No, Thanks

I went to the pet store today to buy cat food and, of course, to look at the kittens. They usually have a pretty good selection of designer breeds, generally in the neighborhood of $1500. But today they had this, a Scottish Fold with very unusual coloring.

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She was practically a clone of Little Guy, right down to the liquid eyes and stolen tail. I was shocked. One of the things that make both Twitchy and Little Guy so special is that only the Goddess could have created their unique coloring. I have to admit to feeling a bit betrayed. But then I noticed the price tag on the little charmer.

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Yup, with tax she’s 375,840yen. That’s a bit over $3000 at today’s exchange rate, two months’ rent for me, nearly the cost of my vacation in Bali last year, enough to buy more than 4500 bottles of my favorite Italian wine.

Little Guy only cost me a train ticket to Nihombashi, which was about $6.

Oh my.

I can just see the Goddess rolling on the floor laughing so hard she wets herself.

The only designer cats that will ever enter my home are this American Shorthair and Russian Blue, but these are evil ghost cats and therefore funny, not innocent victims of some puppy and kitten mill.

(Thanks, Jonelle.)

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The Silence of the Kitten

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At lunch today, we were sandwiched between two families, both with small children. People with small children are accustomed to a level of noise and chaos that we middle aged childless types find hard to stomach, especially when we’re trying to eat. We have to really focus on our noodles and try to tune out the rambunctious ankle-biters. I do the same thing when someone nearby is inhaling half of Tokyo as they slurp their noodles. I call it “Noodle Zen: the art of shutting out obnoxious noises and foul manners.”

So I was doing my Noodle Zen, finding inner peace, silence of the soul and a higher plane of gustatory harmony when it occurred to me that Little Guy doesn’t speak.

It’s not that he can’t; he just doesn’t.

When we first brought him home, I put the kitty jail on the floor and opened the door. Twitchy came over to see what was in it and the two of them immediately got into a rather heated discussion. Big meow, little mew, big meow, little mew. It went on for quite a while and probably included some mild kitty profanity. (“Your mother has sex with strays!” “Oh, yeah? Your father has tuna breath!”)

After a while, Twitch abruptly turned away and retreated to the top of the fridge. Since that day, Little Guy has said nary a word except for the time I stepped on his tail. That was an accident, not an experiment, and what he said was less “mew” than “HEY!”

Little Guy and Twitch love to wrestle, which they do with a great deal of gusto, rolling each other over and over, all the while biting and scratching. This goes on for quite some time, broken up with sudden spasms of chasing each other up and down the curtains and stairs, thundering along the hallway, jumping on the table and sending things flying in all directions. All that time, Little Guys says not a word except for an incredibly cute squeaky noise he makes when Twitch gets him into a headlock. I suppose it’s the kitten version of “uncle”.

The downside of all this silence is that Little Guy doesn’t purr. Unlike the wild and somewhat terrifying monster who used to scream bloody murder when she first came here, Twitchy has become much less vocal than she used to be. She likes to be picked up and cuddled and she purrs a chocolate syrup river as she rubs her head against my chin. Little Guy sometimes lets me cuddle him, but soon enough something catches his attention and he squirms away, completely purr-less. I’m hoping Twitch will school him in that gentle art. I’ve tried, but my purr isn’t very convincing.

And as I came to the end of that train of thought, I also arrived at the bottom of my bowl of noodles, satisfyingly full of both noodles and Zen. Namaste.

What the fork?

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In Japan, curry and rice is nearly always served with a spoon. This makes sense when you’re eating something as drippy as curry. But my Western orientation told me that only babies and invalids eat from a spoon. The first time I was given a spoon I thought I was being insulted. But I learned that this is standard practice and in time got used to it. You certainly can’t accuse the Japanese of being backward or childish when it comes to food. These are the same people who can pick up a single grain of rice with a pair of pointy sticks, not to mention the inventors and/or perfectors some of the world’s finest delicacies.

But I digress.

Yesterday, I ordered curry and rice for lunch. The eating utensil it came with was wrapped in a paper napkin. Imagine my surprise when I unfolded it and found not the expected spoon but a fork. My colleagues, all Japanese, just shrugged and said, “That’s how they do it here.”

Just when I’m finally getting the hang of things, they pull the rug out from under me. Or maybe it was the tatami mat.

Crystal

I first joined Crystal Sports Club in 1993 to supplement my hospital physical therapy after knee surgery.

