The Creation of the Internet
Granddaughter Joelle all tired out after a fun day with her cousins.
Granddaughter Joelle gives me the look I get from most young ladies...
Just a couple buds hanging out on the couch.
Pumpkin and Chloe share a bed.
In related news, Hell has frozen over.
I don't think granddaughter Joelle is buying
the whole dancing sugarplums visions thing.
(Originally published November 4, 2002)
Hobbes came home yesterday.
More precisely, our late feline's cremated remains were delivered to my unsuspecting wife, who received a telephone call from the nice lady at Backyard Burials a scant 30 minutes prior to his arrival.
Hobbes' true pedigree had never been firmly established. He had been harvested from a litter of feisty farm kittens of various flavors. We surmised a good percentage of his lineage was Maine Coon; a Mostly Maine Coon, if you will.
He was a big fella, 16 pounds, even in declining health. He was various shades of orange with a few swirls of white, the color depending on his current degree of shedding or attitude toward personal hygiene.
His gargantuan skull bore the distinctive dark "M" above his forehead, which I jokingly said stood for "moron." His temperament matched the breed's description: a big, gentle, good-natured goof. He had a high-pitched, trilling voice that was consistent with Maine Coons and totally out of character for a creature of his impressive bulk. Think of a feline Mike Tyson, and you'll get the effect.
My then pre-teen daughter Sara named him after the stuffed tiger in Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. I always believed the moniker was more accurately a nod to the English philosopher. The cat was a living example of Thomas Hobbes' theory of materialism: people (and, apparently, big goofy house cats) are motivated by appetite and aversion. Hobbes the cat demonstrated this on a daily basis. It became a family game to place a tempting morsel near an object that frightened him, to watch his reactions as his "fear/food" calculator kicked in, and to wager whether his innate gluttony would overcome his intrinsic cowardice.
Like most house cats, Hobbes really had no useful function in our household, other than to use the white wall to wall carpeting as a canvas for his prodigious hairball output and to generate carbon dioxide for the house plants. He could have been the prototype for Star Trek's tribbles. Like the fictional creatures, he was warm and furry, semi-mobile, possessed a ravenous appetite and made purring noises that engendered a feeling of serenity in the humans around him.
Hobbes was a karmic grounding rod, especially in his later years. He was always serene, almost Buddha-like, dozing in the sun, intently watching the dust motes float by. Dogs can sense emotional turmoil and, in response, express empathy and concern. They're reflectors of anxiety. Express anxiety in the presence of a dog and you have an anxious dog. Hobbes was an angst heat sink. You could feel the distress dissipate as you petted him, his aura of imperturbable calmness surrounding you.
While we received his ashes yesterday, Hobbes departed over a month ago. The cremation of animals doesn't seem to warrant the same sense of urgency as human dissolution. There are no wakes to hold, no religious ceremonies to conduct. Indeed, many claim there are no animals in the afterlife.
I once got into an discussion with a minister about the seeming exclusion of non-humans from Paradise. I pointed out that in the Book of Revelation, the apostle John says "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse."Revelation also states "the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." Which indicates to me that not only are there animals in heaven, they're really snazzy dressers. (One could argue that if John had his vision today, he would see Humvees instead of palominos. But I'll leave this exercise in operational semantics to the Left Behind folks.)
Of course, the real question here is: do animals have immortal souls? Pope John Paul II said in 1990 that "animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren"; that all animals are "fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect" and are "as near to God as men are." The Reverend Billy Graham sort of sidestepped the issue by stating "God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he'll be there."
It was a very stressful time. Sara was dealing with severe morning sickness and emotionally wasn't up to it. Pam was recovering from her bypass surgery and couldn't be alone, so Doug had to stay at home with her.
It was just me, sitting in the small examination room, waiting for them to return with Hobbes and the IV apparatus. I desperately wished Doug or Sara was there. Their presence would have switched me into Dad Mode, where the neurons and synapses arrange themselves in a way that causes me to become the gruff but sensitive old curmudgeon who provides emotional support and words of sage advice.
Instead, it was just me. The guy who cries at the end of Field of Dreams. The fool who was scarred for life by Old Yeller. The idiot who has to leave the room when Emergency Vets is on. The sap whose last act before filing for bankruptcy was sending a check to the local no-kill shelter.
The doctor returned with Hobbes, who was his normal placid self. Only the slightly labored breathing belied his condition but, as always, he maintained his ineffable cockeyed equanimity. He studiously ignored the hideous, lethal device attached to his leg. Decorum demanded it.
