Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Skunk Hunter

Seamus decided the other night that he was tired of the skunk who had made my patio his buffet. Cue malevolent theme music...

I fell asleep with just the screen closed, having attended to some overdue reading of Mother Jones. I woke at 1:18 to Seamus's fight growling.

I look out on the patio for the other cat and ran outside to get Seamus. He was foaming at the mouth and shaking his head, his eyes squinted almost shut.

I reached down to get him and froze. Hiding behind the tall plant was a black shape with a distinct racing stripe of white down the side. I saw it precisely as my adrenalin-enhanced sense of smell was finally tuned in.

A fat little skunk. Its black eyes locked with mine and it walked backwards a bit. Seamus went to dart at it and its tail went up just as I scruffed him and dragged him backward.

The skunk came out from the plant just a little, and its tail went down as I retreated, stinking cat in hand, through the screen.

I took Seamus into the bathroom and closed the door, gather up the bathroom rugs and all the other cloth in the area, and locked him in. I checked the screen and it locked when I tried to close it again. He had smashed through it.

I had no tomato juice, no supplies and no idea where to look at 1:20 AM. I scanned the grocery store websites. Ralph's and Food For Less are apparently 24 hours. Off to Gay Ralph's I went.

I grabbed some hydrogen peroxide, standard shampoo, and baking soda, then some tomato juice for good measure. I also bought some treats for bribes.

When I got home, he was screaming to get out. At times like these, I am possessed by an irrational thought... that cats can be reasoned with in a chastening way. It may not be productive, but it passes time and serves as interaction through doors.

"YOWWWW!" he cried.

"Well, you can't just go and beat up every animal you see," I said as I mixed the recipe preferred by mythbusters:
  1. 1/4 cup of baking soda
  2. 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide
  3. 1 tsp of grease-cutting dish washing fluid

"Well, doors that are closed and locked are to keep kitties in and critters out," I said, getting a pitcher to rinse him with and some extra supplies.

When I had a bowl of the secret recipe mixed, I gathered up some disposable linens and went in. The bathroom was safe, as Seamus was simply hovering by the door, awaiting his escape. He engaged me in more heated howling conversation.


"Well, it's only for a little while. You need a bath!"


"I know you don't like them, but you can't spread skunk spray all over the house," I said, filling the tub a few inches.


"Yes, as soon as you don't smell like marching death in a stinky shit band, you can go lay down," I said.

"Mmmmrrrrr," he said, plopping on his belly, panting from the stress.

I gave him a treat and he perked up a bit. The washing began.

I used body-temperature water for the whole process. It helps and keeps a cat calm. Slightly warmer is fine, but even a little cooler will bring howls of disdain and escape attempts.

For stage one, I washed him with pure Dawn. I was careful around his eyes and massaged it deeply into the huge spray-spot on his sternum to break up the greasy base containing the thiols from the skunk.

I rinsed him off, then drained the water and cleared the tub of his massive hair clog, then refilled. The smell was lessening. Seamus walked into a corner and peed, which I mopped up with a throwaway towel. He purred as he was given a treat and then stood by the door.

"YEE-OWWWWW!" he demanded.

"Not yet, you still smell like three-day-old roadkill tartar with a side of shit stew," I said, snickering a bit in my sleepiness.

"YOOOWWWW!" he said, pawing at the door.

I scruffed him and back into the water he went. I finished working out the spot on his chest and soaked him to the bone, looking for scratches or bites all over his body, as skunks are known to carry rabies. No bites. Good news!

The mix went on as a soapy soak, and Seamus disliked the cooler mix of fluids immediately. But he did not lick, and I let him soak for the 10-15 minutes asked. In the meantime, I went into the kicthen and boiled ammonia and set out cheap bowls of coffee grinds.


"I will be back in after you soak, just calm down."

(Tap-tap-scritch) "YOWWWW!"

"Leave the door alone, that's how you got into this mess!"

