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What If It Was The Last Time?

To preface this entry, I’ll ask that you excuse me if I begin to ramble because I will assure the reader, I will proceed to make a point by the end of this, what promises to be lengthy, message.

I set out this morning, walking my dog Hank.

Hank hasn’t been with me long, he simply showed up one afternoon, roaming around in a nervous, zig-zag gait, towed in by another dog which soon magically disappeared. It quickly became apparent that Hank was old, and lost. He was also very hungry, which was soon remedied, but as I evaluated his situation, luckily prompted by the advice of another more compassionate soul, it became apparent that Hank’s other concerns were not going to be so easily addressed. He was clearly missing someone terribly – someone who had once occupied a very large part of his life. It also became apparent that Hank could not hear well.

I posted a photo of Hank along with a lost dog notice on Facebook, and asked all of my friends to share the notice in hopes that someone might be looking for their hound. I searched for pleas of a distraught owner on Craigs List, but after two weeks, neither platform provided results.

Hank 2018

Soon it became clear that Hank had been accustomed to having a collar and leash, however when he showed up there was no collar. One evening when I opened my truck door to roll up the window, Hank instinctively proceeded to climb in. He was used to being taken along on rides, it seemed.

After much discussion, Alana and I soon concluded that the dog had been purposely abandoned. But why would anyone turn such a faithful companion out into the world? Unless the owner had died – and the person who had ‘inherited’ him soon found that the dog ‘wouldn’t listen’, was too energetic, and required too much of their time. So, not unlike the heartless soul who would abandon a box of kittens on the side of the road, they loaded Hank into the car, drove some distance before letting him out, and then simply pulled off, leaving the dog in the void of unknowns.

And so he started walking, trying to find his way back to something familiar.

A few days into his stay with us, I referred to him as Hank without giving it much thought. I’ve no idea, the name just seemed to fit, it came to me so naturally. Finally, after we’d both surmised that, if we surrendered him to a shelter, no one would adopt an old dog, and he would eventually be put down, I decided to delete the notice on Facebook and keep the old boy. Besides, he had already decided that I was his new purpose in life, and that he was mine.

This was a responsibility which I could not take lightly, yet seemed to take somewhat begrudgingly. Besides, it wasn’t as if I didn’t already have seven cats. How was I going to integrate this big dog into a household of cranky-ass felines?

Another point, is that this big boy thrived on attention – something that cats have determined that they can live without for the most part, with the exception of the occasional head-butt. Also, as lots of other musicians will attest, cats fit our lifestyles better – they’re quiet while you’re recording, and they don’t come over slobbering all over you while you’re half-way into a groove that you can never repeat in this lifetime.

But Hank was an indoor dog, being left outside made him unbearably nervous. So I erected a re-enforced screen door in between the kitchen and the laundry room, made him a bed, then set his food and water dishes.  Through the door which opens to the outside from the laundry room, I led him inside to see how the he and the cats would interact. Hank seemed satisfied with the arrangement and seemed to realise that the laundry room was his space. The cats were a bit leery of the big animal which was now occupying the laundry room, and they sniffed at the screen door. Hank plopped himself down with his back against the screen and went to sleep. Cats continued to sniff and move cautiously around the door. This went on for a few days, but a couple of the females – Sissy and Popper – decided that they liked Hank, and slept beside him just on the other side of the door.

Oh, there was one other thing that, after a while we finally took note of – Hank never barked. Hank seemed to be so relieved that someone had taken him in, he was willing to accept anything that came with the deal, without voicing a complaint.

After a week or so of the division, the cats seemed to be at ease with Hank – with the exception of Spots, the most cranky 12 year-old girl, who paid him absolutely no attention. (The other cats never even bother Spots. She’s the matriarch of the household.) So, I decided to allow Hank inside to inspect the rest of the house. He trotted in, much to the astonishment of a few of the cats, slipping past them without even looking at them, almost as if he were trying to avoid alarming them. He sniffed about, lay down in the kitchen floor for a while, before eventually letting himself back into the laundry room, letting the screen door slam gently behind him. Alana and I looked at one another, stunned. Clearly the dog himself was taking a test run with the cats.

