Temple of Books

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Dec 272012

I’m in the middle of my exile. That’s what this long holiday break from work feels like, anyway. Lisa’s on her second day back to work, but I don’t return until 2-Jan-2013. Until then, I hang around the house with our old, sleeping dog (Patches), a list of low-key chores, and a lot of time to cast about.

Today is the first time I’ve even left the house in three days! I went out for lunch, listened to the podcasts “Galactic Watercooler” and “The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast,” and thought hard about visiting one of my favorite used bookstores, Seek Books. The problem, is that I already own more books than I am likely to read in my lifetime; physical and otherwise. I’m tired of buying things. $10 here and $20 there adds up, and for what? Because I’m a little bored?

But if I want to be in a place full of books, without having to spend any money, then what about the library? We have a large, beautiful, historic library right next to our house, and I haven’t visited it in over a year. Todays windy, rainy, quiet day is a good time to rectify that.

One of the things I especially love about the Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library, is that it is both historic and quite modern. There is the historic building in the front with its large wooden tables (great for spreading out your research materials, or writing in your journal) and the huge marble fireplace with the clock mantle. In the back is the hyper modern “glass cube” of the addition. It houses rows and rows of book cases on two floors, and beneath is the new children and young adult room. As a whole, this building and what it contains seems to represent the American Public Library, past-present-future. It keeps re-imagining itself, what services it offers (like free wi-fi and digital media) and its place in the community (anime/manga discussions in the afternoon, homework help after school, resume writing resources for those looking for work) and what roles it will fill in the evolving future of education, informational resources, and persistence of place.

It’s that last that is often overlooked, when discussing the “information revolution” and what the Internet ‘really means’. Because, while virtualizing everything seems like a fantastic 21st century goal, we are still fully embodied and local. Which means, at least until we have mind-upload capabilities, that we’ll need to have places to sit quietly for a while. To read and write and think. To find someone you can ask for help, or a place to gather to learn and discuss with your neighbors.

So, at least for now, public libraries remain public buildings dedicated to knowledge-self-discovery and community, and that remains a critical piece available so few other places.





Very hard to be Merry

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Dec 162012

My personal loss of Pouncer is nothing next to Newtown, CT. And while I’ve never been very susceptible to the forced cheer of Christmas, I do understand why people need a time set aside for family, friends, generosity, and socializing. But in the face of this school shooting, how do we even try to make merry?

I watched the Presidents speech tonight, from the auditorium in Newtown. He seemed saddened, angry, and resolved – something must change. I have to agree with him. Maybe it’s not enough to evaluate new gun owners, but also who has access to their guns. Why do these angry, often mentally ill, people get a hold of guns purchased legally by relatives, parents and others? Doesn’t the gun owner have an obligation to keep their guns out of the hands of these young men? Or, have we long since crossed a threshold in which we will never be free of mass shootings and senseless slaughter? Perhaps we should treat it like an anti-lottery, “someone’s going to be murdered at work, school, or a restaurant – let’s just hope it isn’t us!”

That’s a miserable way to live and it casts a pallor of despair over everything we do. The President said it right, we need to do much better than this.


Here’s a preliminary photo of our Christmas Tree. Lisa is not done decorating it yet; we’re very happy with its size and shape, for our little living room. Even during this national morning, we try to make merry.


Pouncer is no more …

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Dec 112012

This morning, as soon as the Veterinary Clinic opened, I made an appointment for Pouncer. What was going to end in less than an hour had started just a few months ago.

Back in 1998, in Michigan, I moved into my first apartment, but decided that I didn’t want any pets. Too much hassle to clean and care for them, and I was single and rarely in my apartment. But, moving from a house full of people and pets (birds (cockatiels), fish (betas), dogs and cats) to a silent apartment where all I could hear was my neighbors walking around above me – bothered me. It was too quiet. It was antiseptic, and frankly it was a bit lonely. So I decided to go and get a cat from the Humane Society. I ‘rescued’ an adult white female and named her Snow. She was good company and I liked her calm demeanor and predilection for sitting in my lap quietly for hours in the evening.