"Mrrr.... Mrrrrowwwww... Mmmff"

"Good boy, I will be back soon," I said, opening the door a crack and tossing in a treat.

Once the vinegar was boiling and grinds were out, back in I went. Seamus put up with the indignity of yet another rinsing, his coat now a bleached, lighter shade.

I ran more water after cleaning the drain and soaked him in tomato juice then left to check on the other measures, adding candles and incense to my smell battle. I stopped and tossed a treat to him in the back corner. He ate it and laid back down, sighing big.

After soaking him for 15 minutes in tomato juice, I washed him off completely and patted him until he could take it no longer. The smell was almost completely defeated.

I went to sleep at 4 AM. Seamus hid in the closet with his mother's old clothes, but it smelled clean he next day. I worked a long day exhausted, but he seemed fine. Joy.

I need a new screen door.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reviving The Birthday Spirit (Conclusion)

I knew Marcie would not settle for an ice cream cake on my birthday, but I also knew that, since she had talked them up so much, she might wait before she pressed. Wait, she did. In the mean time, I decided on the cake I really wanted.

As was typical between us, an impasse meant that we both waited for an advantageous moment before we upset the apple cart. Marcie had one planned.

The week before my birthday saw her tip her hand. Not that she had a choice. Her gift to me arrived with a harried-looking Barbara in tow.

"Oh, honey!" she said. "I didn't know you were home. Well, happy birthday!"

And there he was, a little puff of fur, half asleep and clinging to her dress. Under the closest of observation I took him from her and he mewed in protest.

He was tiny and soft, and as I held him, cupped in my hands, he stood, arched his back and stretched, his little needlenails poking into my palm.

All that Marcie knew was that he fit in one of my hands. "Oh my god, he fits in one hand. How precious is that?" she asked her mother.

Barbara nodded and "mmhmm'd" a little neutrally. I would find out later that Seamus had been in her house for a week, terrorizing Samantha, their older cat, and driving her insane.

"Well, happy birthday ahead of time, Frank," she said, taking her keys and walking back to her little Sprint.

"Thanks, Barbara," I said, smiling at the yet-unnamed and deceptively calm furball in my hands.

"So what is your name?" I asked him.

He looked at me sedately and made a silent meow. His striped chunks of fur and white belly told me little about him, except some possible Maine Coon lineage. But his green eyes were a clue.

Marcie wanted to name her male cats Angus and Fergus, girls would be Talulah Belle and (as was one of her nicknames) Tink. I liked the idea of a good Irish name.

"He doesn't have a name," Marcie said. "You have to name him."

"I think he's a Seamus," I said.

"Seamus," she said. "Oh, honey. I like that name. Like Seamus Heaney, the writer?"

I nodded and Seamus decided to look to the ground. I caught him and we went inside.

We played to his exhaustion with him that afternoon, then Marcie cooked some dinner. She wandered out and smiled, pleased with herself, hands on her hips. Her gift had been a big success. Seamus slept on my shoulder.

"So I have to order you ice cream birthday cake tomorrow," she said. "I hope you like it, honey."

I looked up and smiled. "Well, it's like having cake and ice cream all at once, I guess. Do they have German Chocolate cake versions? That's what I really want."

Her eyes lit up and she shook her head. "Oh, no, honey. They have pretty basic, set recipes with ice cream. It's not really even cake, really."

I feigned thought and then some disappointment. "That's a bummer. I have a craving for some German Chocolate cake with pecans..."

"Oh, I can make you that!" she said, plopping down next to me. "Then we can just buy some ice cream and eat a normal birthday dessert. What do you think?"

She set her hand on my forearm and bit her lower lip. She was stoked.

"That sounds good," I said. "We'll do that instead. I wanted to try your baking, anyways. We can get an ice cream cake some other time."

She clapped her hands a few times and then slapped her thighs as she got up. "I am very excited to bake for you," she said. "I think you're going to love your cake."

