Fifty Shades of Meow

You’d be shocked to know what seethes under this cool exterior.

Cat experts nowadays say that cats can form at least 50 different meows that express a wide range of emotions: love, fear, bliss, distress, loneliness, surprise, shock…and more. It’s been discovered, evidently, that cats produce both consonants and vowels, and this enables complex expression. 

Okay, I lied. The real number of meows according to experts is 30. My title tweak was just too tempting to resist.

I’m pretty skeptical about this. My beloved, now-departed Buttercup had only one meow. It never varied but it meant different things depending on where she was standing. If she was standing by her food bowl and meowed, it meant she was hungry, so I fed her. If she was standing by the patio door and meowed, it meant she wanted to go outside and I let her out. Those were the only two things she ever wanted that I’m aware of. Well, she wanted to sit on my lap a lot but she just jumped up on it and settled in without asking. 

Actually, she did have a second meow, a sort of abrupt, short snarl when she was irritated: for instance, when she wanted more wet food and I didn’t give it to her. She got only a half can of wet food daily, and no more, vet’s orders. After that it was kibble. She did live to twenty, so I think her sensible diet was in her best interests.

I guess, if the experts say so, there must be cats that have a wide repertoire of expression and emotion. But Buttercup wasn’t one of them.  

I miss Buttercup, and her one meow, and even her little snarl. I really miss her cuddling on my lap. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist but I know she loved me. She was just quiet about it.

Amazon, no way!

“Excuse me, where can I find the chocolate truffles?” I asked the sales assistant.

Amazon sucks for buying books. It has to be done properly. I need real-life books to leaf through, chairs to sit on while leafing, and a café that has espresso and chocolates and people to chat with.

A trip to such a bookstore is still one of my favorite outings. These days, in my area, I have a choice between Barnes & Noble, or Barnes & Noble. There’s one 30 miles north of me and one 30 miles south. Fortunately I’m fond of B&N. It’s a survivor, like me. I’m 71 and my friends said I’d never make it this far. I used to drink a lot of wine. Today I eat a lot of chocolate. Yet here I am. 

Yes, I know, B&N is often more expensive than Amazon, even with Amazon’s shipping charges. I suppose I could go to Half Price Books or Rasputin, but they don’t have the café and the chocolate.

I prefer the B&N south of me. Traffic getting there is always heavy and getting heavier, but it’s a lovely drive along a beautiful freeway lined on the east with horses and rolling hills and oak trees and mansions. I cruise along contentedly listening to Tony Bennett – Lady Gaga duets.  

If B&N doesn’t have the book I want, I have them order it. They might even get it from Amazon for all I know, but that’s okay. C’est la vie! At least, that’s life for a plump, book-loving senior lady with a penchant for chocolate truffles and espresso (double long shots), who loves to chat in cafés with all kinds of people. And who still pays cash whenever possible.  

I hope B&N doesn’t suffer the common fate nowadays of brick-and-mortar stores, at least not before I myself float up to the great iCloud. As long as B&N is still with us, Amazon will just have to limp along without me.     

A beauty goes missing.

“It was just here! Where the heck did it go?! Oh, there it is….”

Was I in a Stephen King novel, I wondered?  I was walking by the plants along our backyard fence when a single leaf moved. Only one. Spooky. The day was perfectly still, no wind.

I tiptoed up for a closer look. The moving “leaf” was slightly lighter than the dark green leaves that surrounded it. It was a praying mantis. I was certain, even though I know zip about entomology and I had never seen one. But I recognized the elegant and poignant beauty I’d seen in pictures—the elongated body, the small head (like E.T.’s) on the long skinny neck, the tall antennae, and most of all the spiky, folding forelimbs. It was a 2-inch-long work of art.

The exotic creature was moving very slowly. Eventually I went inside and when I went back a little later I looked everywhere but it was nowhere. Of course it was somewhere, I just couldn’t see it.

It looked so fragile, but the mantis is equipped with ingenious survival skills, mainly the mighty defense of camouflage, and strong front legs lined with spikes for gripping prey. And an inner guidance system for locating nutrients that brought it to our insect-rich yard. My husband grew up in Hawaii, where insects are accepted, and uses pesticides very sparingly. Our yard was no doubt a tasty smorgasbord for our visitor.

