the cat

Somebody asked me why I’ve never written anything about the cat on this blog. By ‘the cat’ I mean, of course, the cat that shares this living space. My reply was something to this effect: “Dude, I have written about the cat. Probably.”

And hey, it turns out I wasn’t even lying. Not entirely. I actually did write a thing about my morning routine with the cat. But aside from that, the cat doesn’t feature heavily in this blog (though the wee creature appears with alarming regularity on Instagram and Facebook). I mean, she’s been mentioned–and mentioned prominently, I might add, not just a casual passing reference–a couple of times. Once in a thing about Buddhism and shoveling snow and once in reference to the Cassini-Huygens satellite. That’s not bad, really, considering the cat is just a cat.

But the fact is I haven’t really written about the cat as the other species with whom I share a living space. So. The cat. She has a name: Abby. I didn’t give her the name and I don’t use it, but it’s traditional for house cats to have names and veterinarians insist on having a name for their records, so there it is. Abby. I generally just call her “the cat”. Or “little cat”. Or, when she’s eating, “you wee swine”.

Why don’t I use her name? I really don’t know. When people ask (and why do people ask? it seems weird, but they do) I tell them it seems presumptuous to put a human name on any non-human, and especially on a cat. But I’ve shared space with other non-humans and other cats, all of whom had human names. So why not this cat? Again, I don’t know. It’s not any sort of distancing technique; the cat and are pretty much bonded. It doesn’t make any sense, but there it is.

I photograph her occasionally. Okay, that’s a lie. I photograph her a lot. I delete most of the photos immediately because it’s not like the world needs more photos of cats. But at the same time, cats are just so fucking photographable. What’re you gonna do? Not photograph them?

In the end, I guess I don’t write about the cat because she’s a cat. Just a cat. She eats, she sleeps, she shits in the litter box (almost always), she chews grass and vomits (on rare occasions), she sits on my lap (she’s insistent about that; she’ll come sit in front of me and just stare at me until I invite her up — or until she decides the invitation exists even if I don’t offer it, and even if there’s a plate in my lap), she makes an odd grunting sound instead of purring, she sometimes likes to attack my feet from hiding when I walk through the house, she mostly stays in the house (which is good on a number of levels, including the fact that she absolutely sucks at hunting and so would starve to death in a week if she were on her own), she sheds very little until she’s sitting on my lap, if she’s not on my lap or on her perch she’s somehow managed to disappear into another dimension (because she’s nowhere to be found), she knows I go back to work around 8:30-9:00 at night and will return from her inter-dimensional travels around that time and insist on being petted and fed. I have absolutely no idea how she tells time, but she does. Go figure cats.

She has NO interest in boxes. None. Or paper bags. What kind of cat dismisses boxes? It’s unnatural, right?

But that’s just it. The cat is your basic cat. Weird, distant, clinging, imperturbable, occasionally boneless, contradictory, curious, predictable, unpredictable. I can’t say I understand her. But she makes me happy. I’d like to think I make her happy, but I recognize that I may just be the one who feeds her.

Who the hell knows what a cat is thinking?

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screaming

I watched the video with the sound off.

I’m not a dispassionate person by nature, but much of my professional experience and training (as a medic, as a counselor in the Psych/Security unit of a prison for women, and as a private investigator specializing in criminal defense) has taught me to be a detached observer/participant. Well, as detached as possible. You can’t be effective on the job if you allow yourself to fully experience the shock, the horror, the revulsion while you’re doing the job. The emotional distance between you and what you’re doing and seeing is the only thing that allows you to do the job well. You put all that ugliness aside and deal with it later. The problem, of course, is that you always have to deal with it

That’s why, last night, I watched the video of the attack on the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand with the sound off. I didn’t want to hear the screaming. It’s harder to be a detached observer when you hear the screaming.

“I am just a regular white man, from a regular family, who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people.”

How do you even begin to explain all this, to understand it? Do you start with Brenton Tarrant, the shooter? He doesn’t really believe he’s just a regular white man, of course. He’s a white supremacist who thinks shooting unarmed people in a house of worship somehow makes him a hero. But if you focus on individual shooters — the Brenton Tarrants, the Anders Breiviks, the Dylann Roofs — it’s easy to overlook the connections that link so many of these white supremacy shooters.

