Saturday, April 30, 2011

Aging in New Oreleans

. This is not going to be a feel good piece because this is a subject that I do not feel good about. This is "The Pandora Punk OCD Sooner Or Later You’re Gonna Die So Let’s Hear It For Your Future Mambo Rag In Three Quarter Time Piece". This piece is about what a killer life is.
. First off: life is not for wussies; life is not for the faint of heart; life is not for the sensitive. Hope is a four letter word; résistance c’est futile; the meek shall not inherit the earth and all that you can expect from love is a broken heart.(it's important to note here that although it may have felt like it, we've rarely lost anyone human to a broken heart; it just feels like it.) If life doesn’t kill you in your prime (or before) it will whittle you down until sometimes you’ll wonder why it just doesn’t and get it over with. That’s the good news.
. Unlike love and war, in life all is not fair and only in ignorance is there bliss. If you live long enough you’ll get old enough to watch your loved ones and your friends die. If you live long enough, If life doesn’t kill you right off, sooner or sooner (there is no later) it is going to suck being you; whether you like it or not. And believe you me; you’re not going to like it.
Let’s mention here: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, heart disease, renal failure, asthma, osteoporosis, pneumonia, spontaneous aneurisms, deadly allergies and the seventy different terminal types of cancer. Add to that, things like getting hit by a car, bus or train; slipping on stairs, ice or the sidewalk and falling; physical encounters such as muggings, runaway bicycles, terrorist attacks, a stray bullet, skateboards or some random nut with a ball peen hammer. A natural disaster such as an earthquake,fire, flood, random lightning strikes, tsunami, hurricane or open manhole cover could really ruin your day of not your life. Mental illness is another grim reaper; depression, loneliness, thoughts of suicide, paranoia, schizophrenia, anger, grief and despair can be just as debilitating as anorexia, leukemia, diabetes or bulimia. There's just no way out of this life alive.
. As you live a longer and longer life, what you will get is …older and older; and you know what? Your body does not come with a parts warranty, just as your heart and mind did not come with an instruction booklet. Piece by piece you are going to fall apart like a ’53 Buick Roadmaster; once classic, once king of the highway and now junkyard relic. Your drive train is shot; your fuel pump is clogged. Your points and plugs are beyond replacing, there’s no adjusting your carburetor or flushing your radiator. Rotating your tires, wiping your windshield, tightening your brakes and adding oil or transmission fluid ain’t going to do you one bit of good. Your body will turn against you and mock the legend of your youth. You’ll drive that car as far, and in most cases as fast as you can and then, as they say, that’s a wrap. Lights out—nobody home.
So, why do we do this? Why do we participate in this fiasco, lottery, and crap shoot? Is it the job description? No, I’ll tell you what it is: we’re not willing participators; we didn’t have much of a choice and we didn’t ask to be here, isn’t that right? We’re just now getting a dose of the real meaning of the ‘Life Ain’t Fair’ blues and why didn’t anyone ever tell you what a ball breaker life was going to be? Your parents tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen, your grandparents didn’t tell you because they didn’t want to spoil it for you, they rathered to have let you find out for yourself, bless their cowardly, well meaning hearts. Them that knew wouldn’t tell and them that told were not listened to.
We were led into this world a blank canvass and we filled it with our dreams. “Dreamers live forever and dreams never die”, is what they told us. Rather they should have said: “You ain’t getting out of this world alive and all of your dreams will be dashed before this is over”; but, we probably wouldn’t have listened to that either.
Okay, so then what’s the point of being here? One guess is that the point is to make life a little easier for other people, the old Buddhist selfless dance, you know, karmic yoga, that old white magic and on to your next life; so what if it bites being you this time around, there’ll be pie in the sky when you die. Wanna buy some beach front property in Nevada?
So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are done with disappointment, over having your hopes hung out to dry and you’ve come to realize that all along you have been nothing but a spoiled child taking advantage wherever you could and pitching fits when you couldn’t have your way; that you’re you done with whining until someone holds you and tells you that everything will be alright. (It’s not going to be alright). What’s the next logical progression of your unenlightened life, you may ask, and how soon can it start? It all starts with patience and recognition of the grand illusion of life. That’s what the Guru said.