But, one very cold, winter day, I heard a mewing outside of my apartment. It was night and there were inches of snow on the ground; it took me some minutes to locate the source. There was a tiny orange kitten locked out of the apartment building! I wrestled with what to do; on the one hand, I wanted to bring him in and care for him. On the other hand, I didn’t want a feral cat in my apartment and I didn’t want a sick cat infecting Snow. So I tried to split the difference and bring the kitten in, but then locked him in a cat carrier. I gave him a tiny bowl of food and water, but in his thrashing around to get out, he knocked them both over. I meant to tough it out, with him mewing and running in circles around his cage, until the morning and I could get him checked out by a vet – but I gave in and let him out of the carrier. That was the first time I held him in my hands, and he was tiny enough to fit in the palm of one!

I did get him checked out and confirmed he was healthy, but Snow did not like the new intruder in her domain! Over the next few months, she spent nearly all of her time hiding under my couch. It took a long time for her to move freely around my apartment, and I don’t think they ever became “friends,” though there were times they’d chase each other around and perhaps that’s close enough. Where Snow was calm, almost regal in her way of moving around and carefully choosing where she was going to sit or not, Pouncer (the name I chose after watching him endlessly play-hunt in my living room) was much more active, aggressive, demanding. He’d try and play with Snow, who was rarely in the mood, and he loved clawing and biting me in our own disfunctional hunter/prey games. I didn’t mind, but there was one time that a co-worker thought I was a ‘cutter’ because my right arm was so scratched up! In any case, the three of us made my apartment more like the home I grew up in and I was pretty happy with the arrangement.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get Pouncer neutered as soon as I should have! He began ‘marking’ corners in my apartment with his urine, and would get abandonment issues when I left. This led to him clawing up the carpeting in front of my bedroom door (until I relented and stopped shutting him out) and in front of my apartment door! This was my first apartment, and Pouncer was doing a lot of damage. I did get him neutered, albeit two years later than recommended, and had to come to an arrangement with the landlord when I moved out, to compensate for the damage that was done. In any case, when I moved to Massachusetts, I brought Snow and Pouncer with me; an 800 mile move across country into my new condominium.

I traveled a lot for that job. When I was only gone for three or four days at a time, I’d just leave them a big bowl of food and a large capacity watering bowl (the kind with the upside-down 2-liter in the back). I even bought an electronic litter box that would detect the cats visit and scoop itself when the cat stepped out. [For the record, it never worked as well as I had hoped, but it was better than my alternatives.] When I needed to travel for more than four days, I’d arrange for a neighbor to drop by and watch them until I got back. We did OK, but I don’t think they got the attention they deserved, and the condo was never as clean as it should have been.

While still living in the condo, I noticed a lump growing on Snow’s side, under her fir. I know that some older animals get fatty deposits, and that’s what I was hoping. But when I got her to my vet, he reported that it was cancer. In fact, it was a very fast growing, very aggressive form of cancer that cats are susceptible to. I opted for the surgery, but he warned me that if even one cancer cell was left, it would grow back. Sure enough, it did, only instead of one large lump, it was hundreds of little ones. I kept opting for surgery, and then do my best to care for Snow as she recovered. I’d clean the stapled up incision every day, but I was watching her lose weight and become very sedentary. When I took her in for the third surgery, the vet or someone should have stopped me. When is it too much? If I could keep her for another six months, was it worth it? What about another three? This decision haunted me, so I kept agreeing to surgeries (which were very expensive, and took an enormous toll on her). During her third surgery, the vet saw the cancer had progressed into her organs and euthanized her on the operating table.