“The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European.

We must crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil, It is not just a matter of our prosperity, but the very survival of our people.”

There it is. Tarrant’s ‘justification’ for murdering Muslims at prayer. Fear and hate born out of the irrational notion of white victimhood, then transmitted, promoted and amplified by the Internet. Tarrant referred to this in his Great Replacement ‘manifesto’ (they all seem to have manifestos, these shooters; without a manifesto you’re just a fucking nutcase — with a manifesto you’re a hero).

This Great Replacement conspiracy theory didn’t originate with Tarrant. It’s been banging around in white supremacy circles for almost half a century. It began with a 1973 French novel, Les Camps des Saints, in which Western civilization is destroyed through the mass immigration of Third World peoples. The author of the novel, Jean Raspail, said he got the idea for the plot when he was visiting the Riviera.

“What if they were to come? I did not know who “they” were, but it seemed inevitable to me that the numberless disinherited people of the South would, like a tidal wave, set sail one day for this opulent shore, our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.”

There it is again. The ‘justification’ for the Great Replacement theory. The fear and belief that white European Christian populations are being systematically replaced by non-European brown-skinned populations through mass migration and demographic growth. If you’re in Europe the immigrants are Middle Eastern, North African, and Sub-Saharan; if you’re in the US, the immigrants are from Central and South America. This notion of white European culture being overrun by non-white alien cultures resounds throughout the online white supremacy community.

Would Tarrant have acted in the absence of that community, in the absence of the reinforcement and amplification of that conspiracy theory? I don’t know. But the thing is, the echoes of Great Replacement filter through mainstream US and European politics.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Does this make Trump responsible for the Christchurch mosque massacre? No, of course not. But it helps white supremacists like Tarrant justify their actions. Tarrant stated he viewed Donald Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” When Trump refers to an influx of families fleeing violence and poverty as an ‘invasion’ on the Southern border, he’s feeding the conspiracy theory. When he claims people seeking asylum is a ‘national emergency,’ he’s feeding the conspiracy theory.

When it was revealed that an audio tape of the torture and murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi existed, Trump refused to listen to it.

“I don’t want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape. I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it “

I totally understand that. It’s why I watched the video with the sound off. It’s harder to be detached when you hear the screaming.

But the truth is, even with the sound off I still heard the screaming in the mosque. I’m still hearing it this morning. That business about dealing with the horror later? That’s mostly bullshit that allows you to do what you need to do. But if you’ve ever heard the screaming in any context, you can never unhear it.

If you have any humanity at all, if you have any decency at all, you never stop hearing the screaming.

a few simple rules

I was pushing a loading cart holding maybe ten heavy boxes and an ironing board down the hallway of ‘senior living center’ (it’s a long story, but irrelevant to this post) when an old guy using a walker came tottering down the hallway with a small homely mixed breed dog that was suffering from some serious sinus issues. I stopped the cart, smiled at the guy, and said “Now that’s a fine-looking dog.” He smiled and chuckled and thanked me. Told me the dog’s name. Said, “He’s friendly,” which I took as an invitation to lean down and pet the wee creature, who was largely indifferent to the entire situation.

My friend, who was pushing a smaller loading cart, gave me a familiar WTF look as we started moving again. I said, “Always compliment a person’s dog. The dog’s don’t care, but it makes their owners happy.” She said, “Is that like a rule of life?”

Always compliment a person’s dog.

I decided that it was. Or should be. And here are a few more basic rules of life.

— Always compliment a person’s dog.
— Don’t block the aisle with your shopping cart.
— Apologize when you’re wrong.
— Don’t wear blackface.
— Hold the door open for everybody.
— Vote.
— Tip your server, even if the service is poor (because these folks are always overworked, get paid very little, are often abused by their customers, and sometimes they make mistakes like everybody else).
— Read at least a few paragraphs after the headlines.
— Tell the people you love that you love them.
— Tell the people you like that you like them.
— Push your damn chair in when you leave the table.
— Check the batteries in your flashlight.
— Don’t argue with stupid people.
— Park between the lines.
— Don’t judge people for the TV shows they watch, or the books they read, or the games they play, or the music they prefer, or the god they worship, or the clothes they wear, or the food they cook, or…just don’t fucking judge people.
— Refer to folks by the names they ask you to use even if you don’t understand and even if you think it’s stupid.
— Say ‘hi’ to strangers now and then.
— Try new foods, even if they sound/look gross.

