Friday, May 23, 2014

Shining lights

Don't need exhibits or words on walls.
Don't need gift shops or crowded halls.
Just show me those two bright beautiful lights burning in the sky every night.

So Perfect

I'm listening to New York City Serenade and thinking how cool it would be to be the only person in Riverside Park looking across the water.
Perhaps with a cigarette in my hand.
I walk along alone in the dark.
My mind completely focused on nothing but the quiet filling my brain.
Somewhere in the distance is the rumble of a car cruising up the West Side Highway.
But otherwise silence.

Maybe I sit on a bench and take a sip from my coffee.
Then a drag of my Marlboro, exhale and sigh.
Wait for the lights to come up.
Sounds so perfect.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The memory thief

Death is a memory robber. When my mom died, it was months until I could properly grieve her and move past the frustrations, drama, confusion and hopelessness that her last days brought to remember her as she really was. Now I find myself going through the same thing with Skinny (and no, I'm not comparing the loss of my cat to the loss of my mother even if they did have similar personalities). I am relieved he is not suffering and grateful I'm not having to worry about him anymore. At the same time though my only memories are of that last month or so. I want the real memories back.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

RIP Skinny 2001 - 2014

I got Skinny and Fluff soon after September 11. My previous cat Ratzo, a most wonderful little gray long hair that I had adopted in Los Angeles and taken with me back to New York, had died the previous spring. I loved Ratzo who was sweet and amazing. But he had feline AIDS and I knew his time was short.

Still, my heart broke and when he passed and I decided to swear off cats just as I'd sworn off any other kind of love in my life back then.

But one day walking home down 100th Street I noticed a whole litter of kittens in the animal hospital a block away from where I lived. I stared at them all through the window and my eyes locked on two black and white kittens -- one a long hair and one a short hair. Before I knew it, they had taken over my little two room apartment.

Maybe I got them because I was lonely or maybe something about the September 11 attacks cracked open my heart just enough for unconditional love. At first I didn't know what to call them. I tried Leopold (Skinny) and Loeb (Fluff) and that didn't take. Then I tried Basil (Skinny) and Igor (Fluff) and that also failed to catch on. I almost was going to call them Itchy (Skinny) and Scratchy (Fluff).

My girlfriend at the time Vanessa, no doubt tired of keeping up with whatever I was calling the boys, coined them Skinny and Fluff. For some reason that seemed to fit. Although I was always one who tried to have clever names for his cats (Fellini, Ratzo, etc.), Skinny and Fluff clicked with me. And it also seemed to click with them as well. Skinny was a Skinny while Fluff was definitely a Fluff.

Like all kittens, at first they annoyed the heck out of me. They played all night and I quickly learned to hide keys, watches or anything else that they could find and bat around. Skinny was the ringleader. He was the Alpha Cat. Fluff was the second-in-command and often tormented by his brother in those early days.

But Skinny was also the sensitive one. He was shy while Fluff was outgoing. Skinny took awhile to warm up to people while Fluff would flop around like a big dog for anyone who gave him a second of attention.

Skinny was the introvert and Fluff the extrovert. Skinny always looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders while Fluff didn't seem to have a care.

Skinny was me and Fluff was who I wanted to be.

Both would sleep with me on the bed practically from day one. Skinny always liked to sleep under my arm while Fluff slept lower on the bed by my legs, at least during the summer. In the winter, each would sleep besides my head.

Skinny also liked to chew things. If he found a rubber band it'd be gone in a few minutes only to show up in his poop a few days later. He also loved power cords for computers and cellphones and destroyed more than his fair share over the years. I'd hide them when not in use but when they were in use he'd sneak around and chew them up and then hide and play innocent when I confronted him. He probably cost me a thousand dollars in cords.

The boys also saw me at my worst. When I was boozing and having females come over at odd hours to do odd things, the boys would give me looks of disapproval and go into hiding. I felt bad about that but not enough to stop. I got an awful scare one night when I left a window too open and woke up to see Fluff on my little balcony.

When I stopped all that, I think my cats were the biggest beneficiary. They definitely liked me better without the booze and blow and the girls. They also saw me go through one of my worst heartbreaks and unfortunately I realized I had asked the boys to fill to many holes in my life and when they couldn't cure a broken heart, I got more distressed.

I'm not proud of this but when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2009 I left Skinny and Fluff with my brother. I was running away from everything and unfortunately rather than seeing them as the one source of love in my life I viewed them as a burden I needed to be free of on the West Coast. It was the biggest mistake of my life.