Or it started when you woke up in the middle of the night in a sweat realizing that this is as good as it gets -- that when the lights of your life are turned off that final time, it is… final; and you become afraid to die. It’s too nice here; you’re not near done here; you’re not ready for eternal darkness; you’ll never be ready! It starts when you realize that as little of a choice you had in being alive, you have even less of a choice about leaving this life. It’s not a matter of the if; it’s just a matter of the when and you have absolutely no control over the when. Death does not make a reservation or an appointment.
It starts when you find that this is all illusion and that you are caught in the birth, life, death syndrome that has no clear evidence of any other reward than for you, at the end of this grand endeavor, to believe that you have done the best job that you could. What’s your alternative? Die ignorant. Die anyway.
How about we die young and leave a good looking corpse complete with a full set of teeth, twenty-twenty vision and no physical flaws? For most of us it’s too late for that. How about existentialism? I mean, screw it; if it’s all for naught, let’s just party ‘til we puke; bop ‘til we drop; drink a little poison ‘fore we die? That’s nice empty bravado talking.
How about we dwell on it every waking minute of our lives until we make ourselves and everyone around us miserable; we could do that. Or we could find a way to just not think about it and get going doing all of the things that we should, would and could be doing as if we were going to live forever. Not putting life off until tomorrow
because there is no tomorrow.
Okay, I’ll do that. End of piece, beginning of peace (yeah, right).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

French Quater Droppings

Po boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Tumblin’ Dice
Down The Rabbit Hole
With my perverse propensity for life’s theater, I take pleasure in reading the streets of New Orleans. I read its life forces, its vitality and its levels of triumphs and tragedies. There is nowhere better to witness this passion play unfolding than in my beloved French Quarter; believe you me, Damon Runyon has nothing on us and that’s no phedinkus. So… let’s commiserate about the Quarter.
Trust visitors to see the French Quarter at best through rose colored blinders and at worst through an alcohol induced haze. However, ask a local, and they would probably tell you that it’s more like a kaleidoscopic mosaic of neighbors and nuisances; street musicians and magicians and face painted balloon merchants; cool shops and rip off emporiums; lap dancers and aggressive street hustlers; local pubs and tourist traps; small groceries and inconvenience stores; an explosion of sensory input where nothing is revealed.
We’re still a Mecca for the great unwashed migration in winter on their way to tarnished dread locked futures, canines and musical instruments in tow. Girly boutiques add luster and tee shirt shops take it away. Why anyone would come to the French Quarter for a foot massage is anyone’s guess. Pre-owned book shops both fancy and fanciful are (thankfully) safely entrenched. Bourbon Street is on its own spiral, rolled over for the Yankee dollar and playing that ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for the masses. Greed, destruction and neglect have robbed us of basic services: Laundromats, hardware stores, post office, shoe repair and stationary supplies. We endure like abused spouses.
The economy has taken its toll on residential offerings; a lot of previous residents have found digs elsewhere: rents go up, folks move out. Children are imported to fill the schools, service personnel come from the outside; the voting base is left in the dust, Mom and Pop stores are gone as well as ethnic and racial diversity. BUT, art, architecture and aesthetics hang in. Preservation organizations jealously keep the draw of the Quarter alive and attractive but her name is still the Mother of Exiles, taking in the tempest tossed.
Some people come here and rise up from mediocrity; some fall through the cracks into obscurity. Some follow love to get here and others are fleeing heartbreak. People that live in the Quarter, work in the Quarter, spend time in the Quarter find themselves part of a small closely knit family. They celebrate their victories and mourn their losses; for indeed, some come here to live and others to die.
They know their bartenders, shopkeepers, neighbor’s pets, and local homeless by name and they’re outgoing and giving by nature; held together by bonds of cocktails, crab boils and classless distinction.