To this day, that really bothers me. Not because I think she could have been saved, but because I know I drug it out too long, and because I was not with her at the end. Rationally, I know she’s ‘just a cat’ and not a person, but I loved her all the same and had wanted to hold and comfort her when she died; but I wasn’t. Her last day was spent in a cat carrier, then being left with a vet, handled by strangers, before being anesthetized and finally euthanized. That’s not what I wanted her last hours to be like. 🙁

Some time after Snow’s death, I moved out of the condo and in with my then-girlfriend-now-wife, Lisa. Lisa had a Brittany Spaniel (or just Brittany) named Zuzu, and she didn’t want the dog and the cat in the same part of the house. Her mother, Marilynn, lived upstairs with her aunt Polly, and Marilynn agreed to take care of Pouncer. So one pet went upstairs and the other remained downstairs. I could visit Pouncer whenever I wanted, but I didn’t worry about him. He was getting much more and much better care than he got from me! There was always someone home with him, they played with him and fed him (too much!) and he had about fifteen different places to lay down or run around. In fact, he liked climbing the stairs up to the third floor (Polly’s bedroom) to sleep in the afternoon, and climbing all the way down into the basement (or cellar, as they say here in New England) to prowl around and look for mice, I suppose. But climbing down into the basement and up into the third floor bedroom were nearly daily activities. As soon as he heard food being put on the table, he’d race back to Marilynn’s kitchen and beg for scraps, which he was as likely to turn his nose up at, as to actually eat.

Time went on. I married Lisa. Zuzu became very, very sick (we think it was a type of brain tumor) and we had to have her euthanized. [Still one of the saddest days in my life.] A few months later Lisa adopted another Brittany named Patches. Polly passed away. [Pouncer was good company for Marilynn, especially as she coped with the passing of her sister.] But then, just a few months ago, Marilynn noticed that Pouncer wasn’t going upstairs for his afternoon nap. And he wasn’t going downstairs to prowl around in the basement. And then, he stopped jumping up on the furniture or the bed. Something was wrong.

I took him to the vet, and they noted growths in his ears which sometimes happen to cats. They’re benign, but cause problems with hearing and ear wax build-up, so they gave us droplets to use. They checked him out for motor-function issues, and did a full blood work-up, but he was OK. The only thing they noted, then, was that he had lost some muscle mass in his hind legs and his hind knees were swollen with arthritis. But, our vet noted, arthritis rarely cripples cats like it can do to dogs, because cats don’t weigh much and can last much longer with it. Unfortunately, their livers can’t process human pain relievers (like NSAID’s) so there is actually little that can be done to help manage the pain, other than some food supplements and weight loss. So, we started that.

But his mobility declined very rapidly. Just over a month ago, Marilynn told me that he hadn’t been getting out of his cat bed and hadn’t been using his litter box. So I took him back to the vet and they did more blood work and x-rayed him, and all they could say is that he wasn’t eating much and so his stool wasn’t moving through his system. They rehydrated him and sent him home, we used a pet laxative to help with his digestion and he seemed to do a little better. He’d have some good days, in which he’d come out of the bedroom and want attention, he’d eat, he’d use his litter box. He’d have some bad days, in which he’d stay in his bed all day, or not make it to his litter box and pass stool on the floor.

There were a couple of times where he’d tumble over and not be able to right himself, and someone would have to turn him right-side-up, and help him to stand. A few days ago his back legs were so weak that he couldn’t use them at all and Marilynn saw him crawling with his front legs only, trying to get to his food dish. She interceded and helped, but he wasn’t able to stand any more. Two days ago, Lisa showed me how, even with her helping to keep him upright, his legs would buckle and he’d sit back down. We got him back into his pet bed, but he peed in it, unable to make it to the litter box, and then just laid in his own urine. That’s when we knew; his quality of life had fallen to near zero and trying to make him continue would just be cruel. And I kept thinking about how things had happened with Snow years earlier. I didn’t want to make that mistake again.

So this morning, I called our family vet and made an appointment. I asked for the specific vet who specializes in cats and had performed the most care for Pouncer. I took him in about 9:15 AM and showed her how he could no longer stand. She weighed him, and noted that he had lost 20% of his body weight in just a few weeks. She was as surprised by his sudden and catastrophic decline as we were, and theorized that it may be arthritis in his spine, causing a swelling that impinged on a spinal nerve, which enervated his hind quarters. In other words, he was becoming paralyzed in his back legs, and they were atrophying; it wasn’t the arthritis in his knees or hips. We can’t be sure, to test this we would have had to get an MRI and even then, there was no guarantee that a surgical solution could be found or that after a surgery, his thigh muscles would regrow their former strength. I said, “No.” This had been enough.

