Thursday, January 31, 2002

The Lions in Winter

Last night, I went to Mom's house for dinner. Nothing extraordinary about that--I usually go to her place for a home-cooked meal about once a week, depending on what days she has off from her job as a checkout at a local drug store. Even so, we still talked on the phone the night before and yesterday afternoon to ponder the wisdom of such a visit this week because of the winter storm bearing down on Shytown. (And if any one of you even considers blaming me for said storm just because of my recent commentary on the singular lack of snow this season, I'll be compelled to reach through your computer and go Moe Howard on your ass.) But since the storm took its dear, sweet time getting here, the streets were merely wet when I left work at five, and snow had just begun to stick to the sidewalks when I arrived at Mom's place in Ukrainian Village.

As I came in the door and brushed off what little snow had accumulated on my coat from having walked straight into the northeast breeze, I found Mom's two oldest cats, Shadow and Kiki, curled up together on the couch nearest the door. This was an unusual sight: the two cats--whose ages, when combined, match mine exactly (37, if you must know; then again, I'm the one who brought it up, now didn't I?)--had never had much use for one another in their many years of living together and rarely, if ever, napped in the same spot. But here they were, both of their geriatric heads inclining upward toward me as I wiped January off of myself. I smiled back at them, dried my hands on my sweater and gave each chin an affectionate scratch.

Their unusual seating arrangement shouldn't have surprised me, I suppose. Cats are smart little things--smarter than we know--and as the two elder statescats of the house, it's natural that they'd stick together, even if such an alliance had not always been the case. But there's more to it than that. Kiki, the younger of the two (16 years old to Shadow's 21), had been, until very recently, a dirvish of fur, capable of running the length of Mom's house not at old-cat speed, but at young-frisky-cat speed. Right around the New Year, though, she became sluggish and lost a couple of pounds, which doesn't sound like much until you consider that she's never weighed more than six pounds in her long life. Mom, conscientious pet owner that she is, took Kiki to the vet. The diagnosis, while not terminal, still wasn't encouraging: Kiki's kidneys were starting to go. The vet treated the cat as best she could, with meds for the kidneys, a steriod shot and an injection of fluids to fight the dehydration. But at her advanced age, there's not much more that the vet or anybody else can do.

After I'd unwound myself from my weather garb, whicch Mom has always maintened makes me look very much like her father in his younger days, and thrown myself down in the living room lounger, both Shadow and Kiki got up, perhaps sensing that my arrival meant that food would arrive soon as well. They weren't wrong. Mom had been busy in the kitchen since we'd talked on the phone, heating pasta sauce, boiling spaghetti strands and baking off Texas Toast. Kiki approached the edge of the couch, looked down--and then froze in place. I couldn't tell if she couldn't make the jump down or if she'd gotten to that spot and then forgot what she was going to do, so I gently lifted her down to the floor--only to have Mom scoop her right back up onto the couch.

Mom was right, of course. She'd brought a plate of food especially for the senior citizens--looked like either tuna or chicken, or maybe a mixture of both--and set it down between them on the couch. That way, she could watch them eat and make sure that no other cat would make a grab for it. Kiki walked over, grazed for a few minutes, sat down, got up again and grazed for a few minutes more. After another rest, she jumped to the top of the couch--a feat which, only weeks earlier, would not have been remarkable at all. She did it with ease, though, and later she left the couch and, with equal ease, jumped into my lap while Mom and I watched the latesst episode of "Ed." (Is it really that much fun to run a bowling alley while practicing law in a small, TV-quirky town? Really? Huh. Who knew?)

And as I sat in the lounger, stroking the small tiger-striped head and feeling her purr reverberate against the back of my hand, I knew. This cat will probably die soon, I knew.

Kidneys are fragile things. I found this out during a severe kidney infection when I was six or so and was laid up in St. Elizabeth's Hospital, the hospital in which I had been born, for three weeks. And had Mom been tardy in bring me to our family physician, Doctor Waggoner, or had Doctor Waggoner been less dedicated and not closed his practice for the day to drive me and Mom to the emergency room, it might have been the hospital I died in as well. And if that experience hadn't taught me the dangers of kidneys gone bad, Dad's last couple of years, which were mostly spent shuttling back and forth from a dialysis center in Logan Square, surely would have.

