When George first came to live with us, we had to take him to the vet for a general health check. We hadn’t named him yet, so we just called him Sanban (Number Three).
Among the bazillion other things we have to do to pull up stakes and start our lives over, we have to process the cats. There’s no rabies in Hawaii so the Department of Agriculture is extremely vigilant about quarantine standards for imported animals. It doesn’t matter that ours are indoor cats or that there’s been no rabies in Japan since 1956. There is one set of rules and everyone must abide by them. No exceptions. So sayeth the Dept of Ag.
I won’t go into the tedious details except to say it takes six months, minimum. The first step involves vaccines which involves several trips to the vet, always a popular pastime within the fur community. Fortunately, the vet’s office is only a five minute walk from here because they scream bloody murder all the way. The neighbors look daggers at us, wondering what sort of horrible torture we’re inflicting on them.
But then we arrive and the vet is a chubby, kindhearted woman who seems to care about our fuzz muffins nearly as much as we do.
We told her about the move to Hawaii and fortunately she’s been through this process before and can help us through it. When she finished with the first set of injections, she smiled gently and said, “I wish I could be Number Four.”
I smiled back and said, “Sensei, I think you’re a little too big for the cat carrier.”
The Kinoshita Circus is Japan’s largest* and it’s a real circus, staged in a tent, complete with clowns, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and animals. It was pure delight from start to finish (except for the motorcycles in the giant sphere. That act was entirely too loud and scared the pickles out of me). It was charming, totally professional and yet not quite, especially when the juggler dropped his bowling pin for the third time and the acrobat missed the trapeze and fell into the net. Kudos to him, though, as he climbed right back onto the platform and completed the act. There was an aged elephant who stood on her front feet, then her back feet, then looked right at me as if to say, “Well, what do you expect?” Four bored-looking zebras trotted around the ring in one direction then the other, barely stifling their yawns, eager to get back to their cabbage and carrots.
But then there were lions. There were eight lions, two each of tawny males and females, and four pure white females. They didn’t do much, just jumped through a hoop and did a couple of group poses. The males reared up, but there was no pretense at fierceness, no gnashing of teeth or snapping of whip. The tamer clearly loved them and was loved in return as he patted their magnificent haunches and tugged on their swishing tails. They walked around the ring, swaying their powerful shoulders and flipping their enormous paws. And we were seated less than ten meters away. I cried openly throughout the act, overwhelmed.
By the time we got home that evening, my scalp was beginning to show. So the next morning, armed with the lingering flush of being that close to so much feline magnificence, I plugged in the razor, took a deep breath and mowed a swath right along the top of my head from the middle of my forehead, a reverse Mohawk, an irreversible, total commitment. When I asked Rochi to help with the bits I couldn’t reach, he didn’t flinch, even though I know he was at least as scared as I was.
Picking up that razor brought back the feelings of waking up after my second surgery. As I gradually became aware of the tubes leading in and out of my body, the machines I was attached to, the medical staff bustling around, the difficult and painful recovery that lay ahead, I panicked. All I could think was, “I can’t do this. I just did this. I can’t do it again! I can’t!” I wanted to leap off the table, yank out the tubes and run away from the sterile room, the sterile hospital, the entire sterile, surreal medical world.
Instead, I remembered a visualization I had learned. I closed my eyes and found myself sitting comfortably on a warm rock in a sunny glade under trees swaying in a breeze lightly scented with jasmine. Surrounding me was my tribe, who had taken the form of pastel colored unicorns. Waves of empathy, compassion and love flowed from their soft, gentle eyes, all toward the center of the circle, all toward me.
I experienced all of that in just a few moments but it was enough. My heart stopped pounding. My breathing slowed. I opened my eyes.
Over the past few years I have kept having experiences that left me thinking, “Wow. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” And I keep being wrong about that. But I have learned a valuable lesson: Courage isn’t a lack of fear. Courage is being afraid of something and doing it anyway. And I give thanks every single day for continuing to find that courage in myself and in the people around me.
*Big, squishy clowny hugs of gratitude to Randy and his friend for making this happen.