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It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s a nice gym–two aerobics studios, a machine and weights area, a full bath (sauna, three tubs and both Japanese seated and Western standing showers) and wicked good massage chairs. But one of its finest features is that it’s inconveniently located a solid 20 minute walk from the nearest station. That means that most of the members live nearby. We see the same faces again and again. The place has a nice small town feeling in the midst of a city of 12 million souls.

Some people have been members since the gym opened 30 years ago; some of them go every day. It is the focus of their lives, like the older gentlemen that once hung around the town pharmacy playing checkers while their wives gossiped around the cabbages at the A & P.

Last month we were informed that Crystal will close its doors at the end of February. It will be torn down and replaced with an apartment complex. Now there is a pall hanging over the building; some members have confusion and loss etched on their features. It is a loss not just of a place to exercise and chat with friends, but of a sense of community.

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My last adorable kitten post got over 30 “likes” on Facebook, and the people connected to those likes range from family members and girls I played with when I was a baby to high school and college friends, colleagues and gym buddies. There are even a few that I’ve never met but have developed relationships with over the Interwebs. This is my community.

As Crystal prepares to bid us adieu, I don my star-spangled pointy hat and ermine fringed brocade robe and peer into my crystal ball, hoping to discover what the future will bring. There will be loss; that is guaranteed. Will there be gain? I can only hope.

Purrfection

 

After gifting him liquid brown eyes tinted with gold, The Goddess contemplated the pure white canvas that was Little Guy’s body. Then a Mona Lisa smile sneaked into the corners of her mouth. She picked up her charcoal and quickly sketched in a Batman mask, which she extended over his forehead and part way up his ears. Starting to enjoy herself, she snatched the tail off a passing tabby and replaced his with it. She started to giggle as she picked up her brush and gave him a tiny dab of gray on his left shoulder, then another near the base of his spine. She couldn’t resist adding a full sized splotch of color on his right knee, but then hesitated.FullSizeRender

She sat back and contemplated what she had done. The smile grew as she took a sip of her coffee, licked the tip of her finger, and gently drew it across his testicles, leaving them a cafe au lait island in a sea of white.

“The unexpected is its own perfection,” she thought. “It is why we try new foods, travel to unknown places, see what’s around the corner. It is the life blood of existence. You’re welcome, Universe. Believe me that the world is a better place with Little Guy in it.”

Lost in Translation

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I had to go to a meeting at the Shinjuku Mitsui building yesterday. It’s got a large lobby and an outdoor terrace, both of which are occasionally stages for mini concerts. This time there was a grand piano, a man in a tux and a woman in an evening gown. When I came in, she was singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in English, and quite well, I might add but I can’t imagine why she chose that particular song. Then she sang a special Christmas medley including Joy to the World, Silent Night and Rudolph, all in Japanese.

I once saw a US military band performing there. No explanation, but I suppose it’s got something to do with neighborhood relations, except that the “neighborhood” is a bunch of other tall office buildings and a couple of ritzy hotels, including the Keio Plaza, where they filmed Lost in Translation, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

I tried to enjoy the concert, but it’s disconcerting (nyar, nyar, nyar) when Rudolph has an akai hana instead of a red nose. The whole experience gave me a brief reality jolt. I guess some things just get lost in translation.

Exploding Kitten

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Ha, ha! I think I’ll call my friends in Zimbabwe.

After a few days of shyness (or terror, take your pick), we have entered the exploding kitten phase. This happens when Little Guy experiences a sudden burst of energy so intense that it sends him flying up curtains, careening off walls and knocking over anything that gets in his way. This is caused by the spaz-o-kat hormone which kicks in at this stage. Not even the most powerful tranquilizer can undo its effects. It’s like he has chugged 27 cups of coffee followed by a couple of toots of cocaine, a Snickers bar and several large lollipops. All we can do is let it run its course until the fire burns out and he falls into a deep and lasting sleep a la Snow White, although, ironically, he himself is the handsome prince.

Twitch is unimpressed and looks on with extreme disapproval.

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Harrumph. The things I have to put up with!

Close Encounters

Twitch and Little Guy had a brief but rather intense conversation the day we brought him home, then she retreated to her favorite safety zone, the top of the fridge. Once we had rescued Little Guy from behind the bathtub, we moved him to the study, a room which has a solid door and plenty of space for him to run around while he got used to living indoors.

Little Guy: Wow, I like this place! It’s warm and there’s plenty of yummy food and it never, ever rains! Ooh! What’s that? A catnip mouse? Goody goody! I had a great time last night bouncing off the walls and throwing things on the floor. I think tonight I’ll climb the curtains and see if I can’t knock a couple of pictures off the walls. Woo-hoo! Boy, I’m having a great time. Yes, I am. But now…I’m getting…kind of…sleepy….zzzz.

