Happy New Year! Every year, Pete and I celebrate by going for a walk with our cameras. Sure, it’s sedate, but this year, going for a walk may turn super exciting due to encounters with no-mask-wearing assholes. Yes, they’re jogging through the park, sometimes running the wrong way on the bike path, huffing and puffing where other no-mask-wearing assholes will suck up their used air in a minute. When you see three or four of these jerks in a row, it makes you get off the path and stick by the road, where the worst thing your lungs suck up is carcinogenic traffic fumes.
We didn’t so much flee the park near our house as change course abruptly to cross a parking lot and skirt the pond full of seagulls and ducks. This is the New Jersey version of a bucolic scene, so I was fully surprised when this big blue heron cleared its throat and announced that we were seeing some NATURE. You remember NATURE. I’ve seen a lot of it on TV since March, but anyway, we were looking at little brown ducks when this giant blue bird we hadn’t seen a second before took off out of the water and landed on the distant bank. Hello!
I’m not saying my icy heart melted, but it was sufficiently warmed that the next maskless assholes didn’t inspire me think the murdery thoughts. Here at home, Pete is brewing beer. The cats snore on the couch. Pete found a $10 bill on Drusy’s grave so DrusyClaus is still bringing us presents. Happy New Year to you, whoever and wherever you are. Mask up when you go out. I hope you see blue birds.
For months now, I’ve spent an hour or two hours on Saturdays writing or drawing, then mailing my little objets to about 20 puzzled friends and family members. Some of these objets are more obviously one thing or another. For instance, when I took apart a cheese cookbook and colored in the pictures, I was obviously commenting on inappropriate relationships between mildew and marking pens. STOP LAUGHING. Anyhoo, my aunt, who is amazed by every foolish thing I do, called my bluff by cutting up a square calendar image and mailing it to me without the first hint of what picture I should be reconstructing. I was intrigued! Individual pieces, I could kind of begin to piece together, but but but – for days, I couldn’t figure it out. I almost gave up! But I gave it one more try and realized I was looking at the frame all wrong, and then it came together. In that moment, I wondered why we weren’t mailing each other puzzles all along.
A zillion years ago, we used to mail each other letters, perhaps even before you were born. I was a maniac with stamps from the beginning. In second grade, I mailed fun size chocolate bars to my best friend and learned not everything that fit into an envelope should. But you know: I keep trying.
You have friends and you know where they live. Mail them letters. Mail them calendar puzzles. Send them cards and pictures from when you were both 8. Today, I mailed out pages of My Weekly Reader from the years I was in first and second grade. My mother had saved them – for some reason. But there’s no reason to have them now, which is why it’s funny and unexpected. Now that’s in the ether, even if/when the pages go into the round file. What matters is the thought, the idea, the proof that you care.
Buy some stamps. Reach out. Send something stupid because it’s funny.
It has taken me weeks to be able to say this: we lost Drusy. This is the last picture I took of her. I’d made an appointment to take her to the vet, and had the presence of mind to realize I didn’t want to forget even this moment, in which she appeared disappointed I hadn’t filled her water bowl in some singular way.
Over the summer and even on the hottest days, Drusy responded to my being home all the time by occupying my lap whenever I sat down. It became a problem while I was working because typing around a cat, no matter how tiny, is still difficult. And Drusy was tiny. Pete and I laughed all along about the special gravity exerted by this giant personality as finding ourselves “trapped under the 6 lb. cat.” In the last year, she was closer to 5 lbs., and toward the end, barely that. The day I took her to the vet in September, he called me with shock in his voice, saying she’d lost almost 5 lbs. I knew she was very thin, because the day before, she lay on my chest and there was very little pressure against my ribs. He laid out a grim scenario: she had a mass on her intestine. There were few options: surgery or putting her to sleep. I wanted him to try to save her, so he did the surgery. She was with him a few days post-surgery. On Saturday afternoon, September 12th, I felt suddenly hot, then cold, and I knew it was over. Saturday evening, the vet called to say Drusy had died.