Yes, I know. It’s been at least two blog posts since I mentioned the cats. Due to the many submissions to the bitter complaints department, I offer my profound apologies. Herein is an update on the feline invasion chez Mouse.
The matriarch of our little menagerie, Twitchy was whippet-thin and pointy when she first came to us, all skin and bones and well-toned muscle. This past winter, she often smelled of soy sauce. Now she smells like my grandmother’s afghan, warm and soft and knitted with 100% love. She recently swallowed a rugby ball, the only possible explanation for her current proportions. As you can see, she is ever-so-pleased about the new kitten and is making every effort to be warm and welcoming.
Seemingly over night, Monkey Boy went from adorable puffball to elegant young man. When he and Little Man are not racing around seemingly ripping each other to bits, he drapes his shapely body over furniture, his eyes reflecting the wisdom of the centuries and his snow-white fur smelling of watermelon. While he still neither purrs nor meows, he does squeak. We have concluded that he must have swallowed a live mouse. A mouse in Tokyo. Oh, dear.
Little Man is still looking for a name. In the meantime, we have determined that the size of his ears, eyes and paws can only be explained by the swallowing of a fox, a lemur and a couple of bear cubs. When I pick him up and bury my nose in his baby-soft fur, I feel his tiny ribs and pounding heart press against my open palm and a starburst of happiness explodes inside my belly. Then he twists and wiggles until he is released, impatient to discover what the future holds in store for him, or at least what might be hiding behind the curtain.
It’s funny how human cats can be. This morning, the boys were upstairs chasing each other and Twitchy started dancing around the kitchen, playing with a toy mouse. It’s as if she didn’t want them to know that she wanted to play, too. Many people think cats are standoffish and aloof, but I think they grasp the concept of cool. I’m down with that, as long as she doesn’t ask for a tattoo or a nose piercing.
On the plus side, the sun is shining and the sakura is popping.
On the minus side, I’m stuck in a third basement studio all day.
On the plus side, this morning’s yoga was particularly pleasant, accompanied as it was by two fuzz monkeys rasseling in the corner, and neither of them peed in the bed today.
On the minus side, my knees hurt and my claustrophobia won’t let me ride in the coffin-sized elevator so walking down the stairs to the studio was hard.
On the plus side, I’m getting paid to sit on this comfortable couch and share these thoughts with you.
Also on the plus side, I discovered this morning that they’re finally changing the name of my bus stop. I doubt you can begin to grasp how humiliating it is to get off at Nichidaiseibutsushigenkagakubumae. As of April 1, it will be simply Nichidaimae.
For some reason, this makes me very happy.
I assume this is not an April Fool’s joke. I sincerely doubt the bus people have that much of a sense of humor. Bus stop naming is serious business, after all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I first joined Crystal Sports Club in 1993 to supplement my hospital physical therapy after knee surgery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of our Bali adventures was a side trip to a coffee plantation. I didn’t realize until much later that we saw no plantation. We walked a path through a jungle, were given a coffee and tea sampler and were invited to buy stuff before being shuffled back to the bus.
We did, however, see some of the famous coffee poo cats, which it turns out are civets of some sort.
This is a sleeping civet.
And this is their poo.
Unfortunately, the poo reminded me of a chocolate peanut roll my grandma used to make at Christmas. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of Twitchy’s poo, which is so lethal that it can wake me from a sound sleep when she produces it. I also have a hard time enjoying things that cost more than they should. Even in the middle of nowhere Indonesia it was nearly $5 to try the cat poo coffee. Having had $20 coffee here in Japan back when that was a thing to do, I can with confidence say that the experience was over-rated. So I gave the cat poo a miss.
Later that night, a few of us ended up at a convenience store where I discovered that one of our group, despite being a dedicated marathon runner, is a closet Snickers addict. She was delighted to find some on sale, but again I declined. I make it a rule to avoid doing things abroad that I can do at home and Snickers are widely available here. So I got something else.
When I got back to my room, this guy was sitting on my desk, and since he asked me politely, I let him hold my Nockers.