She brought dinner, and Seamus woke to wander about begging by our feet. Pieces of chicken slipped off my plate to him "accidentally." It is a continued tradition, of course.

Marcie shook her head as a piece fell from my plate. "So, honey, I am glad you want to celebrate your birthday, and it was sweet of you to say I was the reason you had to celebrate, but why are you so anti-birthday?"

I shrugged and I let it all out. "I will be 24 and I am just finishing my first year of college," I said. "I will be six years behind most of my peers from high school."

She looked at me as if I were insane.

"I am barely on my feet and don't have a solid job, I have to scrape a lot to get by, and some of my friends are already in their careers," I continued. "I just don't feel like I have anything to celebrate, accomplishment-wise. I'm behind."

She looked at me with a look of near-disgust on her face and rolled her eyes. Her fork clattered on her plate.

"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," she started. "You're a straight-A student, you have two jobs at the college, you are respected, you are a member of student government and you work on the side, too."

She picked at her sun-dried tomatoes and bread, then looked over, shaking her head, "You saw a lot of the world and you have lived and struggled and overcome more crap than almost anyone who goes straight to college ever will."

"I don't care who graduates before me," she added. "Ive been to Europe twice, had a lot of fun and worked and paid my own way through. Nobody gets any credit but me. And when you finish, you'll be able to say the same thing."

I leaned over and I kissed her as she turned to continue after gnoshing a bit on her dinner. "Thank you," I said.

I had heard a lot of the ideas of my being behind from a generation of people who thought door closed at certain times. Some of those gems I remember still, like "No college degree by 22? It's too late to go back..." and "Still in school at 23? You must be a professional student..."

Luckily I was with a woman with a sense of adventure, a lust for life and a disdain for convention and conservatism. Her opinion was that the quality of the life lived mattered more than the pace at which it accumulated goods or achieved milestones.

That next week, she made me a delicious dinner of steak and broccoli, rice and a grand salad. We ate a German Chocolate cake chock full of pecans. We enjoyed feeding a little puff of personality-laced fur teriyaki beef.

She came up with more gifts for me first birthday, but she had already given me the greatest one in that little bit of sage observation, annoyed as she was in delivering it. Of course, Seamus was a close second, but I digress.

She fit a lot into her life because she was never in a rush to do what everyone else wanted her to or decided was important. Doing it your own way was what made something special, not some arbitrary right way.

And if, as Marcie observed, people were impatient with you about how long you took, then make them wait a little longer and enjoy that, too.

Of course, she eventually taught me how to do that with bacon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Skunk Cat Rides

Seamus is wild, even at 14 years of age. This often makes him a pain in the ass when he is given the opportunity to express his less tame side. How does he show this? Let's take an inventory:
  • Setting boundaries on petting with the application of force? Yes.
  • Treating every furred wanderer into his territory like prey? Yes.
  • Knocking a screen so hard it bends enough to open against the lock? Yes.
  • Continuously swatting and darting in on a little skunk after he has been thoroughly sprayed? Yes.
  • Roaming from door to door after he has been deskunked to get some more? Yes.
The ridiculous late-night horror I went through is worthy of a whole story in and of itself. I also need to post a few makeup items this week. I'll get to it. In the mean time, I was up from 1:20 to 4 AM washing a stinky, skunked cat then trying to purge my house.

The saga continues even now. Seamus? Pleased with himself to no end and thoroughly happy.

That means I took good care of him. Mean or not, crazy or not, he's a good little buddy and I was worried. The skunk left in seemingly one piece, so that was good news. But what an encounter.

If only there was web smell-o-vision.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Reviving The Birthday Spirit (Pt. 5)

It was drawing closer, and Marcie had determined the precise moment of my borthday's optimal celebration. This provided the proper framework, of course, for the preparation of lists, acquisition of goods and formulation of plans.