Anyone finding that they’re too busy to notice will actually miss a lot of what is going on in the street. The hungover clown; the drunk asleep in the doorway; the overweight cop smoking a cigarette; the pickpocket ready to strike; the stripper on her way to work. Plain clothes police; a man selling bananas; another washing windows for spare change; unruly teens making more money tap dancing than the dishwasher that’s grateful for the employment and the night shift waiters heading for the Gumbo Shop pass almost unnoticed. A scruffy guitarist holding down an alcove; the day crew smoking across from the Omni or K-Paul’s; kitchen help hosing the sidewalk in back of Café Maspero or Antoine’s; Johnny’s Poor Boy delivering another of the city’s treasures; a deal going down on Dauphine and St. Louis; Joe, outside his wine shop catching a bit of sun before heading off to afternoon mass at the cathedral. Lucky Dogs and Good Friends welcoming you to my world.
Michael is up on a balcony with blood dripping down his arm as a local gendarme (gun drawn) tries to talk him down; a group gathered by the river to celebrate Jerry the waiter’s life and too bad he got drunk and fell down the stairs and broke his neck; William out walking the dogs at noon and heading down to Flanagan’s for a scotch on the rocks; a small woman is selling her homemade jewelry shop door to shop door; a second line from Fahy’s for Cindy who choked on a piece of meat and then there’s Jennifer the hairdresser with her beautiful baby girl; all going on if you’d just look a bit closer. Frank and Winnie on their stoop, seeing it all; Amzie Adams on the street, knowing it all.
Ryan rides her bike to work at Michaelopolis at five minutes to ten so regularly that you could set your watch; they’re boiling crawfish at Yo Mama’s; the best jambalaya is still at Coop’s; WWOZ is on the radio at Kitchen Witch Cookbook Shop; the server up the street got a sweet settlement from BP and hasn’t taken a sober breath since; there’s a new shop and a sucker born every minute so watch your back or there’ll be a shoeshine goon trying to bully you out of your hard earned. No wonder that Tom Waits feels so comfortable here.
Movie stars have moved into a house on Ursuline Street across from Marinette who is throwing her annual ‘Christmas In June’ cook out, Croissant D’Or still has the best pastries but the best coffee is at Royal Blend where the lox and bagels are, Mr. B. at Rouse’s agrees on the blessing of the day and Samantha the checkout lady catches you with a hearty “Howyoudoin’??”, The Toulouse Grocery has breakfast for less than five bucks, music spills out of the Touché bar, the buggy driver is stopping in for a wine; Gerry and Danny are still running their culinary show at Café Amelie and HERE COMES A PARADE!!
Most folks employed in the French Quarter are overworked and underpaid, have clean bodies and dirty minds, know where the best music is, a parking place or a restroom; wouldn’t have a drink on Bourbon Street on a bet and are here only because they want to be. They know how to get from point (a) to point (b) skirting wide hipped tourists blocking the sidewalk only to get hung up on conversations with the woman selling the Newspaper on Royal Street, listening to Grandpa Elliot or the etheric violin player.
In short, if you come here and think that you’d never want to leave…don’t; with that attitude, you’d fit right in.

New Orleans short story interlude

“Pa, we ain’t got nothin to do” was just about the worst thing that I could have said that morning. It allowed me and my brother the unique growth experience of having our ears assaulted by an unanticipated and unusually loud parental barrage of profanities:
“Godammit!!!!!, you spoiled rotten stinkin’ sonofabitch lazyass bastard ingrates… then… do something to earn your goddamn keep! Yer Ma’s outside with the laundry an I been workin’ my ass off all week! The day’s clear as a friggin’ bell, and we ain’t raisin’ no southern god-damned piss-ant aristocrats on this here worthless piece of shit property! This ain’t no sissy dude ranch and it ain’t no time in your pipsqueak, waste of breath lives to go mopin’ round here bein’ ‘bored’; If you ain’t got nothin’ better to do with your sorry assed selves, git them poles and go catch us somethin’ for supper! When I was your age…….”
Well, I was twelve years old, goin’ on thirteen and my kid brother had just turned ten and we doubted if our Pa had ever been our age. However, acting on instinct born of experience, we grabbed our poles and got goin’ quick; little did we know that we were about to have a day of life changing occurrences that was to be a slap dash, set yer hair on fire doozy. One that has stuck with us to this day and if I’d a known then, I would have just ducked under the covers and kept my big mouth shut.
