May 25, 2009

Old Friend Cat Gone Away

“We don’t have the privilege of leaving life this way, that’s the first thing I want to tell you.”

The vet, Dr. Petrovich (strangely, all my doctors, even my cat’s vet, are from eastern Europe), took my sick cat, Sam, out of his carrier.  An hour earlier, I had sedated Sam in preparation for this, his death by euthanasia. If I hadn’t, he would have fought back, even in his weakened state, only to die in terror and rage. He had come to hate Dr. Petrovich, and Dr. Petrovich, a sweet man who commuted every day from Tarrytown, always looked a little hurt by Sam’s loathing. He was now going to give Sam an injection to put him to sleep and then the drug that would stop his heart.

“We go out in pain and suffering,” Dr. Petrovich said.  “This way,” pointing to Sam curled on a towel, “it’s painless. And it’s quick.”

Dr. Petrovich had just shown me the lab report, as though to convince me that he had told the truth when he called earlier that day with the results.

“How’s your boy feeling?” he had asked.

“Still not eating, Doctor. He’s wasting away. He’s skin and bones.”

“I’m not surprised he’s not doing well. I have the test results here. He has intestinal cancer.  Lymphoma.” This was what my dad had died of, too, nearly ten years before.

OK,” I said. I could feel that thing in the throat warning me that if I said another word, it would come out a sob.

“I’m very sorry. I can refer you to an oncologist, but he’s deteriorated so much, I don’t know if you want to put him through that. I wouldn’t, but it’s your decision.”

Sam was almost fourteen. He had slept in my bed for all those years. Embarrassingly, it was the longest and most stable relationship I had ever had. A girlfriend once complained on her blog that I loved my cat too much.

A week before this unthinkable moment, I had brought Sam in for exploratory surgery. We were desperate to find answers. Sam had lost a lot of weight since the problems had begun.  I had left him there that morning, growling and hissing at Dr. Petrovich.

After a day that wouldn’t end, Dr. Petrovich finally gave me an update.

“I found no masses. Nothing really struck me. A little kidney shrinkage, but at his age…  I’ve taken biopsies from the liver, the pancreas, the intestine. We’ll see what the results say. The biggest problem I’m worried about is that Sam hasn’t come out of the anesthesia. He fought me. I gave him enough intramuscular injections to bring down a horse, but he still fought. Don’t get me wrong, I admire him for it. In his state, that he could still put up such a fight.… Then I gave him something else — a lot of it, and he finally dropped off. But he’s having trouble waking up.”

“And he should be coming out of it now?”

“He should be out of it by now, so I’m worried.”

But Sam did come out of it and I took him home. For a week while we waited for the results, he struggled back but had stopped eating anything at all. He barely moved from his new spot under the coffee table, except to heroically drag himself to the litter box.

So when Dr. Petrovich called me with the results and told me my options, I acquiesced.

“So you want to do it now?” Dr. Petrovich asked. “You can bring him in.”

“The thing is, I don’t want to bring him in for that. You know how he hates it there. I don’t want him going out scared and fighting. Can’t I do it at home? Can’t you give me the injections for him?”

“For you to do it? No. I can’t. You have to find the vein. No. But come over now and I’ll give you a sedative for him and then you bring him in an hour later. It will be peaceful. I promise you.”

I got the sedative and gave it to Sam. We lay on the couch together. He purred. His muscles relaxed. I put him in his carrier.

“This is not the cat I knew,” said Dr. Petrovich. “He’s a bag of bones.”

Dr. Petrovich gave Sam the injection to knock him out. I rubbed Sam’s neck; he purred lightly.

OK, sweetheart,” said Dr. Petrovich. He ran a needle into Sam’s leg.

“Tell me when to do it.”

I nodded. A moment passed.

“That’s it. His heart’s stopped.”

May 12, 2009

Mow My Lawn, Can’t You?

I got the call in early April — a message on my answering machine from a man in Vermont who wanted to mow my lawn.

