gets home tomorrow, there’ll be no catch-up work for her. I’ve got her back, she’s got my heart, it’s a good deal.

To quote Astrud Gilberto’s  Champagne and Caviar:

We’re just as strong – as cages in the zoo
As strong as Krazy Glue
Or Red Dye #2

Now that’s some word crafting right there. I heard this particular song not long after I’d got married back during the smooth jazz radio programming craze. It was perfect for the mood I was in. It easily surpassed Dixie Chicken, Fire and Rain, Amie, Sweet Melissa, Crazy Train, Walkin’ on Sunshine, and all the other silly glop on my brain’s playlist about love and stuff. This was grown up, playful, and sweet. It still is. And how can you not like a song that mentions the KraGle?


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Second Guessing the First Responders

Below is one of my FB friend’s status yesterday. He gave me permission to re-post it here. I grew up in a small city in Ohio and I still live here. I was a little kid in the 70’s and during those years this man was a police officer on our small force. After reading this, it suddenly dawned on me that every bad thing that happened in our town during that time, all the sad stuff about car accidents, and murder-suicides and those kids that were hit by the train, all that stuff I read in the paper; my friend and deacon at my church had experienced first hand as police officer on the scene. His message is about second guessing. The picture is from a Trunk or Treat event that one of our police officers visited last year. That’s pretty much how I knew them when I was growing up.



Yesterday was not a good day for me…it marked 28 years since the day I was forced to kill a man on duty. July 7 will always loom large in my memory. I can’t say it was the worst day of my career, but it was certainly my least favorite…it was supposed to be a day off and I was supposed to spend the day getting ready to leave for vacation the next day. A call that could have ended peacefully if he had decided that life was worth living, but boiled down to 3.2 seconds that forever changed my life. And it all happened 21 minutes after I was awakened by my phone ringing and I was told to report directly to the scene. As I headed for the back door, Elaine said “Be careful.” At the time, I had no way of knowing that the next words I’d say to her was to ask her to make arrangements for my parents to take care of our kids (age 6 and 2 1/2 at the time) and come be with me because I’d killed a man.

Then I looked at multiple postings and comments all over Facebook and on the news about the videos of the aftermath of the police involved shootings in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge. And then I see that 5 brother officers in Dallas are dead and 7 more are wounded by a hate-filled person. There’s a narrative being perpetrated by the major media, and some prominent politicians, that try to paint police officers as racists, just itching for the chance to shoot someone, especially if he’s black. Nothing is further from the truth. No cop ever goes to work and says “Gee I hope today’s the day I finally get to shoot someone.”

Of course, EVERYONE is an instant expert on how the police could have/should have handled the incident differently. Neither of the videos that I saw offer anything conclusive on what happened..both only show the aftermath. People are quick to blame the police, to demand instant answers – apparently forgetting or choosing to ignore that the officer is just as entitled to due process as anyone else.