So, she took him away to implant an IV shunt and then returned him. He lay on a towel I brought for him, so he wouldn’t have to lay on the cold metal table. As I petted his head stood beside him, the doctor injected one syringe of a barbiturate into the IV shunt. He put his head down, and was gone.

For nearly fifteen years he had been a good companion, for me and then for Marilynn. My mother got to watch him a couple of times and when I told her he was gone, she cried for him. Marilynn wouldn’t cry in front of me, but she cried for him after I left. Lisa, who would sit with him in the evening while visiting with her mother, missed him and cried for him. I note all this, just to say that he was loved. Not all animals get treated this way, not even all cats. But some do; the lucky ones do.

While I’m trying to be careful and not anthropomorphize him into something he wasn’t, there are a few things I can say about what he was. He was endlessly curious, and always wanted to know what was inside of boxes and behind doors. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cat more bothered by closed doors, and demand that they be opened, even when he had no interest in the room beyond. He always wanted to be involved in what you were doing, from preparing food, to making the bed, to folding clothes, to just sitting around watching TV. He loved playing his cat games, and stalked me on the stairwell or pounced and attacked my hand, just to stair at me for a moment, and then run off again. He wasn’t always overweight; he was very athletic for most of his life and I’ve seen him on more than one occasion jump straight up from the floor to the top of a refrigerator in a single leap. When he spent time in my mothers house, he got along with her dogs and cats, and when he was the only pet in Marilynn’s apartment he soaked up all the attention he cared to. And finally, he was very human-social. He liked looking over the guests and picking who he was going to sit next to or on! [I suspect he had a little fun picking “not cat people” to focus his attention on.]

He had a unique personality, and a beautiful spirit. I loved him; he’s gone; and I’m going to miss him.



photo of cat, Pouncer, lying on his back photo of cat, Pouncer, resting in his pet bed photo of cat, Pouncer, lounging on a living room floor photo of cat, Pouncer, lying on living room floor, watching the photographer

Blah Monday, Sad Wrap-up

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Dec 102012

I’m not usually down on Monday’s because they are my chance to start over and fresh from the weekend. I’m not usually down on rain, because I know how important it is and I enjoy a cool sprinkle more than a hot, sunny day. But the combination of a Monday with cold drizzly weather and me being very tired this morning (dragging my butt) made the whole day rather “blah.”

Then, on my way home, Lisa calls and tells me to go upstairs and spend a little time with my cat, Pouncer, who hasn’t been doing so good lately. Some combination of arthritis and whatever the hell else is wrong has him unable to walk. Though my vet said that cats are rarely crippled by arthritis, apparently Pouncer is one of those rare cases. He’s lost a lot of muscle in his back legs and had a hard time keeping his balance. Yesterday he was crawling around on his front legs. Today he didn’t even do that. We pick him up and snuggle with him; he purrs and responds, but he can’t get around any more. He wasn’t able to get to his bowl to eat or to his litter box, yesterday. Today we found his bedding wet with urine. As much as I’ve dreaded having to do this, I believe it’s time to have him euthanized. I’ve held out as long as there was some quality of life, but that seems to have passed. I’m going to try and get him into the vet tomorrow or Wednesday; maybe he’ll have a good day and he’ll be able to walk around and make a liar of me (he’s done that before!) but barring a miracle, I fear this is the end.