They moved in with my brother and by all accounts were perfectly happy there. When I would come back to New York I'd see them and they were friendly to me. If they had a grudge they didn't show it although I also got the sense that they also knew I was now just a visitor in their lives.

When my brother got engaged and his wife-to-be had cat allergies, I gladly took the boys back. Once I let them out of their carriers and into my apartment here I knew instantly what a horrible mistake I'd made (even if Fluff did wet himself during the flight). They were fine but I had deprived myself of their love for almost two years.

I made it a point to make sure they were happy. They loved the apartment here. They had more room than they knew what to do with and it was as if those awful two years when I abandoned them had never happened. We shared meals together. They loved the chicken from California Chicken and every Wednesday the three of us would stuff ourselves on it.

Part of my job is requires getting up every early to write a roundup column of media news. Most days, Skinny hopped up on the desk and either laid down next to the computer or sat just above it on the little shelf on my desk with his cute head sticking over the top of the screen.

At night, he and Fluff would follow me to bed to snuggle.

I noticed this spring that Skinny seemed a little off his game. He looked like he'd dropped a few pounds and he didn't quite have the same energy. I was worried enough to make an appointment with the vet. A day before that appointment Skinny did that horrible thing cats do when they are dying -- he hid in a closet.

I took him to the vet and the diagnosis was pretty grim. Not only did he have an enlarged heart, he also had bad kidneys and most likely cancer. They drained his chest and I was given some medicine to give him, but the outlook was not good.

I gave Skinny his medicine every day and he showed some signs of improvement but he still wasn't eating much. I bought tuna and sliced turkey and yogurt, three of his favorites just to get him eating again. Then the doctors gave him some steroids which boosted his energy and appetite. He was still dying but he wasn't in pain and he seemed to be getting a little stronger.

I started taking Skinny outside to let him roam around. He loved the fresh air and would flop around on the cement. Skinny had trouble expressing happiness but at this stage in his life he could flop without it seeming like it was an unnatural act for him. He'd chew on some grass and walk around or sometimes just sit in the sun and purr.

I gave him lots of wet food because he liked that better than dry now. He was still mostly sleeping in either a closet or in a cubbard in the  kitchen but every now and then he'd come out and jump on my bed to snuggle before returning to his hiding place.

He could no longer jump up to the bathroom sink to drink water the way he liked so I put a bowl of water in the tub that he could get to and also turned the faucet on in there.

I had to give him three different medicines every day and the healthier he got, the harder that became.

I was not deluding myself. I knew that Skinny didn't have a ton of time left but he was comfortable and the doctors and I thought he may have several weeks or even a few months left together. I hoped he would make it to his 13th birthday in the fall.

I had to go out of town for work last week. When I left on Saturday Skinny was fine. He was sad I was leaving (indeed that last photo I took is of him sitting on my luggage with a plaintive look in his eyes) but otherwise OK. I even took him out early that morning as a little treat before the cab came for me.

On Sunday he was fine. But on Monday my friend who checking on the boys said Skinny seemed very lethargic. My heart sank. I knew Skinny had decided it was time to go. On Tuesday, my friend called me to confirm my fears. Skinny had died.

I honestly believe Skinny wanted to go out on his terms and he also didn't want for me to have to make that tough choice. I was gone and though he knew I'd be back he decided this was as good a time as any to shut down. He wanted to give me that gift.

I flew back a day earlier not only to see Skinny at the vet but because I was worried about poor Fluff who has never been apart from his brother for than a few hours in almost 13 years.

Today I went to the vet to say goodbye. They warned me that he might not look so hot. Actually he looked better than I thought which almost made it worse. I petted him and kissed him goodbye. I apologized for my shortcomings and asked his forgiveness.

Fluff seems OK. I believe he knows his brother is gone. He's not doing that sad thing of looking around the apartment for him. He likely saw Skinny's body before my friend was able to get him out of the apartment and to the vet.

I'm getting Fluff to the vet soon just to have him looked at. He seems fine but he is on the heavy side and was born with the same heart murmur that Skinny had. I also fear that like a spouse who dies soon after his or her partner goes, Fluff with do the same. I'm not ready for that.  I need that big fur ball more than ever now.

I don't think I've done a very good job of capturing why Skinny was amazing. Maybe that will come later. Right now I just felt the need to write something about my poor sweet boy.

When I came home tonight and opened the door I opened it slowly until I remembered that Skinny wasn't going to bolt outside to flop in the driveway as he had been doing for the last month.

Fortunately for me, Fluff was waiting by the door to say hi.

Don't go anywhere Fluff.