He sat sphinx-like, front legs outstretched. He opened his eyes, focused them with some effort, became aware of my presence. He emitted that ridiculous girlish chirp of his. It was a sound he reserved for those rare instances in which he felt it necessary to summon me to witness an event of tremendous import. His last great discovery was that dry cat food batted into a cold air return would cause the furnace's electrostatic air cleaner to make an amazing zapping sound.
I believe he sensed he was on the threshold of an even more significant revelation.
I knelt down, level with his ears, and softly told him what a good Hobbers he was. I put one hand across his front legs and scratched his neck.
His head slowly pointed upwards and he sniffed the air. He made that goofy smile of his, then opened his eyes and looked into mine.
He rested his head on my hand. I focused on that big stupid "M" on his forehead, but peripherally I was aware of the plunger slowly sinking into the barrel, fluids flowing in clear plastic tubes.
Hobbes relaxed. He leaned against me, closed his eyes again, and began purring. He didn't stop until the syringe was empty.
I don't know what Heaven looks like. But I know it sounds like the purring of a mostly Maine Coon.
It's not unusual for me to wake up to discover Pumpkin, our 16-year-old black cat, asleep on my back.
But at 2:30 this morning, she wasn't sleeping. She was yelling in my ear while simultaneously embedding a single claw in my right arm.
Not enough to draw blood, but it certainly got my attention.
Once I sat up in bed and found my glasses, I saw her at the bedroom door. She yelled at me again, circled twice, then disappeared. I heard her bounding down the steps and into the kitchen.
I followed her and discovered our 15-year-old Sheltie, Lucy, lying next to the door leading to the cellar, beneath the child gate we put there to keep her from attempting to navigate the steps.
Lucy developed focal seizures this past Monday, and the phenobarbital that controls her condition has also knocked her for a loop. Until she becomes acclimated to the drug, the medication-induced ataxia has turned her into a friendly little Scottish drunk.
My guess is she decided she needed to go out, headed for the steps,and didn't notice the gate. When it fell on her, she decided she'd just lie there and sleep it off.
The stairs weren't blocked, so Pumpkin could have made it to the litter box with no problem. No ulterior motive- there's no doubt she knew her friend was in trouble and determined she needed someone with opposable thumbs to handle the situation.
Once I extricated Lucy and took her down to my office to spend the remainder of the night, Pumpkin positioned herself on a shelf under my desk unit, where she could watch the dog's inert form. She moved only when Lucy got up and started wandering around. The cat would sit down in front of Lucy, halting her progress. The dog would then lie down, give Pumpkin a wet kiss on the face and then pass out again.
I'm a definite dog person. But I have to admit, I'm starting to become rather impressed by felines as well.
The first day of seizure-inhibiting phenobarbital treatment really zonked her out, and she's still kinda stoned and shaky, but Lucy ate all her breakfast, had a long drink of water, did her business, and made her daily inspection of the back yard.
I'm not sure she even realized it snowed last night but hey, haven't we all had mornings like that?
The other two dogs and the two cats spent the night with me in my office. Lucy was the only one who really got any sleep. The lesser mammals are now all unconscious under my desk, while I have to spend the next eight to ten hours writing a MacroSPITBOL function definition to create, name, and populate multiple table structures at runtime.
That phenobarb is looking mighty attractive...
It's also probably not safe. Scrape the gray matter off the wall behind you, go back out to the kitchen, and get yourself another cup of coffee. Then go check out Reddit. I hear there's some good stuff over there.
The dog on the floor gets the air conditioning vent. The dog on the couch gets the fan. The cat contemplates the unfairness of it all.
Back in the halcyon, pre-Internet days of KGB Consulting, my office had a half dozen computer systems, over a dozen telephone lines, the usual collection of office equipment, and a couple hundred feet of various phone and low-voltage control cabling stuffed above the suspended ceiling.
Since the business folded back in 2000, I only need two "work" systems. I disconnected the Verizon phone service five years ago, when I called to report a service outage at 10 am and was told all their representatives were busy and to call back later. So much for the superior reliability of landlines. I switched to Vonage, cut my phone bill in half, and now just have to deal with Comcast for all my telecommunications services. (I complain about Comcast but, truth be told, aside from their crappy DVRs, their performance has been exemplary, at least from a signal standpoint. In the past 16 months I can't remember a single outage.)
But I digress.
Because of the literally hundreds of feet of legacy cabling stuffed in the ceiling above my head, I was never able to reconfigure my office the way I really wanted. So I decided to quit procrastinating, pull everything down, and rewire the entire enchilada.
As the picture above shows, my office now looks like the bridge of the U.S.S. Reliant following the Enterprise's sneak attack in Star Trek II.