I finally began to wonder to myself if Hank hadn’t been some sort of support dog. He was extremely well behaved, intelligent, and wanted to be at my side irrespective of where I went throughout the house. He even insisted on accompanying me to the bathroom, dutifully lying down in the floor and waiting. It was but a few days before Alana voiced the very same observation. ‘Hank sticks to you like you are his responsibility.’ she said. I told her that I had come to the same conclusion. Even as I type this, he is lying on the floor beside my chair. For the first week or so, whenever I had to leave the house to attend to some business, Hank would sit in the kitchen floor and release a deep and mournful, almost eerie bay. It sounded as if he were miles away, and it sounded so lonely and sad. After I would return, he was overjoyed. ‘Every time you come home, it’s like Christmas for Hank.’ Alana mused.

It may be noted that the cats are completely at ease Hank now. Occasionally Misfit will even walk up to him and head-butt his snout. The diminutive Popper will often stand alongside him, as if she is every bit as big and powerful.

Hank has been well trained in another aspect as well. He will not relieve himself in the yard. It has come to a point that I have figured that he likes to take a good long walk very early in the morning, one which encompasses one and a half miles, and at a point half way through, he will relieve himself in the tall grass beside an old vacant grocery store. Then we head back home. If it is raining and we can’t take a walk – Hank doesn’t take a dump, so the walk is imperative.

Our morning walks are everything to Hank. They are the highlight of his day. For his life to have been filled with – who knows how many hopeless days and nights, there isn’t a single negative emotion that this old dog harbours. I watched him this morning as we walked – tail wagging, head held high. It was as if this were the very first time that we were ever going on this walk. He was drinking in every second of it and loving it. This same old walk.

“Hank,” I said, “you inspire me. I’m just walking along here as if we will be doing this forever and you’re taking it in as if we’ll never do it again.”

Then it hit me. What if it was the last time? I used to tell myself every time I’d climb the drive on my bike, “Enjoy it like it’s the last time.” But now, as hard as I try to remember – I can’t remember my last ride up the drive before the CFS knocked the wind out of me, but I never got to do it again.

Hank is old. He may not even have a year left. I should really be getting as much enjoyment out of these walks as he does. Because one day – it will be the last time.

I began thinking of my own mortality, and how things can change beyond one’s influence. I do lots of genealogy, and I’ve photographed scores of headstones of individuals whose time on this Earth easily fit within my own. It gives you pause to reflect. We take tomorrow for granted far more than we should. I imagined my dad lying awake at night, fully knowing that it had all been done, and that any moment he could lose grasp of life.

“Things never seem to go the way that we intend – life seems so different when it’s viewed from end to end.”

I penned these words during a moment of enlightened inspiration and included them in a song that I’d written about my son. I began thinking about him and how frustrated he sometimes felt regarding his mundane job and his life in general, how things weren’t running to suit him.

Then I considered how fortunate my dad would have felt a year ago – simply to be 33 and have the good health to enjoy doing anything again. And meanwhile there is my son, replaying scenes which he should have discarded of minutes after they occurred.

We own our thoughts – but negative thinking owns us. We can have goals and aspirations, but to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves is a different matter. Sometimes it’s good to work toward a goal, but if we aren’t enjoying now because all we can dwell on is later – we’re missing the boat.

I prefer Hank’s approach to life, and I’m going to try to be like him henceforth. I’m going to enjoy now – and I’m not even going to think about tomorrow.

Because this may very well be the last time.

 

 

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Mercury

This is a story about a cat that I named Mercury.

I can’t remember when I first saw the little fellow. I never really met him, never fed him, or called him up to me, never even petted him. Not until after he was dead, that is. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even name him until after I buried him up on the hill with my other cats and was ready to send him off.

The only time that I’d ever interacted with Mercury was when I had to slow down to give him time to jump into the bushes as I was negotiating the long uphill drive to my house, because he had taken to hunting that stretch. He’d always run up to a particular part of the overgrowth before he leapt to slither away like his namesake.

I didn’t know if Mercury had a home, or if home was merely where he made it, but if he did, he was gone most of the time. Perhaps he was ill-treated and ran away. I would have taken him in, but never had the opportunity to get to know him properly. Besides, I’ve got seven of the roving rat-traps already.

If he had a home, his humans are no doubt still wondering why their pet has not been home for the past two days. I can imagine that someone might step outside early and call softly in the morning to see if he appears, or perhaps they check to see if he is sitting on the porch before they turn in for the night. The sad fact is that they will never see their cat again, for Sunday afternoon as I made my way home, I immediately recognised the grey lump lying at the corner of a side street and the Boulevard, only a short block down from my road.