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Since he’d passed his HIV test and his cold seemed to be over, we thought it was time to release him into the general feline population, meaning Twitchy.

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As you can see, it wasn’t a joyous occasion. He’s curious about her but she’s pretty much afraid of him, which is weird considering that she’s about twenty times bigger than him. I had expected her to have more moxie than that.

Baby steps. At this point, it’s supervised visits only until we can be sure that she’s not planning to have a Little Guy sandwich for lunch.

To be clear, Little Guy is not his name. It’s just something to call him until we find the right one, unless he turns out to be a rapper and we call him Lil Gui.  We’ve vetoed a few names already: Bruce, Eliot, Seneca, Spartacus. It has to be something that goes well with Twitchy, the way Plato went with Dana.

Any suggestions?

Baby Teeth

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Little Guy has been with us for over a week and we all survived. Although we still haven’t come up with a real name for him, we’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. He has a healthy appetite and took to the litter pan with no fuss at all. We had to keep him separate from Twitchy until we could get him tested for AIDS, which we did yesterday. He’s negative. Many street cats are not. We are lucky people.

The first couple of days, he would skibble across the floor on his tummy, terrified, elbows and knees pulled into his body, so we thought he was part weasel or dachshund, but once he relaxed we could see that he is normal cat shaped.

He chews on my fingers while he’s rolling around in my lap. Then he tears around the room chasing his toys. And he does acrobatics, leaping from the window sill to the stool to the desk, hanging by his claws from the back of my sweater. Then, just like a baby, he passes out and sleeps and sleeps.

There is so much power in such a small package; I can pick him up with one hand. Just last week, I thought of Twitchy as a relatively small cat, but suddenly she’s huge.  Little Guy is a tiny ball of furry perfection that gives me perspective on what does–and does not–really matter.

Thank you, Universe. He’s just what I needed.

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Little Guy

The garden at Randy and Junko’s house is apparently a magnet for stray cats. They have adopted four strays already, and more appear all the time. They have not, however, crossed over into crazy cat people territory, so when the new ones appear, they try to find homes for them elsewhere.

Randy has offered us a couple, but we barely survived the trauma of turning Twitchy into a civilized beast. Then Little Guy and his momma (Randy’s from Alabama) appeared in the garden a few days ago. We had been thinking that Twitchy is doing pretty well now and needs a little brother to play with. Little Guy’s extraordinary coloring and soulful eyes made both our hearts go pitty-pat.

Little Guy

Long story short, via bicycles and trains, he found himself at our house. And about four hours later, he disappeared into thin air. I wasn’t too concerned that night; cats are good hiders and can easily go 24 hours without eating. But we still couldn’t find him the next morning. We scoured the house but there was no trace. We thought he might have gotten out somehow, so looked around the neighborhood, but quickly realized how futile that was. Even on the vague chance we could spot him, we’d never be able to catch him.

We became convinced that he was gone and we were the worst human beings on the planet. We had torn him from his momma, transported him halfway across the universe to what we termed a ‘better’ life, and then let his tiny self escape, alone in an unfamiliar, dark, cold world.

Then Junko had an idea. Momma was still wandering around the garden, crying for her lost baby. Randy recorded her voice and sent it to my phone. I walked around the house broadcasting that forlorn voice, not expecting anything to happen. But when I aimed it  at the bathroom, there was an immediate response: equally forlorn, echoing and eerie.

I had a moment of panic. The bath is tiled floor to ceiling. Where the hell was the voice coming from?

Then we discovered a small gap between the panel on the side of the tub and the drain in the floor, just enough space for him to wiggle through. It took some work but we got him out and moved him to a room upstairs, this room, where I sit typing. He is fed, warm, safe.

The thing is that, after fighting against it for years, I had just gotten the smart phone on Saturday. Little Guy came to stay on Sunday, and I used the phone to locate him on Monday. Two days before, I did not have the technology to do that. We might never have found him. He could easily have died in there, wedged between the tub and the wall, and we would have been none the wiser…until there was a smell.

I have grown to resent the way technology is taking over our lives. While making things more convenient it also isolates us from each other. We are increasingly becoming solitary islands connected only through the airwaves. But that same technology brought Momma’s voice into my bathroom and probably saved Little Guy’s life.

I can’t help feeling humbled.

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