Say ‘hi’ to strangers now and then.

Okay, that’s not a complete list. And maybe they’re more like guidelines than rules. And they’re my guidelines; they don’t need to apply to anybody else. I figure you’ve probably got your own. But these work for me.

a short list of things I’d like to see in 2019

In no particular order:

The Great British Baking Show with Paul Hollywood as a contestant. Let’s see how he likes that.
— A movie car chase in which the police officer doing the chasing decides it’s just not worth the risk to the public and just stops.
— The return of home milk delivery in glass bottles.
— Playgrounds for adults, so you could go play on a swing for half an hour without other adults looking at you like you’re some sort of pedophile.
— Louis CK continuing to perform in comedy clubs…and the entire audience standing and walking out.
— A remake of Killing Eve with all the same actors but with a plot that wasn’t phenomenally stupid.
— Donald Trump and his family of grifters and traitors in handcuffs.
— Universal health care in the US.
— Universal selective service in the US. Not necessarily military service, but a couple years of compulsory national, state, or local service.
— George RR Martin admitting he’s sick to death of GoT and acknowledging he’s never going to finishing the last books, so everybody should just watch the HBO show and be satisfied.
— More respect for bollards.
— A harsh, severe, punitive tax on houses with pointless gables and extraneous dormer windows.
— Brett Kavanaugh busted for DWI.
— Gun owners actually held accountable for their guns.
— Actual usable pockets in women’s clothes. It’s 2019, for fuck’s sake.

I’m sure there’s other stuff, but this is all I could come up with while waiting for the coffee to finish becoming coffee.

What about you? What would you like to see in the coming year?

uncomfortable confessional crap – part three

This is what you do. You wake up, you remind yourself that nightmares aren’t real, you turn on a light, toss the blanket back, rotate yourself on the bed, put your two feet on the floor, stand up, and put some clothes on. Then maybe you sit at the computer for a bit, or sit in a comfortable chair and read your book, or fire up Netflix on the television and watch something lighthearted. What you do isn’t terribly important; what’s important is finding something interesting to swab out the residue of whatever ugly thing formed the core of your nightmare.

At about 4:15 this morning, the ugly thing was a simple 55 gallon drum in the corner of an old barn.

I’ve mentioned before that I have occasional nightmares. Not the usual nightmares, but nightmares that revolve around things I’ve done or seen. Or, in this case, something I didn’t actually see, but something that was there anyway. Here’s what happened: years ago I was hanging around a courthouse, waiting to see if a case I’d worked on was actually going to go to trial that day (this is where I should mention I used to be a private investigator specializing in criminal defense work). Another defense lawyer told me his client was going to trial that morning–some drug-related charge–but the client hadn’t shown up and wasn’t answering his phone. He said he could stall for a while, and asked me to go to the defendant’s home and roust him. Since it didn’t look like my case was going to go forward, I agreed.

This sort of thing happens occasionally. Sometimes there’s a valid reason for a defendant not to show up for a court appearance. Not often, but sometimes. Usually all you have to do is show up at their door and remind them that if they don’t get their ass to the courthouse right damned quick, an arrest warrant will be issued and their bail would be forfeited and they’d be even more fucked. That’s assuming you can find them, of course.

This guy lived in the country on what had once been a farm. At some point in the past the farmhouse had burned down (distant past–nothing to do with the defendant), but the barn was still standing. The client lived in an old Airstream trailer beside the barn.