It wasn’t too late a morning on a warm spring day in our home town of Gretna, Louisiana in 1962 when my brother, Nuthin, and I set out on our way to Nunez’s Grocery for a couple of bottles of Regal Beer and some ‘twofers’ to take with us fishing just to help pass the time; we had a silver half a dollar that we’d snitched from our Pa and an extra quarter from our mama for a loaf of French bread and a dime’s worth of baloney for lunch. Now, don’t get taken aback or uppity about children and alcohol and nicotine and playing fast and loose. It was something that kids did in those days; you know, get some supplies, pack up some lunch and go fishing on a Saturday afternoon, smoke a couple of cancer sticks and drink warm beer like the big boys. Curse and scratch and spit and talk about girls. Weather permitting.
Grandma Nunez, at the store, knew us and our family and knew that when a couple of boys went off to fish for their folks dinner, instead of wasting time like little slugs, that they could be treated like the responsible young men that they were, or so she thought, and that was good enough for us. She took one look at us shoeless and already hot and dusty and gave us her biggest Grandma smile. Even with most of her teeth gone she could sure lay on a grandma smile second to none; that smile never did nothing but make us feel real good, and these days I can’t help but miss it. That smile.
“Awwww, ain’t you sunshine sweet boys good little angels to be goin’ out fishin’ when you coulda been watchin’ those communist homosexual cartoons on that mind rotting teevee set, like them other pinko piccaninnies that’s bein’ raised around here. Are y’all sure you wouldn’t rather have red drinks? I guess its okay, y’all will be on the water in case y’all gets a case of the dehydrates. Now go on with y’all, the sun’s startin’ to git high and mighty an it looks like it it’s gonna turn out to be a real scorcher”.
She was a pretty big woman for her size, with her finger on the pulse of the neighborhood, and we knew that if a whiff of any stupid behavior or mischief on our part were to get back to her that, well… we be cut off from any future grown up privileges without so much as a ‘fare thee well’. Period. Until then, with a wink and a nod, our vittles could, would and did get packed in a sack and we could, would and did go on our merry way unimpeded by anything as inconvenient as ‘adult or parental concern’; you see, in the old days, in southern Louisiana, kids had always been more mature than other youngsters in practically every way and we were treated as such. At least until we screwed up.
The day was as picture perfect as a peach pie, although getting a mite on the warm side, with a slight breeze comin’ in off the river. We had an old half sunk pirogue tied up at the batture that would drift us just far enough out to be in uncurrented water shaded by some old willows where the croakers and gaspergous liked to hang around.
My brother’s real name is Nunzio but everybody calls him Nuthin since the days when we was little and the older kids (especially the girls) used to taunt us, calling: “Nunzio, Nunzio Nuthin; you know somethin’? Somethin’ somethin’ somethin’; you know nothin’?” My folks had named me Sumpter, after the neighbor man who drove my mother to Charity Hospital when she was birthin’ me and having a hard time of it. Most folks call me Sump but the mean kids call me Sumthin’ and my brother Nuthin and we don’t get along much with the ones that they call ‘normal kids”. We don’t care much about that, we get along fine with each other; we’re Italian, and that’s why.
So, me and Nuthin were on our way after getting us some beer and butts. Incidentally, Twofers were what they called cigarettes that are sold separately, two at a time for a nickel. They’re also called ‘loosies’ and ‘stoops’. We’re workin’ our way through the old neighborhood heading towards the river when we passed by Pearl Prentiss’ house where she’s sitting in her dirt yard trying to teach her talking cat to play jacks because since her cat’s brother ran off the cat is depressed and needs some distraction. Pearl’s folks plant dirt in their yard the way some people plant okra; they wants their dirt. Rumor has it that dirt reminds them of the ‘old country’ or something.
Anyway, Pearl looks up at us and puts her finger to her lips like she wants us to hush, naturally this get our attention (as boys, we’re naturally inquisitive) and she points to a length of string sitting in the road like a long skinny snake. She calls us over and whispers: “Old Man Fennish just passed with Mrs. Fennish’s Lazy Boy chair on a four wheeled dollie heading up the street and dealing out a line of string behind him like he’s Hansel or Gretel or somebody”. Sure enough, that’s exactly what it is, a damn string in the damn road; and it sure sets us all to pondering, cat included.