It was too painful to contemplate never seeing her again. Because of COVID, I hadn’t been able to visit her in the hospital, to hold and comfort her, to assure her I hadn’t given her away. The pain of this even now stings, but for the days she was in the hospital, I felt like I’d grabbed a live wire and couldn’t think clearly. Instinct took over. When the vet told me she’d died, I told him we would collect her body the next morning, which we did. Very early Sunday morning, Pete and I dug a hole. I’m sure the neighbors are still talking about it. When we got home, I took her body out of the cat carrier and held her in my arms, wrapped in a towel. Her fur was soft; her body limp. It’s irrational, but I had to do this to know she was gone. I placed her carefully in the hole. As the vet suggested, we drenched another towel in ammonia to prevent predation, and covered her body with soil, a ceramic marker and, later, a perennial aster in a planter. This is just the end of one story. Every day, I make a reason to walk past that spot and murmur, “I love you, Drusy. Love you, love you.”
For all of her life, these things were true: Drusy was the Queen of Our House, demander of adoration, graceful recipient of it. While the other cats scattered, Drusy greeted every visitor with a cautious sniff, offering the chance to admire her properly. I would say, “Cats, your friend _____ is coming over,” and only Drusy believed me.
Drusy was utterly quirky. She loved crunchy paper, so Christmas was somewhat about the gifts but a lot about Drusy savoring the noise and sensation of walking slowly, over and over, across a floor littered with wrapping paper. When she was young and we still kept the bedroom door open all the time, we would come to bed and find Drusy had left us the gift of a tiny finger puppet. We called her “DrusyClaus.” She did this for years. She would do little backflips. None of the other cats ever did backflips. And she would do them only in this one spot where I could see her do it. During the summers, she would lie in a doorway on her back with her paws in the air. Only one of the other cats every did this, and I think that cat learned from Drusy that our hearts melted each time we saw that.
Most black cats, like Topaz, are a mix of brown and black. For most of her life, Drusy had black fur and jewel-like green eyes. I am not enough of a photographer to convey her true beauty, which has always been a trial for me. She also did quirky things I would never have been able to photograph. After our first housemate moved out, Pete prepped and painted the bedroom. While the door was open, Drusy would sit in the middle of the room and sing. She liked the sound of her voice echoing through the room. When the room was rented, Drusy didn’t give up on her singing career. She would sit at the top of the stairs, sing like a tween with karaoke stars in her eyes, then race down the stairs to ask us if we’d heard her sing. Did we? Did we? We did! We did!
I want to remember everything about her. Drusy and Topaz came to me at a time when my heart was battered and exhausted, and Drusy in particular helped me put myself back together. She demanded up close and personally that I love her. For example:
In the beginning, before Topaz and Drusy had names, I called them Thing 1 and Thing 2. Drusy, who was always front and center, was of course Thing 1:
Thing 1 is affectionate and loves me openly. She walks around my head while I’m writing, settling across my chest, where we sit nose to nose and she turns into the sweetest, purringest Princess Kissyface and my icy heart melts and she lies against me like a tiny five-pound baby and I have to muh-muh-muh kiss her nose and forehead and because I hate cute I could just KILL MYSELF. I feel pretty confident that Thing 1 would be okay going to the vet’s office with me, and if she were frightened, she could sit on my chest and we could have a talk about boys in her French class.
Here in the present tense, I’ve seen her twice since she left us, both on the same day. I didn’t think I saw a black cat. I saw Drusy. She was so much tinier than most cats there was no mistaking Drusy for anyone else. She ran into rooms like a ballerina runs on toe shoes, only to survey the room. She would climb onto Pete’s and my chests when we were sitting on the couch and gaze into our eyes. Drusy demanded and received undivided attention, her arms around our necks. She did such odd and unusual things from the beginning that both Pete and I asked her, in sometimes awestruck tones, “Who are you really?”
When Pete and I drove to the vet’s office to pick up Drusy’s body, it was a test of our courage. Neither of us was ready for that. Drusy was a once in a lifetime cat for both of us. Even so: there were important things to remember. The vet was in tears when he delivered the cat carrier containing her body to our car. We were crying, too, but that’s not the end of the story. I said, “Years ago, you told me Drusy might have a heart condition and we might only have a short time with her. I guessed we might have three to five years with her. Everything after that was bonus time. We had thirteen good years together.”
He said, “I have never been so happy to be wrong.”
On Friday, my tiniest cat Drusy puked all over an entire room. Oddly enough, it was Pete who turned green, so I missed the giant red flag that should have told me to call the vet immediately after cleaning up all that puke. Over the weekend, I couldn’t get Drusy to eat anything, but she drank lots of water and puked some more. Yesterday, I called the vet, who said he’d see her today. I crossed my fingers and hoped that would be soon enough.