The barn door was partially open and I could see a moderately battered pickup parked inside. I knocked on the trailer door a few times. No answer. I walked around the trailer banging my fist on it, just to let him know I was there. No response. I tried the door. It was unlocked and it opened, so I yelled my name and identified myself as working for his lawyer. Nothing. I decided not to go inside. If he was in there, he clearly had no intention of coming out; if he wasn’t inside, there was no reason to enter,

I did, though, decide to do a quick sweep of the barn. I don’t know why; the barn was no different than the Airstream. He’d have heard me arrive, so if he was inside the barn he had no intention of coming out. But I yelled a hello, identified myself again, and went in anyway. I checked the truck; the hood was cold, so he hadn’t been driving it recently. I generally nosed around, but aside from a couple of old 55 gallon drums in a corner by the door there wasn’t much to see. The drums were out of the ordinary; lots of folks in the country used them to burn trash. I noticed these drums still had their lids on, which was odd, but I didn’t think much of it.

I decided I’d done enough. I wrote ‘You were supposed to be in court today’ on the back of a business card and stuck it under the windshield wiper of the pickup. I wedged another card in the door of the trailer. And I went back to the courthouse.

A week or so later I got a call from the State police. The local police had found my business cards. They’d also found the guy stuffed into one of those 55 gallon drums. Without his head.

I wasn’t a suspect or anything; the Staties were just being thorough. They asked the questions you’d expect them to ask, I gave them the answers I could, and that was it. I don’t know why the guy was killed, when he was killed, or who killed him. It was likely a drug thing, but It wasn’t my case, so I didn’t pay attention to it. The last time I spoke to the guy’s lawyer, he told me they’d never found the guy’s head.

I have no idea why this figures into an occasionally recurring nightmare, but it does. I didn’t know the defendant, I never met him and I don’t even recall his name. I didn’t see anything scary, I didn’t do anything frightening or dangerous. I just walked around and made noise. There’s no reason this should be in my nightmare lineup. But there it is.

I dream I’m at that farm. I walk around the trailer banging on the sides as I go. I open the door to the trailer, but don’t go in. I go into the barn and noodle around, and with each scene in the nightmare I get more and more anxious and scared. In the nightmare I know there’s something horrible in those 55 gallon drums. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know how I know, but I know it’s there and I know it’s horrible. In fact, I’m not even sure I actually see the drums in my nightmare. But there’s something in that barn, something I don’t want to see, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to see it.

I don’t have this particular nightmare very often, and usually I wake up before it gets too bad. Usually, I’m able to go back to sleep. But not this morning. This morning I was too unsettled to even consider going back to sleep.

It’s ridiculous, isn’t it. These sort of nightmares used to be a common occurrence. Now I have them three or four times a year. The ones that wake me up and keep me up, I mean. So it’s not a big deal. I usually forget about the dream after a bit. The only reason I’m still thinking about it this morning is because I became curious why and how 55 gallon drums (or 200 liter drums if you’re European, or 44 gallons if you’re in the UK) became the standard size. (Spoiler: the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. patented a process for making stackable steel storage drums in 1904; but what’s really cool is the fact that the company was owned by Nellie Bly.)

I see old 55 gallon drums with some regularity when I’m out noodling around. They don’t bother me; I don’t associate them with that incident. There’s nothing spooky or scary about them. But still they sometimes show up in my dreams and wake me up. When that happens, I remind myself that nightmares aren’t real, I turn on a light, toss the blanket back, rotate myself on the bed, put my two feet on the floor, stand up, and put some clothes on. Then I find something to distract myself.

Thar’s what you do.

thank you for your service

I had a routine medical exam thing a couple of weeks ago, part of which involved answering a bunch of questions. One of the questions was “Are you a veteran?” I said yes, she said “Thank you for your service,” and went on to the next question.

I didn’t think about it at the time. I mean, it was just a question. Like “Do you smoke?” or “Do you exercise?” But afterwards, that reflexive “Thank you for your service” started to irk me. Because it was reflexive. Like saying ‘Bless you’ when somebody sneezes. It was just an automatic response.

I found myself thinking ‘Why the hell is she thanking me? I didn’t do it for her.’ And because I’m the sort of guy who tends to think too much about too many things, I started to wonder how I’d explain to her why I joined the military. The simple answer is because it was expected of me. Which is true and accurate, but it’s not a complete answer.