Old man Fennish has been working a maintenance job at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter since before mayonnaise and everybody knows that he has been collecting the string that their laundry delivery company ties the clean towels with… at least for that long. In fact, everybody knows this because the Fennish’s two foster kids has told us AND showed us these behemoth balls of string; but, be that as it may, it still got us to wondering why he would perform so oddly on a warm Saturday in the middle of May, especially considering that if we acted that way we would catch heck and no doubt about it. Our consensus was put to voice by Nuthin when he remarked: “he finally gone off ‘round the bend, idn’t he?”. Sanity wise, I couldn’t have said it any better.
Then we hear a terrific rattling coming down the street like someone throwing ash cans full of old silverware down the steps of the courthouse and we look up to see the Fennish kids pushin’ a shopping cart down the road with Mrs. Fennish sitting inside of it. Yep, here come Immaculata and Timpani Fennish rollin’ their Mama down the road and trying to follow that there string, and the three of them sweatin’ like hogs and all out of breath, each for their own reason; Timpani because he has the asthma, Immaculata because she’s doin’ most of the pushin’ and their mama ‘cause she just can’t breathe too good to begin with. Mrs. Fennish is perched up on some pillows puffing away on one of those Chesterfields that she’s partial to and the kids stop to take a break from their exertion long enough for us to query them; Mrs. Fennish goes into another of her coughing fits. Ever since that cold snap last winter Mrs. Fennish can’t hardly take a clean breath-- without hacking her lungs out-- between her smoking them non-filtered cigarettes and her terminally clogged sinuses.
Immaculata, who is nine and is called that because she never seems to get dirt upon her, tells us in a low voice “none other than Conway Twitty is coming down to a revival at the skating rink and my papa has gone ahead with the Lazy Boy to get a good spot for mama, he’s trailing the string behind him so’s us kids can follow in his footsteps, so to speak”. Obviously Mr. Fennish perceives his kids to be as dumb as a box of rocks; of course, he knows them better than we do, so it is possible.
We had all seen the posters hung about town with a large image of the star, Conway Twitty, posed Elvis like, in a sky blue leisure suit heralding the big to do with a large white banner acrossed his chest announcing in no uncertain terms that the event was to take place for ‘ONE NIGHT ONLY!!”. Mr. Twitty was ditching his singing career for one in the preacher business, having been called by the lord to go forth and heal the sick and such and we all vowed to sneak out after nightfall and be witness to this auspicious nonsense. Especially since none of us believed that anything could cure Mrs. Fennish of her emphysema and constricted air passages.
Of course, we have to explain this all again and again to Timpani who is kind of slow in the head and too busy trying to peer through those coke bottle thick eyeglasses of his. He’s eight years old and is called Timpani because, in his old home, his Pa who plays bass drum in a brass band, used to whup up on him with his drumstick, which led to Timpani’s inability to concentrate, or so word has it. Old Timpani has got his attention glued to that line of twine and hardly hears us with our plans for the evening. We made plans nevertheless, including him and the cat, for seven thirty that night.
The sun had barely set and the moon was on the wane when we gathered behind the Livaudius Middle School. We had agreed, or so I thought, that we would all wear dark clothing to aid our inconspicuousness. Immaculata obviously didn’t understand because there she was in one of her white dresses, shining in the moon like an apparition. Timpani were still in his dirty coveralls and barefoot just like we had last seen him that afternoon, the only difference was that he seemed to have spilled his whole supper down the front of his clothes.
“Immaculata! We’s ‘spossed to be movin’ on the sly! What don’t you know about dressing darkly?” Hissed Pearl (dressed all in black, like a shadow)
“I ain’t got no dark clothes!” Immaculata hissed back.
Immaculata was found roaming on highway 90 late one night by Mr. Fennish one night on his way home from work, dressed in a white night shirt. She was dressed in the white night shirt, not Mr. Fennish.
“Like to scare me sober” Mr. Fennish would always recall.