Less than a week leading up to this event, the rascal was snooping around the house in an abandoned corner of the lot. A few years ago, I had a flock of hens, and kept them cooped up near the stone wall. My chicken raising days came to an abrupt end the day that someone allowed their two dogs out to free-roam the neighbourhood. When they came upon my flock minding their own business out in the side yard, the dogs had retained enough natural instinct to kill all of the birds, however they had forgotten what to do with them afterwards, and they trotted off down the drive leaving feathers, dead laying hens, and one badly injured rooster looking over the carnage. I had to relieve him of his misery with my ax.

Nonetheless, the coop has since fallen into disrepair but still stands. My son Sterling glanced out his window and saw the elusive feline checking out the accommodations, and captured what was probably the last photo of the little guy.

 

Mercury mod

 

When I saw the cat on the edge of the street, I was filled with regret. What was he doing crossing the busy Boulevard? My first instinct was to retrieve the carcass, but I thought better of myself, choosing instead to leave him where his rightful owners would undoubtedly see him, and remove the body.

The next morning, the body was still lying on the side of the road. Someone had at least pulled him off of the road and into the loose gravel. However, I was incredulous Tuesday evening when the cat was still lying on the roadside, and at nightfall it began to rain and thunder, so I didn’t sleep well at all. Every time I stirred, I kept thinking of all of the cars driving past the hapless creature’s body as it lay there unclaimed.

This morning, he was still lying there, soaking wet. I decided that if no one cared enough for him to do him the common courtesy of a burial, I would. I pulled my truck into the side street, walked over to the animal’s body, carefully lifted it into the bed of the truck, and brought it up the drive for the last time. I placed him in the sun, allowing him to dry out a bit, and picked the trash out of his fur. His face was smashed, and he smelled badly, and I regretted having made him wait over 48 hours at the roadside before rescuing him. I went up on the hillside where the rest of my deceased four-legged friends lie, and dug the creature a grave.

I ran my fingers across the lifeless body, and wept that it took this to bring us together. I took a towel that my living cats had, up to this point, used as bedding, and shrouded the animal’s body. I lay him in the ground, and covered him up.

Well. There’s nothing saying that it’s too late. I’ve learned some valuable lessons in life, and one is that it’s never too late.

So I adopted the cat, and gave him a name.

I called him Mercury.

 

Love Is Only For the Young

I have written only a handful of love songs. Those songs are now close to forty years old. Politics is the only subject on which I have written no song whatsoever. Music and politics should never be mixed, and if anyone wants to know why I think so, leave a comment and I’ll cover the subject in a future post.

Today however, I am writing about love. Nasty emotion, love.

Very few of us, if any, ever have the opportunity to realise it. When we are lucky enough to grasp the emotion in its pure state, it is usually in connection with our children, or lacking that, a pet, or last, and probably most rampant, with our imagination through music. I personally believe that outside of these three things, everlasting love does not exist.

It has taken me sixty-one years to figure this out. Of course, being the objective guy that I am, I could change my mind tomorrow. But I doubt it.

Perhaps when I was younger, I was too optimistic. Then again, perhaps it is just experience and age which has made me too damned cynical.

Whatever the case, I was crushed by what I identified as love at almost every point in my life. I’ll bet that most of you will agree that you too were crushed, rather than validated. I’ll also bet that every old love song brings on a wistful gaze to most, calling to mind a love that used to be.

I contend that broken hearts rule the world, not love.

In the end, most of us die with a broken heart. Either a spouse has torn us in two, having passed on before us, our friends have all disappeared, our beloved pets have long since departed, or the place in which we were born and reared no longer exists.

Life insures two things: That, having been born strapped to a dying beast, we will one day not exist; and that before this day comes, we will have our souls ripped out by someone who we will never have again.

Enjoy the now. It is truly all that we have. Today’s joys will be tomorrow’s tears.

CFS Worst Case Scenario (Typical Day)

I’m going to write a bit today, not about music, but about this damned affliction that I have mysteriously been strapped with, generally referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

I’ve only attempted to relate this disease in one or two other blog entries, but it seems to garner a decent bit of attention when I do, so I’m going to take a stab at it today, primarily because today is one of those days that I almost think that I’d be better off dead, although that may sound a tad harsh.