I come from a military family. My father had been a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII, most of my uncles had served in the Army in Europe, one served in Korea during that war. I came of military age during the last years of the war in Vietnam. Both of my older brothers were Marines in Vietnam. One was badly wounded physically, the other was badly wounded emotionally.

I protested against that war. I didn’t start protesting until after my brother had been shot up. I came home from school one day to find a Marine officer and chaplain standing outside the door to my home. They’d knocked on the door, but my mother wouldn’t let them into the house. I assumed my brother had been killed. I let them in, and we learned he’d been shot — but because he was in a recon unit, nobody seemed to know where he was when he was shot, how badly he was wounded, or even what parts of his body had been hit. I started protesting while he was still hospitalized; he was hospitalized for nearly a year. I kept protesting when my other brother joined the Marines and went to Vietnam. It angered my father, it angered my brothers, but I did it anyway. 

And when I eighteen, I joined the military. Not the Marines — both of my brothers made me promise I wouldn’t join the Marines. I joined the Air Force. I hadn’t gone to a protest since I graduated from high school, but the war in Vietnam was still going on.

So why did I join? Because it was expected of me. Because I expected it of myself. Because my family taught me that the notion of service was important. Not necessarily military service, but service. To the community, to the state, to the nation. I was taught to be thankful for what I was given and that I should give back.

I hated it. I hated having to wear a uniform. I hated having to salute people. I hated following orders. I hated it, but I was a damned good medic. I hated it, but I learned I could do stuff I’d no idea I could do. I hated it, but I learned discipline. Not just to follow rules and orders, but actual discipline — how to control myself in situations where control is critical and necessary. I hated it, but at the same time I felt I was serving a purpose — that in some very small but meaningful way I was giving back. And even though I spent four long years in military harness, I’m aware I didn’t really do that much.

Thinking about all that — and about the woman who’d automatically thanked me for my service — I came to the conclusion that maybe I really did, after all, do it for her. I didn’t do it because of her, but I did it for her. The thing is, somebody has to do it. Regardless of what ‘it’ is, somebody always has to do it. Somebody has to shoulder a firearm and walk post. Somebody has to fight fires. Somebody has to enforce law. Somebody has to pick up trash and repair roads and defend the accused and take photos for your driver’s license and teach your kids and deliver your mail. You don’t know who they are, and they’re not doing it because of you, but they are most definitely doing it for you. They may not do it well, but nevertheless they’re doing it for you

They’ll do it whether you thank them or not. Because it’s expected. Because it’s necessary. And now I realize it was silly and stupid for me to expect that woman to sincerely thank me for my service. It was silly and stupid to be irked by her perfunctory thanks. Because how can she possibly know what my service was like? And I realize now that my thanks to her, when she’d finished her examination, was also perfunctory. Because I’ve no idea what her service is like.

So I’m going to try to be more sincere when I thank people. At least over this holiday season, I’m going to try to genuinely recognize and appreciate the person who serves me my burger, or rings up my groceries at the register, or drops off the package from Amazon. I’m not going to completely succeed, I know that. But damn it, I’m going to try.

And if you’re reading this, thank you very much.

Editorial Note: I thought I’d illustrate this with a photo or two from my days in uniform, but I’ve never bothered to keep any of that stuff. I’m going to check with my ex to see if she kept any of it. It could be worth a giggle.

a mild defense of facebook

Facebook, I’m told, isn’t cool anymore. I’m not sure it ever was — but now, at this point in time, I’ve been assured by folks who have a more confident hand at the ‘this is cool’ wheel, Facebook is decidedly not cool.

Cool or not, Facebook is an integral part of my morning routine. Since I haven’t held a straight job since 2000 and since I have little native self-discipline, I rely on routines to make sure I get stuff done. Without routines I’d spend my entire day with a cat on my lap, researching stuff I don’t really need to know (seriously, how does a turtle pull its head into its shell–do the vertebrae collapse somehow, does its neck just curve a lot, what the hell is going on in there?), or entranced by the way the morning sunlight refracts off the sugar crystals on the top of the blueberry muffins, or indulging in the shame of politics (indictments of Jerome Corsi, yes please), or pointlessly unpacking all the elements of the most recent Doctor Who episode (what other sci-fi show would do such an intimate exploration of the Partition of India?).