Cats, though, can be amazingly resilient, even when seriously ill. Take Shadow. The cat has been a mutant all his life. He was born in the yard of my grandmother's house and brought in with his mother and the rest of the little for safekeeping. His markings had been like that of a Siamese--dark paws and face, lighter body--but in grays rather than browns. Then, his fur seemed to fall off altogether, only to be replaced by a shaggy coat of charcoal. Add to this a curvature of the spine that, while giving him the perpetual appearance of a Halloween cat, bothers him only in his ability to make vertical jumps. (He can make horizontal jumps with relative ease--with as much ease as a 21-year-old cat can manage--but he has to make several start-and-stop attempts to make a leap from the floor to a couch or chair.)

To be sure, he's not the same cat that he was--his eyesight and hearing are poor, and he sometimes gets up and does laps around the living room as if he'd had a destination in mind when he started walking and would keep going around and around until that destination came back to him again. Still, he remains aware of his surroundings: when Mom calls to me from the kitchen to set up her tray table, Shadow will get up from wherever he is and plant himself at the foot of the tray table until Mom arrives with dinner; when he sees the table, he knows feeding time is imminent. And though he's been sick a few times over the years, but he's always managed to snap back. This cat has been alive since I was a sophomore in high school.

So I rubbed Kiki's head and chin and long, thin tail and let her sleep in my lap as long as she was inclined to (which turned out to be most of the evening). And when I wrapped myself back up to resume my struggle with the snow, which now was coming down at a healthy rate, I sought out both Kiki and Shadow and gave them both an affectionate farewell. I always do this last thing because, at their ages, I can never be sure when "this time" could become "the last time." So every time I go, before or after hugging Mom, I pet the two elderly cats and let them know that they're loved. And they smile and purr and rub against my hand.

They know.

Out on Western Avenue, a different brand of reality exerted itself. Winter, long delayed in the Windy City, had stopped toying with us and was now moving in for the kill in the form of unsubtle winds and large, sloppy flakes. "Heart-attack snow," the meteorologists call it, because shoveling any amount of it can cause one's blood pump to pop like a baloon animal at a birthday party. Fortunately, the streets were still pretty clear, and once the bus arrived I made good time toward home.

Once off the bus at Montrose, though, the weather had to be confronted more directly. The Montrose bus is, at the best of times, even in perfectly sunny weather, lousy. It rarely arrives in a timely manner and usually arrives with a bus buddy or two right behind it. (Safety in numbers, I suppose.) So I hoofed it west through the accumulation because I was anxious to get home--not just because of the increasingly nasty weather, but because evenings at Mom's make me want to go home and pet my own cats even more than I usually do. And they appreciate the extra attention, even if they don't quite understand the motivation behind it.

Maybe the Girlish Girls will each live as long as Shadow or Kiki have. Maybe they won't. But I know they don't just love me because I know how to open the tins of Iam's and they don't. They know they're loved, too.

And on a cold and wet January night--or, really, on any night--there's a lot to be said for knowing that you're loved--even if it's only because you know how a pull-tab works.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

A Hazy Shade of Winter

"Look around. Leaves are brown. There's a patch of snow on the ground."

Or not.

You're gonna hate me for this, but please take a look at the photo to the left. You know what that is? That's right. It's snow. Or, more accurately, a car covered by more than a foot of the fluffy white stuff. That's what Chicago looked like last winter. (This picture was taken on Christmas Day 2000.) And that's how it's supposed to look. Yep. Congested streets. Sidewalks with only a six-inch-wide path to get by on. Cars that don't move again until May. That's how it's supposed to look.

Not this season.

It's sad when Atlanta--which rarely, if ever, gets snow and freaks out to the Nth when it does--has had more now than Chicago. Yet, here it is, the winter of 2002, and Atlanta has four inches to our paltry two. And that one didn't come all in one day, either. No, it too several small snows, the largest coming right before Christmas to add just that touch of seasonal decoration, to make up that one. So while my relatives in Georgia and Alabama are slipping and sliding and wondering what in the blue fuck is happening, I see naught but gray skies and grass that can't decide whether it should be alive or dead.

Please don't think that I'm wishing a blizzard on our fair city. I've seen what major snowstorms can do. I was alive for the Blizzard of '67, the one our fathers and grandfathers always spoke of as "the big one." I was a freshman at Lane Tech when the Blizzard of '79 closed the public schools for a week and left the city buried in six-foot-high snowdrifts for weeks.

I was a senior going to night school (because I was a lousy student in my freshman and sophomore years) when a rare April snowstorm dropped eight inches on the city. That night, I walked from a friend's apartment to Gordon Tech, where I took drafting classes in an effort to graduate on time. The snow was already a few inches deep, and lacerating winds made crossing the Lane Tech parking lot downright painful.

