Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Feline with Benefits

It's been almost two weeks since I adopted my cat, Eva, and we've both needed to adjust and have learned more about each other.

Probably because of her sense of security, Eva is not as affectionate as she seemed to be when she first arrived. She basically conned me into thinking that she was going to be a real snuggly little beast; the first afternoon, possibly because she was unsure, she burrowed into my armpit and let me hold and stroke her.

This continued the next couple of nights, but then abruptly her nocturnal nature kicked in, and she decided that nighttime was for frolicking, not nuzzling. When I left the bedroom door open she would jump up when I was going to sleep, and accept a few strokes, but soon enough she had her own agenda.

Sometimes she wanted to hop on my chest and legs – not conducive to sleep – and then she brought her favorite toy, a little felt mouse, into the bed and wrestled with it. I decided to toss it out the door, which was a big mistake, because for Eva that became an invitation to a game of fetch, and the faster the mouse was tossed, the more rapidly she was back on the bed with it.

I felt bad but by the fourth or fifth night I knew I had to close the bedroom door to get some sleep, and let her explore the living room. I felt really guilty and worried that she would be crying outside the door or scratching to get in, but Eva doesn't seem to be the sentimental type – she accepted her exile gracefully and was none the worse for it the next morning when I opened the door at 5:30 (out of guilt) to let her in.

Unfortunately she came barreling in with her toy mouse expecting that I was eager to play.

Not so much.

It was at this point that part of me began wondering whether this had been a mistake. But I managed to extend the time before bedroom access until later and later in the morning with no reprisals on her part, and found that flinging the infernal mouse around the room was somewhat cathartic.

Mornings have always been a challenge for me and for better or worse the sudden presence of this other intelligence with its own needs has taken some of the focus off myself and made it easier to bear getting up.

And Eva trained me well, because she would then reward me with a bit of purring and licking, and actually allow me to stroke her very soft fur. Not that she would make this easy – I would have to leave the comfort of my pillow to lean down and pet her.

During the first few days Eva also seemed as she had been when I met her to be fairly nonverbal and quiet. But that also changed.

When she hops on the bed or careens into the bedroom, she announces her arrival with a distinctively shrill noise. She has also evidenced a very unique sound when she is annoyed – as when I reach to pick her up and she doesn't want to, or if the toy is suddenly placed in an unfamiliar location. As the weeks progressed I have actually noted difference nuances to these sounds to the point where I can almost image her saying, "Oh cool, he's in the bedroom, let's play fetch with the mouse!"

Her enthusiasm and energy are contagious, even for a curmudgeon like me.

One thing that intrigues me is how my rather mundane apartment is a source of constant stimulation, intrigue and curiosity. Any new cabinet I open, or closet that becomes exposed, is a journey into a new world for her – sniffing, looking, and inspecting.

Her favorite spots are currently an older desk chair near the balcony window, and the top drawer of my dresser, where she can lie and sleep with only her eyes staring out for hours at a time.

I find myself wondering what she is doing if I don't see her, and as I come home to the apartment I am already looking forward to hearing her chirping sound and seeing what she's up to.

I'm not enamored of sifting the litter box and cleaning up after the few times she missed was no pleasure, but I soon was able to balance these unpleasantries against the surge of pleasure I would feel when I was feeling dull, and suddenly a raised tail would glide by and I would realize I was no longer alone.

While the honeymoon is over with respect to nuzzling my armpit, Eva is still affectionate on her own terms. If I get down on the carpet I can sometimes rub her belly and neck – other times she will scoot away – it's like a mind game.

She will allow herself to get picked up most of the time and seems to enjoy being held briefly – but the fantasy of having her peacefully next to me while I watch the Lakers is not happening.

Maybe it's because everything is still so new. Birds fly by, the dishwasher churns on, a toilet flushes, and she needs to know what the heck that is.

I have to admit that I never understood or appreciated other peoples' stories about their pets, and how their cats did "funny" things. But now I've become one of those people – imagine that – almost 1000 effortless words about a creature with whom I now cohabitate.

The biggest adjustment for me has been not being in complete control of my environment for the first time -- and being subject to interruptions and distractions at odd moments.  But I've begun to balance that against the feeling I get when she grooms and licks my hand and purrs as I gently stroke her.I wonder what she's doing now…

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Is Everyone Angry?

You can't watch CNN or the evening news without seeing a segment on "voter anger" with a poll and frequently interviews with disgruntled citizens. A great deal of focus has been given to the Tea Party movement which seems to be a festering, seething mass of pissed off people over various issues.