The third element created a quandary for me. Marcie was a person who knew immediately what she most wanted within any genre of selection proffered. Cake? Why, chocolate, of course, with chocolate butter-cream frosting.

For me, there were factors and moods and potential changes of mind to consider. I honestly didn't try to drive her insane. I was just quite a natural at it.

"Honey, it's a simple question," she said, dropping her hands to her sides, one with the pen and the other with her "special list for baking" pad. She leaned forward and rolled her eyes up as I responded.

"Well, it's liek two weeks away and I don't know what the hell I will want," I said. "I mean, I could end up wanting something completely different. I just don't want to commit yet."

Foregoing the obvious metaphors at this point in our relationship may have kept the peace, but Marcie was not one for offering such spurious and insincere comforts.

The solution slithered over me like a Zen snake. I leveled my gaze serenely at her and smiled. "I know what I want," I said.

"Well!" she said, raiding her hands and looking up at the ceiling. "It's a miracle! Frank made a decision."

I nodded slowly and smiled, whispering, "I want one of those Baskin-Robbins cakes you told me about," I said.

She looked crestfallen and I immediately regretted the idea, but pushed that sentiment back, as I did not really want an ice cream cake.

"Oh, the one I told you I thought I might like to try?" she asked, nodding. "Well, you know I can't make you one of those."

"I want you to relax and celebrate, too," I said, taking her hand and kissing her forehead. "But if I change my mind, I will tell you. This way, we are both covered."

She was disappointed, but she smiled and looked up hopefully. My deception was complete, but more importantly, I had learned to balance her need for forethought with mine for spontaneity, a lesson I would draw on for 14 years more.

In that moment, I just knew she was mollified yet still psyched at the possibility of baking for me. But the choice to throw out a red herring was made in a storm of memories.

The choice was only just so clear to me, and overshadowed indeed. It was overwrought, more likely, but I gladly indulged in my throes of memory. But I knew that mollification was no substitute for her simple pleasure at making me happy.

"Thank you for helping me look forward to my birthday again, honey," I said, slipping my hands under hers and onto her hips, leaning down and looking into her beautiful blue eyes. "I love you."

She bit her lower lip, and I knew she wanted to protest, but she was too pleased at the appreciation and the gratitude. It was a simple tithe I paid her, but one dear to her.

"Oh, honey," she said. "If all it takes is an ice cream cake to make you happy, then I can go buy you one right now."

She didn't. But we understood each other better, and there was much to be learned before that first birthday together happened.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Marcie On Our Other Birthdays

I will finish my story about Marcie and birthdays and growing up and getting over blah blah. But I wanted to mention one little thing Marcie did for someone in the family.

My grandmother, as I have said, was like Marcie when it came to cooking. Unlike me, however, grandma was also a baker. Yes, I know I have mentioned her making me cakes for my birthday. She also made delicious cobblers, pies and a variety of items.

As she got on in years, grandma Pruett slowed down on the baking. This impacted a lot of people, but one in particular. My father had a special cake he liked.

Grandma Pruett made my father his pineapple upside down cake for his birthday. I don't know when she started doing this, but it was likely his choice for cake in his formative years, in Hawaii.

I will ask him later today over dinner at Pampas Argentine Grill.

My mother had made my father pineapple upside-down cake as well, from scratch with a yellow cake mix and pineapple juice in places where water was called for, and lots of brown sugar topping.

Of course, her departure meant my grandmother resumed preparign the treat for him. At any rate, as Grandma got on in years she did not continue with the cake-baking. It was just too much.

Marcie, luckily, having a father also raised in Hawaii, knew just what to do. She made my father his pineapple upside-down cakes for years on and off, delivering one at his birthday faithfully. She took great joy in it.

It's just another thing her departure leaves missing in our lives now. But I try to note all of them, because the big things are just part of the good she brought into the world. All the little things count, too, and bring pain in their absence.