The bottom line is, if you’ve never rolled around on the ground for what seems like an eternity trying to control someone who doesn’t want to be controlled, looking at a bunch of other people’s feet hoping that they don’t decide to jump on you; if you’ve never looked down the barrel of a shotgun from 12 feet away, if you’ve never been kept awake at night by the ringing in your ears because of the damage done to them in that 3.2 life-changing seconds, if you’ve never fought for your life or the life of another officer, if you’ve never wrapped your hands around another officer’s gun to keep it in its holster while the guy he’s fighting is trying to take it away from him, if you’ve never spent parts of a day picking up pieces of what used to be someone’s son or daughter along a railroad track, if you’ve never tasted the blood of a 16 year old girl hit by a drunk driver as you’re desperately, but futilely, trying to save her life, if you’ve never had to knock on a parent’s door and inform them that they need to come to the hospital with you to identify the son or daughter who’s not coming home ever again, or if you’ve never known the joy of being able to see your wife and children again after staring down that shotgun barrel, if you’ve never woke up from the dream of re-living that incident, to see your hands extended in front of you, squeezing the trigger that thankfully isn’t really there, REPEATEDLY, never had to sit in the emergency waiting room assuring a parent that “the doctors are doing every thing they can” all the while knowing that the only thing they really can do is try to keep their loved one alive long enough to locate potential organ recipients, if you’ve never gone to the home of a brother officer in the middle of the night to wake his wife up and take her to the hospital to be with her husband while he’s being treated for a life threatening injury, if you’ve never gone into a dark building with half a million hiding places, knowing that someone IS in there, knowing that if you screw up, you die, but you do it anyway because you took an oath to do it, if you’ve never helped pull a body out of a bunch of twisted metal that used to be a car, if you’ve never stood with hundreds of other officers and watched a widow receive a folded flag, and the closest thing you’ve ever come to police training is watching a series of old Steve Gutenberg movies, then you have absolutely no qualifications to criticize what an officer did in a few split seconds. Don’t bother with me your opinion on how it could have been done differently. You don’t know, unless you can go through the above list and say “yeah, I’ve done that…and that…and that.”

It hurts. I’ve been out of the profession for over 17 years – a profession that I decided that I wanted to be when I grew up- on August 10, 1958…3 months short of my 6th birthday. I had my first brush with death then, when I ran into the path of a car and got knocked down the street. I don’t know if he was a Sheriff’s Deputy or a Highway Patrolman, but the officer who came to complete the accident report after I got home from the hospital was an instant hero to me, and I wanted to be like him when I got older. When I got there, one of the things I wanted to do more than anything else was do everything I could to help my brother officers do their jobs better.

I spent a lot of time in training-my department invested a lot of time and money in allowing me to receive that training so that I could help train others on my department, and other departments, so that they could come home at the end of their shifts. I endured a lot of hits, kicks, strikes with nightsticks, wore the “Red Man” suit while they practiced on me; took 2 ‘bean bag” shots to the chest, been pepper sprayed, slammed to the mat multiple times, all so that others could defend themselves and not get their names engraved on a wall in DC. It was worth every minute. I’ll never be ashamed of it. Every time a brother officer dies on duty, he takes a little of me with him-along with every other man or woman who has ever pinned a badge on their shirt.

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That Dog Fight Thing


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Questions about Coping

I was reading more of Kate’s powerful sketches and tales, and as I was reading this one, there was stirred a sad memory from my past.

Not long after we’d moved back to our little town, there was a tragedy. During a plain old Tuesday afternoon, a school bus dropped off a little girl – a 1st grader – at the end of her farm driveway. She’d cleared the road and was safely making her way up the drive, when for whatever reason, she ran full back and scrambled under the bus, as it was just getting underway. It turned out she was probably trying to  retrieve a paper or something that had blown out of her hands and under the bus.

The driver was cleared of any gross negligence – but her mind became unhinged – and the last I’d heard, she was never right again. She was ruined. A ruined woman, a ruined wife and mom. They put their home on the market and moved away. I don’t think, based on what I know, that they could have ever moved far enough.

For the first time in my life a thing like this was deeply personal: My oldest daughter was in kindergarten at the time – what if it were she? Would I have blamed myself because I didn’t meet the bus?

I wonder about that sometimes, death from fratricide or accidents and its survivors.

What’s it like to be the spouse or parent or child of a man who is used-up, spent, because of a split second decision made in the fog of war or the everydayness of life? Or to be the guy himself who realizes he was the last one to speak to a suicide and how he remembered that there was something not right and how he could have, should have, been nosy and asked his buddy, “No kidding – what’s up?”

Or a dad who didn’t trust his instincts enough about his daughter’s date. How he didn’t want to make her even more angry at him, so he gave in on some core ground rules, and that night and that acquiescence now explains the decade of pain that followed. Pain that could have been avoided if he’d done his job.

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