Certainly a lot of the anger stems from how many peoples' circumstances changed dramatically in the financial meltdown of 2008. Suddenly many families were under the gun, losing homes and jobs, through no fault of their own—but through the apparent greed and market manipulations of Wall Street speculators and the real estate bubble.

When emergency measures were taken to stem the economic collapse, anger focused on the massive debt that has been incurred nationally – and this has fueled the Tea Party in particular.

To me, the underlying thread to all of this distrust and anger is one central theme – loss of control.

I believe it really started with 9-11, when people suddenly realized that there were hostile forces that threatened them—we were the target of predators.

This survival wakeup call triggered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which gutted our economy in many ways and made the financial meltdown worse than it was.

Combine this with natural disasters like Katrina and the many floods, and our inability to marshal all of the resources normally available to deal with such situations, and people became fearful.

Through the economic collapse and these disasters one heard and read of many families who had counted on our institutions and insurance companies to come through—and in so many cases they were thwarted and disappointed – so fear turned to anger.

On a deeper level, before 9-11 and through the economic prosperity of the 80's people felt secure and relatively safe economically and socially. Things seemed to work. Now suddenly it seems to many people that matters are beyond the capability of institutions and leaders to address.

Nowhere is this more dramatically brought out than in the oil spill in the Gulf. All of the worst aspects of the previous problems are coming to the surface in this situation: a multi-national corporation that cut costs for safety and lost eleven people through its negligence; an inadequate government and institutional response; and the suffering of millions of innocent people.

It is becoming apparent that BP was able to circumvent regulation of its activities due to its lobbying and connections in government, just as the coal industry was able to overlook safety standards in favor of profit.

In addition, on a daily basis, citizens are up against banks, credit card companies, and bureaucracies of all kinds that take advantage of their power to make profits at human expense. Medical insurance companies that throw older or unhealthy individuals off their books are just one example – we all know of many more.

Worse, cynicism abounds. As you watch television you see the advertising of many of these companies that promise so much, and how they care for you and you're like family; they have wonderful mission statements but then when you have a problem or need them to address a human concern, their procedures and bureaucracy is strategically designed to avoid communication and beat you down.

So is wholesale anger against corporations justified?

A conservative web site that I read, written by a friend,, takes the position that corporations are responsible for much that is good in our country:

  • corporations are owned by free citizens, and are just a way we organize ourselves economically in the modern world
  • corporations provide the bulk of our employment
  • corporations produce the wealth that makes our lives easy: the plentiful food, the cars, the drugs and medical innovations that allow our longevity, the amusements that enrich us etc.

And that is what makes it complicated – we all want the benefits, but there is a suspicion that these behemoth entities, many of them multinational, are now running amok.

At the same time, many of us participate in an economy and use social media, for example, build our own brands and support the brands of corporations we use and even admire.

My father was born in 1900 and saw the entire 20th century for better and for worse; he fled what was then Czechoslovakia in 1949 to escape from the Communists who stifled free enterprise and wanted to control all aspects of the economy and personal lives.

This is the anathema that the Tea Party folks are afraid of as government tries to fix health care and regulate Wall Street—they see government as threatening as others see multinational corporations.

Still, my father saw that the pendulum had swung in the opposite direction by the time he died in 1986; where corporations that had no loyalty to any nation or true ideal were plundering the planet.

The problem is that both extreme positions – that corporations are evil and the opposite, that free markets can be allowed to self regulate have been shown to be fraught with peril; as the pendulum swings between these extremes ordinary people find themselves tyrannized either by government or by corporations.

In a land where citizens pride themselves on self reliance and independence, our media trumpets all kinds of "freedoms" but we assume fewer and fewer responsibilities.

At this point, if you see things clearly, you must come to the conclusion that one's prime responsibility is to hold oneself and leadership accountable for the circumstances under which we live.

Unfortunately there is a lot that is beyond our control – nature imposes its will regularly. But at the same time we need to remain conscious of our reactions to the circumstances that affect us day to day.

Simply being angry is not a solution. Venting that anger in large venomous groups can become dangerous, as Germany discovered in the last century.

I believe we need to use the technology afforded us by corporations in particular to raise the consciousness of the consuming public – not just consumers of products but also of ideas and information – so that the powerful corporate entities must finally address human needs, even occasionally at the expense of profit.

Just as animals evolved from simple predators to what we now consider ourselves to be – more conscious thinking beings – we need to use the power of critical thinking to make our institutions more responsive to human needs—and also the needs of the planet.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Gulf of Mexico. What we all sense is that life and livelihoods are threatened because an entity that is out of control has had its way for only one purpose – profit.