Once I made it behind the enormous school, though, I found the most peaceful scene I've ever witnessed: shielded from the swirling breezes by both the school and the football stadium, I was able to walk down the driveway as snow fell gently and quietly down, the rest of the world a mere snow-hazed afterthought. Unfortunately, this peace could not last. I had to emerge from the driveway on Addison Street and struggle across the river bridge, only to find that many students couldn't make it to class that night and the teacher, unable to get home to retrieve his questions for our final exam, had to make the questions up off the top of his head, practically guaranteeing that everyone who was able to make it would pass easily. (I know I did.)

And it's those memories of that storm in '82 that concern me most. Chicago rarely gets through a winter without at least one big snow. In the last couple of winters, the big snows were out of the way early, leaving us the rest of the winter season to recover. I worry that this year we'll get whacked when we least expect it (and are thus least prepared for it). I worry that we'll be lulled into a false sense of security by the mild, dry January and will get clobbered by a storm that might otherwise inspire yawns.

Am I inviting the wrath of the weather gods--or, at least, encouraging them to hit the snooze alarm--by bringing all of this up? Maybe so. As I write this, our intrepid local weather forecasters are predicting snow for tomorrow. Nothing major--possibly one to three inches. But such a snowfall would keep the record for the latest one-inch snowfall (January 17) right where it belongs. And such a snowfall might keep the aforementioned weather gods from crashing down on us all at once.

But I'm not betting on it.

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Well, Thank (Your Deity's Name) THAT Year Is Over With

As I've gotten older, I've noticed that time seems to go by more quickly than it used to. Unless, of course, I'm having a shitty day at work, in which case every five minutes seems to take an hour to snail by. Years, in particular, have stepped on the gas and started ignoring the red lights. It seems that we've just seem the glowing crystal ball fall in Times Square when it's time to watch the ball fall again.

And with most years, there are regrets to be expressed for the passage of time: Did I accomplish everything I wanted to this year? Did I lose that weight? Did I get that raise? Did I spend less and save more? Did I get laid? At all? Am I better off now than I was at this time last year?

But with 2001, the attitude was much different. We couldn't kick that year out the door fast enough. We might not have even had the courtesy to open the door first. I mean, is anybody out there to see 2001 over and done with? Anybody? Hello?

(Insert miles of silence here.)

Didn't think so.

I won't attempt to capture on this page the impact of September 11 and its aftermath, which continues to this day and will likely continue for years to come. (I want to write about the events of that day--which should be easy, since you couldn't scrub them off my brain with a thousand Brillo pads--but not right this minute.) Every other joy or sorrow or anything else in-between of 2001 seems trivial by comparison.

But okay. 2001 is over. Finally. At long fucking last. The Christmas decorations are coming down all around. The drug stores are just finishing up their clearance sales and have already filled their holiday aisles with Valentine's Day cards and chockies and teddy bears. (Bleargh.) In my apartment, La Casa del Terror, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer figurines have been packed away in the large green storage container along with the red pepper lights and Grandma's small lighted tree. Only the Christmas cards remain affixed to the fridge, and they will come down today, which would have been my father's 67th birthday. (Yeah, Dad was just a couple of days younger than Elvis, though he managed to outlive the King by 18 years. Happy birthday, Dad.)

So now that the Old Year is behind us (don't look in the rearview mirror; it might still be there) and the New Year is here. That means a clean slate, a fresh start, a new hope, a time for positive outlooks and possibilities. I stopped making formal resolutions years ago because, well, I never kept them, but I do like to look ahead and pick a particular area to improve. This year, I think I'll keep it simple and general: I want 2002 to suck a lot less than 2001 did. I canÍt control the whole wide world and how fucked up it continues to be, but I can try to make my own cluttered little corner of it better. And considering that 2001 sucked harder than a brand-new Hoover, 2002 can't possibly be that hard.

Can it?

Tuesday, January 1, 2002

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day

...Except, as it happens, this Web site.

Welcome, my friends, to the NEW Adoresixtyfour. Thanks to extraordinary, substantial help from Red Secretary, who created the new template for the pages of this site, I think I finally have this thing set up to the point that I can update it easily and do what I want with the pages, like create links wherever I want (like above or on the Links page, which actually has LINKS on it now) or upload pictures with greater ease.

So look around at the new pages. I'll post some real content here next week.

I stayed in last night--just me, a DiGiorno Four Cheese Pizza and a sixer of Hornsby's. I hope you all had a safe and warm New Year's as well.


(NOTE: The old site was subsequently redesigned at least once more before shifting over to Blogger, but all later designs incorporated the design elements Red Secretary introduced, and all employed the HTML knowledge RS imparted to me way back when--Adoresixtyfour, 11/30/09)