I didn’t see it for a few weeks, then one day a small piece of greenery moved on a fern in the shade. If it hadn’t moved I would have never noticed it, it blended in so perfectly. All summer I would see its loveliness now and then, unexpectedly, when a leaf twitched or greenery moved.

A little while after summer ended, so did my glimpses of the mantis. I’ve learned that a year is its average life span.

It was a mystical, magical summer of playing Where’s Waldo? It was always a thrill to see the mantis in the rose bushes, among the ferns, nestled in the geranium leaves.  I miss my strange, beautiful, exotic Waldo.

Layoff with a positive spin

They told me I was a great asset and it was nothing to do with me or my work, and then they laid me off. It was a big blow to my self-esteem. It’s real hard to view something as impersonal when it concerns yourself.  

I was also scared. It was the 1990s and jobs weren’t growing on trees. I was getting older—mid-forties—and I felt undesirable in the workplace compared to younger people. On top of that, writing and graphic design were becoming computerized fast, and I wasn’t. Training to get up to date was expensive, not to mention the cost of a computer.

I had trouble getting up the motivation and gumption to look for work. I hid at home. I was depressed.

So I was drawing unemployment and floundering…and then I casually picked up a brochure one day in the unemployment office about the State of California’s retraining program. I perked up as I read. Miraculously I qualified because I was, as I found out, what they called a displaced worker. I had done writing and graphic design for years but all manually, and I was displaced by growing computer publications technology. It was racing along and leaving me in the dust.

I completed the course at a state-approved school that had great instructors, and leading-edge computers for students to use. I got $5,000 worth of training free. I could go in outside of class hours and use any computer that was free and practice with exercise books I bought.  

After graduating I started over in my career, at the bottom because I was new, not at graphic design but at computer graphic design. Soon I found a better job and then a better one yet. And pretty soon I was doing well, working in biotechnology communications with a good salary, to-die-for benefits, stock options, and great work environment. 

What did I learn? That what seems like an end can be a new beginning.  

Father-daughter flashback

I watched Oklahoma on TV the other night. It was a time machine that brought me back to 1966 when my father took me to see the play. What I recalled most vividly was Daddy hallucinating while John Raitt belted out a song.

My father had been mentally ill for years, since before I was born. While Raitt sang, Daddy muttered loudly to someone in his head and twitched in his seat, and people around us began to complain. Sounds of sshhhhhh!! and quiet!! surrounded me. I don’t remember what happened, whether we were asked to leave or Daddy settled down and we stayed to the end.

I was 20, in the glow of youth and blooming sexuality and glittering hopes and dreams. And I was mortified. Before Daddy’s meltdown, I had loved the way I dressed and secretly admired myself in the mirror, silk-blend suit and high heels and all. I felt I looked perfect for the Circle Star, then a classy theater venue in the Bay Area.

But I was edgy beneath all the excitement, because my father’s behavior was unpredictable. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

How differently I see that day now, and my father. Back then I was just growing into womanhood, half confident, half painfully self-conscious. I wondered why I couldn’t have a “normal” father I could be proud of, instead of Daddy with his rumpled clothes, nicotine-stained fingers and Thorazine-induced trembling hands. Subconsciously I was angry at him for being an embarrassment, a failure, a constant worry.

He committed suicide a year after we saw Oklahoma, at 50. I’ve survived well enough, had a career, friends, raised my daughter through college, but I really never recovered from the trauma. I drank alcoholically—though functionally—until my daughter was three and have ongoing anxiety disorder. I made many mistakes with my daughter that alienated her. We are now estranged, to my great sadness.

I’ve blamed and punished and judged myself for years. But since remembering Daddy and Oklahoma, I see things in a different light. I’m no longer a 20-year-old with expectations of Daddy, wanting to go to a glamorous play with a suave and handsome father. Now I understand that for some unknown reason Daddy couldn’t help it. He had a profound problem he was unable to overcome. But he did the best he could. He tried so hard to give his little-girl-turning-woman a special gala evening. Having made my own mistakes and unintentionally hurt people I love, I don’t blame Daddy now. And I’m working on not blaming myself. Daddy’s little girl is growing up.