“Hi, David. My name is Tim and I’m calling from Dairy, Vermont, where, as you know, you own a house on School Street. I’m calling because I do some landscaping work for your neighbors, the Cunninghams, and they thought you might need someone to mow your lawn, since, as I understand it, you’re hardly ever there. Mr. Cunningham gave me your number and said I should give you call. Now, I should say that even though I’m calling about mowing your lawn, that’s not actually what I do, and in fact, I don’t even own a lawn mower. So in all honesty, I’m not quite sure how I can help you. But please call me tonight so we can talk about what I can or cannot do for you.”

He had an intense, young sounding voice, the kind that masks age. He spoke in the autodidact’s way of engagingly enunciating his words and stringing out his sentences in curious constructions.

“I don’t mow lawns much,” Tim told me when I called him back. “I hate the noise, actually. I live in a rental, so the owner mows our lawn.”

“But I really do need to find someone to mow my lawn. How long do I have?”

“Nothing’s growing now, David. It’s been a long winter, as you might have heard. You can probably hold off until the middle of May.”

“That long?”

I know, of course, nothing about lawns and mowing. But I knew that it had been a long, hard winter, because the caretaker of the house had told me he had plowed the driveway 13 times over the course of it. I had bought the house in October, but had only stayed there once for a few days when it happened to be 10 below. I had worn fur-lined snow boots for the first time in my life.

“So I’m a little unclear, Tim, about whether you’re proposing to mow my lawn or not. I definitely will need to get it mowed.”

“That’s a good question. Let me give you just a little bit of background. Your neighbor, Mr. Cunningham, and I peered through your garage window to see if you had a lawn mower in there, but we couldn’t tell. We saw something big that could be a riding mower, but it was hard to see.”

“It’s a snow blower.  I don’t even know how to use it. And there’s no lawn mower.”

“Ah, that’s what we thought. It’s actually okay, because I can’t stand the gas powered ones. They’re too noisy. I hate the sound of lawn mowers.”

“So what do you think I should do?”

“Well, first, let me give you even more background. There are three — no, four — types of lawnmowers out there. There’s the gas — no, maybe there’s more like five or six. There’s the gas mower that can come in either self-propelled or push type.  There’s the riding mower — that’s what Mr. Cunningham uses.  Then you can also find the corded electric and the cordless mowers.”

My aunt in Germany owns a corded mower. It’s very quiet. Her lawn isn’t big, but even so the cord is incredibly long. I ran over it accidentally with her mower once and cut it in half. All the lights in her house went out.

“And finally,” Tim continued, “there’s yet another type of mower, the kind I grew up with. It’s the manual kind. They call it a reel mower, R‑E-E‑L. I’ve been thinking about getting one of those. I’m just not sure. If I get one, David, I could mow your lawn.”

We had been talking for a long time now; my rice was almost done cooking.

“That would be a lot of work,” I said. “The lawn’s pretty big. That would take hours. Maybe I could get one of my friends up there to run over to Sears and pick up a mower for me. Maybe a cordless one.”

“Those types of mowers are very expensive, David.”

We fell silent for a moment, thinking. It was the Vermont experience to a tee. The endless circular chatting, the incapability of coming to a solution without publicly examining each and every possible route. I knew that we would not get an answer during this conversation. And yet I couldn’t get off the phone with Tim;  I was in his hands.

“So what do you think our next steps should be?”

“Well, David, I’m going to have to think more about this.”

“Yeah, we should mull this over,” I said.

“And talk in a couple of weeks.”

That sounded like the perfect plan.

May 2, 2009

Hollywood Big Shot

I used to know him when he was just an ambitious schmuck with some creative talent and a fascination with those who had a lot of it. He was loud, obnoxious, provocative, and uninhibited. In high school, he lifted me from the loser table and sat me down with the winners. I was never sure why he had elevated me and I didn’t really care; I was done with the losers. I wanted to be with the winners.

He called last week for a check in. I asked him how the recession was treating Hollywood.

Paul snorted. “Recession? What recession? Incredibly busy. What about you? You working?”

“Slow in the fall but its picked up now.”

He didn’t probe deeper; my freelance life doesn’t interest him. Though a trained lawyer, Paul now works in Hollywood as a talent agent for a top firm.

Trying to impress him, I fed Paul information about my new house in Vermont and the new girlfriend.

“Girlfriend? Girlfriend? How long’s it been since your last one? Ten years?”

“No, three years. And then there was Nadia for a little while. You know, that Croatian sex goddess.”