I’ve had Pouncer since he was a tiny kitten, mewing outside my window in the winters snow. For years he slept under the covers with me (especially when it was cold out). He came with me to Massachusetts (as did my older female cat, Snow; already passed due to cancer). I even took him back to Michigan to stay with my Mother while I travelled and then picked him up and drove him back to Mass. These last few years, with me moved in with Lisa, he stays upstairs with my Mother-in-Law, who babied and pampered him, giving him all the attention usually reserved for grandchildren. He’s about fifteen years old now, and they’ve been good years. But I don’t think Pouncer is going to see 2013. 🙁

I don’t have any photo’s of him handy, I’ll find some tomorrow and post them. But, here are two photo’s I took this afternoon at work. I don’t know what this structure is or was supposed to be. As long as I’ve worked here, it’s just been a home to weeds and lichen; but I like the abandoned, secret way it squats in the rain, on a blah Monday like this.




 Personal  Comments Off on Stay-in-the-House-Sunday
Dec 092012

With all of the shopping we did yesterday, we ended up staying in the house all day today. Besides, we needed to take care of all of the bulk items we bought from the bulk store!

I Skyped with my mother, as I usually do on Sunday. [My parents live in Michigan, and a video call once a week has proven an effective way to stay connected despite the distance. Even more so between my brother and his family and my parents, as he currently lives in China!] In any case, one interesting thing that came up was that my Mother has been called for jury duty, in downtown Detroit. I was a little surprised because she doesn’t live in Detroit or even the same county as Detroit, but apparently they’re casting their nets wider and wider and are pulling people in from the suburbs. She’s mostly excited for the adventure of it, she actually said, “I want the new experience.” Her concern is with the walking and navigating stairs which is very difficult due to her bad knees. So, she may end up going on the first day and then finding it too physically strenuous and asking the judge to excuse her. Or, she may find it manageable and get to do something really interesting; worth talking about on Sunday over Skype!

As a coincidence, my director at work has also been called up for jury duty! “What does it mean?” [Hint: not a thing.]

Anyway, no great photo taken today. Instead, I’ll include two photo’s I took at a toy museum up in Vermont, a few months ago. It was a lot of fun seeing the old toys, many from TV shows I used to love watching.

Toy from "Lost in Space" TV show

 Collier's magazine cover, boy dressed like astronaut


Shopping …

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Dec 082012

Even though today is cold and rainy and would a really fantastic day to stay in and read and hang about in my sweat’s – we’re out shopping. But that’s OK! It get’s Lisa and I out of the house doing something together. We’ll have a nice lunch at IHOP and then spend an hour or two picking up some staples for the house before heading back. By then, we’ll be glad to put on comfy clothes and chillax for a bit.



Fat Guy & Pregnant Women

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Dec 052012

I’m sitting in Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) for an ultrasound. It’s just a precaution; they are looking for any remnants or regrowth of my cancerous thyroid, which was removed over a year ago.

This isn’t my first ultrasound, that was the one that detected the seminoma on my left testicle, beginning my whole “cancer patient” thing. That was awkward because the semi-attractive, young, female technician was rubbing a humming, lubricated wand back and forth over my nuts. I was petrified of having an embarrassing and inappropriately timed erection. Of all the subsequent indignities I suffered, that wasn’t one. But it did reveal yet another humorous aspect to these procedures – I sit in the waiting room with a bunch of pregnant women and their family members. I’m old and fat and alone, and hoping not to find anything while they tend to be young and glowing and hoping to hear that what’s growing inside of them is a healthy new life.

See? I juxtapose!

Anyway, of all my many tests, ultrasounds are the easiest. I’m laying down for the whole thing, the lights are dimmed and even the sonically conductive gel they use on the wand is warmed. No contrast to drink or iodine IV like a CT Scan and no awkwardly held positions like my standing x-rays. This is a cakewalk!

And though it’s not official (in that the doctor hasn’t signed the report letter and added it my thick and growing file), both sonographers have assured me they found nothing. No thyroid regrowth, or calcified spots, or even swollen, nearby lymph nodes. “Clean as a whistle!”

So that’s that and now I return to work. But, because I like adding photo’s, here’s the bench outside BWH I sat on to finish this post; notice the cool looking, concrete jars? They look canopic to me.


Here’s a picture of the patient “pods” wing of BWH.