No, I’m not contemplating suicide. I don’t have the guts to do that to everyone else involved in my life that such an action would inevitably and adversely effect. The stigma surrounding CFS alone is bad enough. The inability, or unwillingness, of the scientific community to get to the root cause of the disease is enough to drive an individual into deep depression, and to withdraw from society.

No fun can be had. No breaks can be taken. Nothing is available that will alleviate the constant dull headache – the constant pressure at the top of my eyeballs and consequential sensitivity to sunlight. Nothing can take away the God-awful feeling of constant sluggishness that I feel from the moment I rise to the time that I fall asleep.

I have most recently described the feeling as one of having a constant hangover, coupled with that of coming down with influenza. I am aware that this may be impossible for those who do not suffer from the affliction to identify with this notion, or even believe that it is possible to feel this way 100 percent of the time, but I can assure the reader that this is the way that it is.

And then, I have to awake and begin the day. The difficulty of having to get through a day, accompanied with these symptoms, cannot be over emphasised. There are things that need to be done around the house, and I have to do them. The smallest tasks are sometimes nearly impossible to surmount, because the symptoms that I have just outlined are only baseline symptoms. Sometimes they are considerably worse, and other days they are marginally better. On the better days, it almost reminds me of how good I used to feel. If one is not careful, this will bring on a bout of depression, and I learned that lesson the hard way, so I must put that out of my mind, and be glad that I’m having a “good” day. It is almost laughable to refer to it as good.

One has to rest several times while washing the dishes. One has to rest after cleaning the cats litter boxes. One has to rest while sweeping and mopping the floor. One has to take breaks while cooking a meal.

Some have asked, why not use a dishwasher? Because washing dishes gives me something to do.

Others have asked why I don’t order out. Because it’s too expensive, and again, cooking gives me something to do.

One inquired, “Why don’t you lose the cats, dude?” Because the cats give purpose to my life. I talk to them, I fuss at them, I cry to them, and I tell them my troubles, and they respond by nuzzling and marking me. Sometimes that in and of itself is annoying, but I tolerate it, because if I were completely alone, I would begin to question the value of my life, and that is best not to ponder.

What it seems that many do not understand, is that as humans, we want things to do. If we begin to strip away ‘doing’ in order to ‘not do’, then our lives reach a point to where we feel useless and unnecessary.

Lacking the ability to do an honest day’s work anymore, one’s life becomes amazingly empty. I used to imagine having nothing but all the time that I required to do nothing but write and record my music. Having reached this point however, has been a mixed blessing, as recording music has become a major task. Singing is a task. I have to pause the process and rest between verses, because singing requires an incredible amount of energy. Either it always did and I didn’t notice because I had a seemingly endless store of it, or it did but it didn’t matter because I had said endless store.

These dishes – the litter boxes – the mopping and the sweeping. These tasks have taken on new meaning in my life in the past nine years, and if you can’t imagine how that must feel… you should consider yourself very fortunate indeed.

Spots, The Forever Cat

Spots was quietly absent Sunday evening. I looked for her, but she was not on the roof. She was not lying in the seat of the truck. She was not in any of the resting places that I could normally find her.

This mildly disturbed me, for Spots had been lame for the past week or so, her right hind leg slipping out from under her as she made her way along. Taking notice of this, I’d resolved to moving her about, first to one place and the other, that she would telegraph to me where she wanted to be, in order to keep her from having to use the leg. I figured that over time, the leg would heal, and that she would resume her normal activities. But upon finding her missing, I was filled with an unsettling emptiness.

Now I believe that Spots has left home, for what will be the last time.

It isn’t as if she hadn’t done it all before. Yes, she’d done it several times, and each time, after two or three weeks, after I’d convinced myself that I’d never see her again, she would invariably, and when it was least expected, appear, sashaying up the driveway, much to my incredulity. But did she arrive emaciated and haggard? To the contrary, she looked as if she’d been living in the lap of luxury: coat gleaming, and every whisker in place.

Of course, I’d charge out with equal portions of joy and disbelief, and embrace her in my arms. I’d make a big fuss and scold her for making me worry, while she ignored me with the detached nature that cats are generally hated for.

Spots is a yellow tabby who elected to spend a portion of her life in close proximity with me. Mostly at my prompting and tempting. Cats have no emotion. None. This seems to be the source of the distaste that many people hold for these animals.