If you remember, BP ran many commercials "branding" itself as an environmentally conscious oil company.

If the tragedy in the Gulf is good for anything, it must be that our corporations and institutions will need to evolve – with the technology of the Internet and our active participation – into structures that serve human needs and not just generate paper profits for a few of our most powerful people.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Year of the Cat

I've been living alone for the better part of 40 years; never married and never living with anyone for longer than the duration of a vacation.

Recently friends and colleagues suggested that I think about getting a pet—some suggested a dog while those that knew me best thought that a cat, with its more quiet nature and independence, would suit my lifestyle much better.

To say that I was resistant and scared is an understatement. While I love animals, and am particularly fond of dogs, the idea of having a living creature, unpredictable in temperament and needing my attention, always around and especially waking me up in the morning was inconceivable.

Close friends tried to convince me that until I experienced the payoff I wouldn't know what I was missing, and that I wouldn't feel the love until I took the plunge.

I was also told that the right animal would choose me and be obvious, and I doubted all of it, but knowing that I needed to expand in some areas, I started looking.

I checked ads on Craigs List and visited adoption events, getting more and more information. A good friend suggested that the Maine Coon breed of cat would be the best choice for its warmth and affection.

I went to pet stores with adoption events which depressed me; the pets were in cages and the shelves were stocked in ways that made it seem like the animals were an industry.

One morning I went the West L.A. Animal Shelter for the first time and hour the loud barking dogs and visited a few cats in an environment that made me feel awful and want to adopt them all.

I emailed about several animals an never heard back, some events which were scheduled never happened and a lot of flakiness made me wonder whether I was barking up the wrong tree.

I almost fostered a dog that I took for a walk but backed out at the last moment when it turned out it needed medication that had not been mentioned and that was a bit more than I wanted to take on.

Then I met a woman from an rescue organization that seemed very nice and she knew of a Maine Coon that she thought would be perfect for me. I visited the cat, liked it, but when a home visit was to come off the next day there was controversy between the rescue and the foster home, and it became a lot of drama that made me again wonder whether I was doing the right thing.

A close friends with two lovely cats told me I wasn't doing anything wrong but that I was still on the fence; when she knew she wanted a cat she just went to the pound and got one.

So the next afternoon I returned to the West L.A. shelter looking for a particular dog, and decided it wasn't right, and visited the cat room on the way out.

A wonderful volunteer told me of "the sweetest cat" and took her out of her cage; I noted that she had never been a stray and had come from a home. The cat pawed at me right away and nuzzled my chest; later I was able to hold her in my lap and she licked my hand.

I knew that it was time to take the fateful plunge – if I ever really wanted to grow and receive love in this way I needed to commit, so I went to the desk to do the paperwork.

Again a tech informed me that there was an infection on her wound from being neutered, and I would have to take her to a vet for antibiotics.

My stomach churned – part of me wanted to back out again, and just go home and keep things comfortable and the way they were – far from perfect but manageable.

But another voice said, "not this time – time to choose change and take a risk—you may suffer but it's the only chance to also feel the love you're looking for."

The volunteer came out with some toys for me to take home and promised to answer any email questions I might have.

I took Eva (named after my mom) over to a vet and fortunately they looked at her right away and I bought the medication and took her home. She also had to wear a cone to keep from licking the wound.

When we got home I figured she had enough to deal with and took off the cone. I got her set up with a litter box and some water and went out to get some food for her and for me.

When I got back and fed her, it was time for my nap. I opened the door to the bedroom not expecting much, since she was still kind of shell shocked from the trip.

Twenty minutes later she was lying blissfully in my arms, her nose in my armpit, purring and licking my hand, as I called my friend with the two cats to tell her what was going on.

Putting in the medication was a huge challenge. Eva did not want to sit still or open her mouth and kicked and fidgeted and I spilled a bit of the medication on my bedspread.

Later we watched the NBA playoffs together, and before bed I put the cone back on her head which kept my up as it banged around the bedroom throughout the night.

As someone who has had complete control over my environment for as long as I can remember, this was a bit of a challenge. As dawn approached I wondered if I had made a huge mistake.

But suddenly a wet nose was next to my cheek and two little paws were burrowing into my arm, and a warm furry snuggly body was pressed against my side. As I slept fitfully through the remaining hours until I got up, I realized that I was in a Brave New World—I don't know what the future will bring but it will represent a sharp departure from the status quo in which I had been mired.

After breakfast I went back to the pet store for a scratch pad; when I got home Eva was stretched out on her little pillow bed, her face pressed up to the window, soaking up the sunlight.