Also on Friday: we got takeout for dinner that caused me to have a mild case of food poisoning over the weekend. My powers of observation were not at their sharpest. I was reading The Iliad for the class I’m taking this semester, picturing the characters as the actors who played them on Hercules and Xena, Warrior Princess and maybe that shouldn’t have been so hilarious, since no one portrayed Ajax. In any case, I wasn’t really paying attention when my sister Daria, who is going through mountains of crap and unopened mail at Mom’s house, texted that she’d found my wedding dress. I didn’t believe that. I could swear I cut it up to make costumes in the nineties.
This dress has been aging gracefully in Mom’s attic for 32 entire years, the handwritten date on the box being 9.2.88. I don’t know about you, but this strange presentation of a beaded human sacrifice suit reminds me of Snow White in a glass casket, waiting for a dude to kiss a comatose girl. I closed this box back up and wondered what a person is supposed to do with this keepsake.
Today, I took Drusy to the vet. With COVID, a pet person drives up, a vet tech eventually appears to pick up the pet, and both tech and pet disappear into the clinic. I thought I was seeing Drusy for the last time and the waiting only made it worse. Some time later, the doctor called my cell to tell me Drusy had lost most of her body weight, had this and that problem, but some of those problems were immediately treatable. For the next day, they will push IV fluids and antibiotics, and she should bounce right back. Then they can examine underlying conditions.
Me: I thought you were going to tell me it’s hopeless.
Vet: No, it’s FAR FROM hopeless. Don’t get so upset yet!
Me: And you want to keep her a day or two?
I went home, explained all this to Pete, petted three other cats and fell into a deep sleep. I would like to say I dreamed of a peaceful hospital stay and a joyful homecoming, but it’s too soon to say that. Instead, I just felt time passing, the weight of my exhaustion, and the hope that it’s not too late for a different future.
About a month ago, I went outside to feed my chickens at the ass crack of dawn, wearing an oversized t-shirt I sleep in and flip flops and my hair pointing towards magnetic north. True story: my hair needed a trim in April and by next month, it will be tall enough and kinky enough to block radio signals to Newark Airport. DO NOT FLY. I cannot be responsible for your untimely demise! Anyhoo, so there I am in the backyard, tossing layer pellets and corn to the chickens and refilling the bird feeder, looking my absolute, middle-aged best, when a voice says, “Hello.”
I looked around wildly. This has never happened to me at sunrise before. Just beyond the fence stood the young woman who lives next door, holding a bouquet of long stem purple flowers and looking fresh and vibrant like a Kehinde Wiley painting. I looked at her, a beauty. I looked at me, an old lady who ought to know better, and all I could do was laugh at myself.
Oh the “outfits” this eggplant has seen me wear!
Last week, this young woman moved away. I already miss her. I bought boxer shorts to sleep in in her honor.
Every so often, WordPress changes its format and I struggle to write. Not like I haven’t already struggled to write, but each time I don’t know how. The last template sucked out loud, so let’s hope this new contraption is better.
Last weekend, I jarred some underripe peaches. They were truly difficult to peel and slice. Pete and I will eat them first in November or December. They’ll taste good, but the texture will be underwhelming. The other jars contain blueberry jam. The consistency worked, but I admit getting to the right consistency was an accident. If you’re making summer berry jam and you’re not happy, throw in the towel and come back the next morning, when jam’s had a chance to think about what it’s done.
In other years, I’ve reflected on how I spend time and money during the summer preserving summer fruits and vegetables, and felt somewhat out of step with my peers. They weren’t jarring jam. They were out and about. This summer, only terrible people are out and about, and everyone’s on TikTok pretending they can fly. I mean, that’s entertaining, though not getting-elected-to-the-HOA-with-all-your-friends,-then-disbanding-the-HOA-entertaining, but what is?
Yesterday, I drove out to a farm and picked three quarts of plump blackberries. In the distance, a radio blared oldies from the eighties. Maybe I didn’t care for those songs, maybe I did – once. Summer music is like that, drifting toward you on a breeze. I crept down rows of carefully cultivated blackberry bushes, plucking here and there the ripest, blackest berries, and when I turned back, plumb berries hidden by branches and leaves revealed themselves. Nothing but sunshine played on my thoughts. Nothing but the simple ideas of washing and drying berries was in my future. For the better part of an hour, life seemed very simple. I might bake a pie.