He took her to the police station who told him to take her home and that they would see who was missing a girl in a clean white nightie. Well, nobody came to claim her and she just kinda stuck around. That was two or three years ago and at first it was like she couldn’t talk at all, but, she gradually came out of that and could talk, sing, yell and curse with the best of us. Except that at times she would get a faraway look in her eyes and we would wonder if she was in hypnosis or a trance or maybe even Egyptian or something.
We made it to the skating rink just about the time that things were heating up and sure as shootin’ there was Mrs. Fennish in the front row in her Lazy Boy with Mr. Fennish standing up at her side. There was a band playing in the background and a choir of women dressed up like angels and they was all hummin’ like angels would do, and all of a sudden a spotlight appears and here comes the now Reverend Mister Twitty in that self same sky blue leisure suit and he gets up to the podium and starts his salvation show.
“Brothers and Sisters!” he begins “I am not here to tell you that you are going to heaven, to get your halo, to sit with the heavenly host in glory and eat fried chicken and lemon meringue pie forever and forever after!” A great groan was heard from the congregation. “NO!” he continued “I am, here to tell you that you will all burn in hell with fire and brimstone and suffer eternal damnation and third degree burns! YES YOU WILL!!!” here he started raising his voice and pacing like a panther, “for you are unclean and unfit to sit with the angels on high basking in the glory of Jesus Christ and his father, the one god of us all. You all are sinners and you all will be damned to drink bitter water and eat hog slop on your knees in dirty clothes!”
His choir of angelic voices began singing a dirge and the band started in at a cacophony of angst and terror. The crowd was swaying and lowing like cattle, when of a sudden a high pitched keening sound started coming out of Mrs. Fennish which just about scared us to death.
‘eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” it was like nails on a chalkboard and the entire tent dropped to silence. “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’ and here it come again “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and Mrs. Fennish all glassy eyed starts up from the Lazy Boy. And Immaculata starts drifting dreamlike towards her, and the reverend, like he’s walking in his sleep, is also drawn to the same spot. The cat has jumped out of Pearl’s arm and, hissing like an air hose at the filling station and with all its fur stuck up like a porcupine, starts sidling up to the commotion and we can see that they all are going to collide like planets in a space movie. The choir starts a wailin’ and the band has put down their instruments and they’s all moaning and the congregation is gnashing their teeth and rending their clothing and falling down and crying and a screeching in tongues. We kids are struck as dumb as Lot’s wife and frozen in our places when the apparitions start in to materialize.
There are sounds coming from outside the rink of thunder rumbles and lightning crashes to beat the band and all of a sudden -- and this is just from what us kids can recall because nobody else that was there that night seems to be able to remember anything that happened—
A black cobra about sixteen feet in height raised itself up in back of Mrs. Fennish with eyes as red and luminous as a Highway Patrol car’s lights, forked tongue lashing and slithering like a gargantuan garden hose toward the preacher who had turned into a giant bald eagle with a gnashing beak and beating wings working up a wind and cawing like a freight train whistle. Pearl’s cat had turned the size if a tiger and was snarling like a hurricane wind advancing into a tornado and Immaculata had risen up twelve feet with the biggest damn archangel type sword that I could ever have imagined and Mr. Fennish appeared like a demon possessed with his eyes rolled to the back of his head and drooling enough to wet down the front of his shirt and I could have just puked on the spot yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch and supper. Had I not been so scared, frozen in my tracks and trying my best not to wet my pants or throw up; friends or no friends, brother or no brother, I swear I would have run off so fast it would have made all of their fool heads spin.
Just then a lightning bolt split through the roof of the building smack dab into the middle of the impending chaos and my kid brother stepped right into the light and commanded “STOP!” and everyone collapsed like a bunch of rag dolls. I looked at Pearl and Pearl looked at me and she said: “damn, that was something!”
And I said: “no that was Nuthin”.
Shaggy Dog.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Orleans Story part 11... I, The Cat

Short Story Part 11: I, The Cat
So, I gather first of all, that you may be a mite skeptical about me, my attributes and my abilities; this, I suspect, is due to your lack of a cohesive definition of my species written for your perusal; one that you can study at length and digest at your leisure. A sort of ‘when in doubt, see point (a.)’ sort of thing. Well, as a vehicle to your awareness here is the point (a.) to which you can refer to, recall and hopefully remember.