I'm about 20% through. Misty, my unofficial liaison to the lower mammals in the household, has stayed with me through the ordeal. The other pups and the cats come down only when nature calls. They nervously glance upward at the ceiling, then hurry through to the safety of the back door or litter box. I keep telling them the sagging lines are low-voltage signal cables and not ac power runs, but I don't think they believe me.
The goal is to get this done by the end of the week, which is probably doable with a couple late nights after work.
Provided I can teach Misty how to wire the mini-PBX.
(YouTube video: "Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die)
By now you must know there is always a goodbye hovering in the shadow of a dog. We are never here for long, or for long enough. We were never meant to share all of your life, only to mark its passages. We come and we go. We come when we are needed; we leave when it is time. Death is necessary; it defines life. I will see you again. I will watch over you. I hope in your grief and loneliness, that you will consider how sad it would have been, had we not had this time together; not had the chance to give each other so much. I do not mourn or grieve. But I will miss standing beside you, bound together on our walk through life. Even as I know, there is a long line of others waiting to take my place and stand with you. Thank you. It was nothing but a gift.
As allergy sufferers know, this season's been particularly bad. My daughter and I have been dosed by our respective physiscians with enough corticosteroids to dry up the Mississippi basin. Despite these heroic efforts, we're always "on the edge." One tiny challenge to our hair-trigger immune systems can easily bust a hole in our shaky pharmaceutical dykes.
My levee burst at about 4 am when Pumpkin, our evil cat, apparently decided she wanted to fall asleep on her favorite piece of endothermic furniture, namely me. She first sat on my head, providing my eyes, sinuses and upper respiratory system with a more than moderate dose of fur and dander. She then moved on to the only exposed human body part on the bed- my lower right leg. As she settled into place, I apparently startled her by sneezing. She attempted to maintain her stability in the cute way cats do, by extending her quasi-lethal, razor-like claws quite firmly into my calf.
My leg jerked upward in a powerful reflex action, catapulting the accursed feline into the bed's headboard, where her trajectory was modified in such a way that she was deposited into a mass of sleeping shelties Who Were Not Amused.
Somehow the rest of the household remained unconscious during the festivities, which involved nearly a half-dozen small furry mammals cascading down the steps in high dudgeon, accompanied by a greater mammal using the dark, unpleasant part of his vocabulary in an extended, hissed exhalation that thankfully did not involve the larnyx. In the meantime, my calf started erupting in hives and producing an itching sensation reminiscent of the chest-bursting scene in Alien.
So, at 4:10 am, I'm downing prednisone pills like M&Ms, slathering hydrocortisone cream on my leg, giving myself an albuterol treatment and squirting naphazoline in my eyes. The dogs are under my desk, alternately cowering in fear and growling at the cat, who, given the supremely narcissistic tendencies of her species, is lying on the spare office chair, staring at me in dull curiosity through drooping eyelids.
Going to church won't be of any help. I recently joined the Unitarians, so I can no longer invoke the wrath of some supernatural being to rain down flaming justice on those who afflict me.
I'll just have to settle for extreme grumpiness for the balance of the day.
You've been warned.
Back in the late 60s and 70s, around the time the term "rip-off" entered the vernacular, Ralph Nader spearheaded the movement that put into place many of the consumer protection laws and policies that still survive today.
One of these was the requirement for "unit pricing"- indicating on the grocery shelf price tag the per unit cost of the packaged item in ounces, pounds, etc.
This was enacted to enable consumers to easily determine the cost of a product, since some manufacturers used deceptive packaging to trick purchasers. That 99-cent sale item, for example, might contain only 28 ounces of a product in a box designed to look identical to the 32 ounce box next to it. Divide the price by the number of ounces, however, and you'd discover the "sale" item actually cost several cents more per ounce.
I believe people either have forgotten about unit pricing or have never learned how to use it. Couple that with the almost universal assumption that the larger the package, the lower the unit cost, and it appears companies are again taking advantage of consumers.
Last night I ran out to buy cat litter. I usually get the largest container I can, since our inside feline apparently has the digestive system characteristics of a zebra-noshing wild cat from the Serengeti. Out of habit, I looked at the unit cost of the big containers positioned at eye level- 2.9 cents per ounce- then glanced down at the smaller containers on the shelves near the floor- 2.3 cents per ounce.
Curious, I looked at a number of other items and was surprised to find that about a third of the time, the unit price of the smaller package of an item was actually cheaper than the "large economy" version.
I suspect this isn't unique to the Pittsburgh market. Companies are taking advantage of shoppers' mathematical illiteracy and lack of shopping skills.
Keep your eyes open the next time you're in the supermarket, and do the comparisons yourself. I think you may be surprised at what you find.