Friends of the blog might recall that I used to write one. Wasn’t that something! I wrote and wrote for years, then I ran out of words, so I took pictures instead and let them do the talking. A few years ago, at about the same time as a memorable election, even that compromise no longer worked for me. I considered giving up the blog a few times. When we all went home to quarantine in March, I thought, ‘Here’s a chance to get my shit together and blog,’ but my job became very intense and the days blurred together. Three months whizzed by – imagine calendar pages flipping madly! – and here I am. Here’s a picture:
My fifty year romance with the United States Postal System burns brightly.
Yep, still writing for Postcards For Voters on another Vote By Mail campaign for Florida. I love those. The writing goes slowly, but the hand cramps are worth it. A few months back, I saw statistics about how Florida Democrats were enrolling in Vote By Mail in droves. Hopefully, the pandemic provided a big hint about how mailing in a ballot might be safer than turning up to vote with hundreds of your closest friends, but you never know.
When the current administration threatened to shutter my dear USPS a few months back, I bought a metric shitload of stamps. My house was full of art supplies, like these sticky-sweet greeting cards an organization I support sends out to entice donors to donate. I’ve been mailing these cards to people in zero danger of mistaking me for a nice person: my friends. Now, I’m all out of Christmas and birthday cards, and I’ve moved on to stationery hoarded by my late mother. After that, the sky’s the limit. What the hell, I might dabble in origami.
Anyhoo: buy some stamps, make art projects, mail them to other fun people. Stay home and save your own life, Poor Impulsives.
Hey, it’s Ta. It’s been awhile, you’re right. We need to talk. Don your conversation poncho. This is gonna get messy.
Yesterday, the guy at work I talk to about gardening said a thing.
Me: I’m coming around to your way of thinking and might plant some peas soon.
Ken: Mine go in tomorrow.
He was looking at me side-eyed and my breath caught for a second. Yes, we’ve had an unusually mild winter after a series of unusually warm winters, but the general rule in New Jersey is: plant after Mothers Day. I’ve been planting more than a month earlier, but we’re in the first two weeks of March, and that seems different. I thought that over, and this morning, I took out my seed stash and began planting my garden.
As recently as yesterday, shoppers across the U.S. faced long lines, empty shelves and close contact with hundreds of their closest friends. Middle Class people, accustomed to picking up groceries here and there and when it was convenient, are thunderstruck that they can’t just tool around their local and fill an empty pantry they should have kept stocked all along. Their panic buying is applying pressure to underprivileged people of all sorts and the working poor especially, since store shelves are already empty when a paycheck clears. I buy toilet paper by the case because I have the attention span of a goldfish and a strong desire not to run out, so I figure into the shortages just as much as you do. Essentially, we suck for making tough lives tougher.
So here’s the thing: think down the road a month or so. You can’t stock up on fresh vegetables, and to get them, you’re going to have to grocery shop somehow, once again placing pressure on people who don’t need to be on the receiving end of your shit.
If you have property, a lawn, a yard, you need to take some responsibility for yourself and your needs. Instead of emptying grocery store shelves, get your ass to the garden store, buy some tools, seeds and organic fertilizer. Then: turn over your lawn and plant. In four weeks, you can have lettuce and spinach. In eight weeks, you can have new potatoes. Eight weeks from now is the middle of May, and approximately Mothers Day. Newsflash: you’re going to need to eat, and you’ll be able to dig up food in your yard.
If you’re about to say, “Ta darling, that’s all well and good, but I don’t really enjoy gardening and dirty under my nails makes me feel so not-Middle Class.” You know what? Fuck you. Get a shovel. Get some seeds and convince yourself you’re growing artisanal spinach, if that helps. But fucking do it. You don’t need a lawn. You need vegetables. Grow them yourself.
If you’re even thinking about saying, “Ta, you know I would but I don’t know how,” take a deep breath and a step back, because no one has time for your helplessness. It is not adorable. Open up YouTube and fucking LEARN. If you live where blizzards are still making your winter miserable, you can start seeds in growing medium so you’re ready when the weather cooperates.
Don’t argue with me. Don’t waste your time or mine. Get yourself to the garden store, stock up and plant your own food. It’s truly the least you can do to help other people in a time of pandemic.