I was again trying to impress him; it never worked.

“Right, right. Are you going to marry this one? I mean, isn’t it time? You’re — what? — forty-four now.”

“I don’t know. She’s a bit young.”

“A bit young? How old?”


“That’s not too young. That’s perfect. She probably wants kids now.”

“She’s really into me. I’m not sure why, frankly. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m just better off alone. It’s what I’ve been good at up till now. And I need my solitude to write.”

“And where’s that gotten you? You’ve been doing that for twenty years. A struggling writer, going nowhere, no real career–”

“Hey, I make money. I own two properties,” I said snootily. “I’m doing all right.”

“You’re not doing fantastically. As your friend, I’m telling you you’re not going anywhere. Nothing new’s happened in your life for twenty years. And when you’re alone you’re miserable. All you do is whine about how much you need a girlfriend–”

“Maybe I just need sex. Maybe I thought I needed a girlfriend but what I really meant was that I wanted sex.”

“So how long are you going to be able to do that, huh?  Those little Vermont hippies you like to fuck aren’t going to be interested in you for that much longer.”

A price had to be paid, though, for getting to sit with the winners. In return for his favoring attention, I had to put up with a stream of beating criticism. You can’t just turn into a winner without some hardening, he seemed to say. And he seemed to be saying now that I hadn’t taken advantage of his years-ago beneficence. I was still a loser. I hadn’t risen up to the challenge he had proffered back in high school when he found me sitting with the nerds and the dweebs talking about Star Trek and Dungeons & Dragons.

“Look,” Paul continued. “I’m not fighting with you. How long have you been in that little apartment?”

“I don’t know, about twelve years.”

“Twelve years. Still struggling, still acting like you’re twenty.”

“Well, I’m back at work on the novel and I think it’s going to be better. But more exciting is this secret blog I’ve been writing for over a year. It’s some of the best writing I’ve done in a while, frankly.”

Paul didn’t say anything. He had read an earlier draft of the novel and hated it. And what could he possibly care about blogs?

Before Paul became an agent, he had worked studio-side, working his way up the ladder. He had even graduated to running a small studio at one point, but it had failed and his career had taken a step back from his dream of becoming a producer of great movies. Still, he was paid a repulsive amount of of money, he lived in the Hills, and he rubbed shoulders with celebrities. He was married now, with three kids, and he once told me that his monthly expenses exceeded $30,000. Meanwhile, over the years, just like Paul said, my life had traveled in a shallow arc. There had been a sense of struggle but without actual struggling. There had been a slow and steady acquisition of things like an apartment and a house, but without any of the risk-taking that would have made those acquisitions exciting accomplishments instead of what they were: passively received fruits of a new technology industry into which I had accidentally stumbled.

“Look at me,” he said. “I work very hard and I just don’t give a shit anymore. I mean, look, they’re close to making me partner, but I don’t give a fuck. And yes, I’ll be be making a lot more money, but I don’t care about more money.”

He told me that he didn’t go to the movies anymore. He hated the movies.

“The movies that come out of this place are shit.”

“Well, all the good, creative stuff is now on television,” I said, trying to sound knowing.

“I don’t watch television, either. It’s all shit. I tried to watch Mad Men, the first few episodes. I didn’t see what the fuss was about.”

“Really? It’s very well written. It’s a bit gloomy, but it nails the era pretty well. I mean, sure, there are some diction drops here and there, but –”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“There’s Battlestar Galactica, of course,” I said, which I instantly regretted.

I heard him talking to someone, announcing himself.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Oh, just in the Porsche, heading to yet another Hollywood première.”

“That sounds exciting.”

“Eh, it’s bullshit. I’d rather be home.”

He was lying, of course. He loved it. For some reason, though, he couldn’t bear to show it. He couldn’t bear to show how he reveled in his glamorous lifestyle, one that came with money and premieres and celebrities. It was as though doing so would negate all that tough love about real life he had thrown at me. Or it could have been that he also saw himself as a kind of failure, even as he succeeded in ways that most people only got to dream about.

Then he added, with a pretend sense of weariness and boredom, “Here I am again at the wonderful Paramount Studios.”

Then Paul said he had to go. He had to get back to his awful life.