Initiating my morning routine.

So routines (which are also not cool) are important to me, and Facebook is part of my morning routine, which is as follows:

  1. Check the perimeter (though c’mon, I’m living in an incredibly safe and boring suburb now, and the only thing I’m likely to discover when checking the perimeter is the weather) with the aid of the cat.
  2. Feed the cat her stink food.
  3. Make coffee.
  4. Read the news — general Google news headlines first, dipping into stories that interest me; Washington Post for fundamental news reporting; Daily Kos for the lefty take on events.
  5. Tell myself to read my email, look at my email subject headings, then usually ignore my email (unless it’s clearly hate mail, which I’ll generally read for some reason; today’s hate mail: “Are all you cunts ready for cw2? We are!” Which I probably shouldn’t have read, because now I feel I have to get ready for the Second American Civil War, and who has time for that?).
  6. Scroll through Facebook.

I should note that I don’t do Family Facebook. I keep my personal life separate from my online life, so I don’t ‘friend’ loved ones or family members (and I might as well confess that I’m really not at all interested to hear that somebody’s grandchild scored a goal at a soccer match over the weekend). Instead Facebook for me is about friends and art and politics, which may sound like three separate categories but in reality are generally all smooshed together.

Friends, art, and politics smooshed together through Panel Pulp.

What that means in practical terms is this: Facebook inserts serendipity and random weirdness into my morning. I like that. I like that I’ve become friendly and familiar with folks and I have no recollection at all how I came into contact with them. These are people who’ve come bouncing into my line of sight from some odd social angle and caught my attention in some pleasing or interesting way (and now that I say that, it occurs to me that the process is a lot like seeing the morning sunlight refracting off the sugar crystals on the blueberry muffin). It just happens and I’m lucky enough to notice.

The serendipity and random weirdness isn’t just how I’ve made friends on Facebook, it’s also an intrinsic and essential part of reason I keep this as part of my routine. People post the most unexpected and wonderful stuff on Facebook. I’m not talking about videos of amusing cats or goats playing balloons, though I often enjoy that stuff too. I’m talking about stuff for audiences that I didn’t even know existed. Like Panel Pulp (which is actually a Twitter account, but is often reposted on Facebook).

Another example: international marble racing. If not for my friend Young Jo, I’d have never encountered Jelle’s Marble Runs or seen these exciting qualifying races for the 2018 Sand Marble Race (I prefer the organic nature of sand marble racing over the more sophisticated manufactured marble racing tracks…but that’s just me; also, I’m inclined to be suspicious of Marbly McMarbleface).

Another bit of weird and random I love about Facebook is that I encounter folks who are open and unapologetic about their weirdness. So open, in fact, that they’re not even aware of how weird their weirdness is, and I find that completely endearing. I mean, who creates marble race tracks, records the races, keeps track of the stats of the individual marbles, and narrates the videos? Even weirder is the fact that these videos have an audience. I love that.

The most consistent thing that draws me to Facebook (aside from the politics) is that it exposes me to some really diverse facets of the arts. Bizarre sci-fi art, stark 1950s Japanese noir photography, beautiful original pen and ink art, strange and/or practical yarn art, and lots of personal photography. For example, this morning I saw this photograph by Larry Rose:

Larry Rose — West room corner.

I have no memory of how I became friends with Larry Rose. I know little about him as a person. But I know and enjoy his work. This wonderfully subtle photo kept me from doing the work I was supposed to be doing for maybe ten minutes. At least two different light sources, each operating at a different wavelength, creating strange but predictable shadows and colors. An antenna at an almost perfect 45 degree angle that creates a bit of visual tension against all the other horizontal and vertical lines. And that beautiful Borg Cube of a lampshade that seems to be floating in the corner. Without Facebook, I’d probably never have seen this photo.

Facebook isn’t cool. But there is cool stuff to be found there. There’s a chance I’d have learned about Burning the Clocks without Facebook, but probably not. And right now there’s an excellent chance that you’re wondering if Burning the Clocks is a band, or a movie, or who the hell knows what. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll click on the link and find out.

Is that cool? I kinda think so.