Point (a.) The cat: (felius catus), also known as the domestic cat or housecat, to distinguish it from other felines and fetids, is a small (relatively speaking of course), furry domesticated carnivorous mammal that is valued by humans for its companionship and for its ability to hunt vermin and household pests. Cats have been associated with humans for at least 9,500 years, and are currently the most popular pet on the planet. Owing to their close association with humans, cats are now found almost everywhere in the world. Cats are similar in anatomy to the other felids, with strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws, and teeth adapted to killing small prey. As nocturnal predators, cats use their acute hearing and ability to see in near darkness to locate prey. Not only can cats hear sounds too faint for human ears, they can also hear sounds higher infrequency than humans can perceive. In cat society, all felines have a three part name, and as a species are supremely superior to all other animals.
I am all of that to the tenth power and more, but, my life did not begin that way.
Fifty years ago (in cat years) the human that you know as Pearl Prentiss found myself and my littermates one cold rainy morning in a dumpster behind a cheap motel in the Treme section of New Orleans. There had been six of us, four were dead. Our mother, feral herself, had chosen the dumpster as a place to birth us because it was out of the wind and weather, and all was well for the first couple of weeks. The dumpster was thick with rags, cardboard and debris that kept us, if not comfortable, at least, protected from the elements. The dumpster was also home to some rodents; however, with mother’s presence they kept their distance. One morning mother stepped out to forage for food. She could not have foreseen someone closing the lid of the dumpster, leaving us inside without the comfort of her warm body, her nourishing milk and her protection. We did not see her again.
Days and days and days later, my brother and I, shivering and starved saw the lid lifted and were practically blinded by the cloud covered daylight that brought in rain and colder air. A giant, what we thought was giant, head appeared, looking, peering about and curious about the pitiful mewing sounds that we were making. It was Pearl.
Two of my siblings had died of the elements, namely, hunger and cold; two had been taken by the rats. My brother, who Pearl named Bob, had had his tail eaten by one of the rodents and we were literally with our backs to the wall when she open the lid that fateful day, calling for deliverance of any kind.
Pearl Prentiss rescued my brother and I, came back to bury what was left of my siblings and even to search for our mother. She fed, comforted and cared for us into a strong kittenhood. We both had voracious appetites, grew strong and by the time six months had passed we had lost any physical signs of our trauma. My brother was consumed with anger and the need for revenge against the entire rodent world. At a half a year of age he was big for his age and was obsessed with getting away from our home and beginning his murderous crusade. One night during a full moon, the bedroom window was left open; which is when my brother, a fine dusty colored male but more feral than I, escaped and wasn’t seen again. I am much wiser, possessed with more talent, cunning, and above all, the gift of loyalty; you might say that I got the brains in our family. Pearl had become the center of my universe and I loved her like a mother. My real name is Midnight Secret Seeker; my brother’s name is Shadow Rodent Slayer, we are of the breed. You may do well to seek out your feline’s ‘real name’.
One night while napping in Pearl’s lap she heard me purring a song that she had sung to us in the early days and the cat, so to speak, was out of the bag. Little by little, Pearl pampered, cajoled, encouraged and wheedled my ability to communicate, in words, from me. We did, however, make a pact at the onset that promised that I would only speak in her presence-- even to other humans-- that way, if pressed, she could always admit to a practical joke and explain that she was a ventriloquist.
Oh the joy of being able to tell her the pleasures of being feline. Almost all humans regard us with varying degrees of love, fear and hatred; with a little envy thrown in for good measure. Not Pearl. I would sit on her lap for hours telling of my prowess in hunting with fang and claw; of my abilities to run, jump and turn; hurry and hide; wait and strike, to bathe in the sun and to stalk by moonlight. She alone knew of all the little things that amused and attracted me, the ways that I would toy with my victims, the triumph of the killing bite and the taste of warm blood in my mouth. We are much alike, we are each-others familiar.
And now my mission is simplicity itself; to find the best, most direct (with stealth as a primary concern) route across the neighborhood rooftops from Pearl's point a. to Pearl's point b. It’s something that I excel at, finding routes; huntress that I am. I love my job.