Most folks seem to want an animal that, in contrast, is wholly dependent on them. They enjoy ‘owning’ an animal which they can exercise a certain level of control over.

Cats are among the most persecuted animals in the history of man. They’ve been tried as witches, exterminated on account of idiotic superstitions (with dire results) and accused of killing babies by, ‘stealing their breath’. The primary reason, I think, that cats are despised, is because they cannot be controlled, manipulated, nor tamed practically. We cannot ‘own’ cats. We can lock them up in our homes, we can attempt to regulate their feedings in order to feel more ‘in control’, but cats eat when, and what they want to. Cats choose to become domesticated, and only when it suits their needs.

If a cat becomes ‘homeless’ and left to his or her own devices, it will not only survive, but thrive. Cats can easily swing from domesticated to feral living. The poor dog however, having the common sense of its brother the wolf bred completely out of it over millennia, will generally starve without intervention of human compassion.

I hold a quiet, yet firm, respect for cats for the very reason that most people hate them.

I wonder how many times the same scenario plays out; we, for some reason or another, and with misgivings, take on some stray animal that doesn’t necessarily appeal to us, but out of the aforesaid compassion that many others seem to be completely devoid of, take the hapless creature home, only to fall helplessly in love with it over the period of time that we are blessed to be in company of it.

This is precisely how Spots came into my life to eventually become my favorite companion.

While working for a client during the summer of 2006, he asked if I might be kind enough to ‘eliminate’ a certain supposedly feral cat, which he had surreptitiously observed meandering around one of the dumpsters on his property.
I’d seen the cat before.

Spots Doin' Her Thang Feb

The first time was when I observed her moving stealthily through the forest behind the complex. Five minutes later, I had witnessed three dogs, hot on her trail. Ten minutes afterward, I saw the same cat negotiating her way in the opposite direction. I had to hand it to the cat. She was cool.

Engaging in discussion with those living in the vicinity, I ascertained that, although many people had taken to feeding the cat irregularly (thereby negating my client’s claim of the animal’s being feral), she seemed to belong to no one . However, this cat had it made. I thereby resolved that I would have nothing to do with the ‘disposal’ of the feline, but rather directed my son, who happens to be very good with animals in general, to try and lure the cat to him, which he did in short order.

Bringing her into where we had been performing work, and were presently breaking for lunch, the cat nonchalantly walked over to where I was sitting, and took a bite of my blueberry bagel. I decided there and then that nothing else would do but to take the poor thing back to my home, where two other cats were currently residing along with us.

I eventually settled on calling her ‘Spots’, on account of the unusual looking darker circular stripes which formed a sort of target pattern on either side of her body.

As is the custom of cats, she displayed a penchant for the outdoors, which is where she has lived out the remainder of her, eternally mysterious, life.

Spots, not particularly caring for the company of other cats, preferred instead to live a life of solitude. Wishing to avoid the others, who also went outdoors during the day, she finally settled on the following routine: Quite early in the morning, she would be waiting at the door for me to feed her, after which time she would wind her way down the long and steep drive, spending the remainder of the day in various places down the hill. In the evening around six, I’d round up the others, whistling the tune of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’. After they’d been recalled and safely indoors, Spots could be seen making her way idly up the hill where, eating her evening meal, she would stay outside on ‘guard duty’ until the next morning.

Years later, I began to refer to Spots as the ‘The Forever Cat’ because during a time that the coyotes were especially problematic for me, and losing three other cats to them, Spots continued negotiating the long, steep drive, lined with kudzu on either side, unscathed.

Spots and I spent countless nights sitting in front of the fireplace on cold nights, over the course of many a winter. We would talk about all kinds of things together, although I must admit that she did most of the listening.

She never appeared to age. Eight years on, she looked exactly the same, and I have the photos to prove it. I’d finally convinced myself that she was immortal. I’d decided that Spots was indeed the forever cat, neither being born nor dying.

Today is day three, and she still has not shown up, but you can bet that I have been looking for her, but to no avail. If poor Spots felt that the end was near, she would have nothing of being catered to any longer. And by no means would she lower herself to having someone watch her die. She was fiercely independent in life, and I can only imagine her as such in death.

There will be no grave for the one I so revere.

Spots the Forever Cat 2011 copy

I look out through the forest, continuing to call her name in my signature sharp, strident tone, but I fear that my poor forever cat has disappeared into the same setting from which I first saw her creeping so long ago.

Farewell, old girl.