Sepia

The life and death of a tabby boy

Last Saturday, January 13, 2018, we said farewell to our beloved tabby boy, Huck. He’ll be sorely missed. Carole and I don’t have children of our own so our cats have always been very special and precious to us.



Carole and I adopted a cat in the summer of 2005, a fine healthy recently fixed tabby cat that we promptly named Huckleberry. He was our second tabby — we had adopted another tabby boy that we’d named Freddy the previous fall only to tragically find him deceased on the hallway floor the Saturday before Memorial Day. We never did figure out why Freddy passed so quickly; the veterinarian suggested it might have been a congenital heart defect or something similar.


Huck joined our other two cats: a ginger and white short haired female named Thursday and a tortoiseshell short haired female named Starlight. Thursday was about seven, Starlight was about four, and we assumed Huck was something over a year old, but it was hard to say by how much.



He had to be fixed before we could adopt him, so he was still quite full of testosterone during his first few weeks with us. Translation: he was quite the bitey-bite-bite cat at first. If you petted him, he was as likely to try to eat your hand and disembowel your wrist with his hind feet as he was to sit there and enjoy it. But he wasn’t like that all the time, and as he got used to living with us, he calmed down.


He had some very interesting quirks that neither of us had ever encountered in a cat before. He loved to climb up on the bed pillows when one of us was lying in bed and would then paw at the tops of our heads, sometimes even drooling on us. Carole figured that he’d been taken from his mama cat too early and that he was looking for a nipple.



When we first got Huck we’d already gotten our other two cats, Thursday and Starlight, little beds that we kept under the living room coffee table, and we knew that eventually we’d need to get one for Huck. He kind of forced the issue, though, by walking in to the master bedroom, looking around, and plopping down directly in front of Carole’s dresser at the foot of the bed. Every night. Every afternoon. We’d come in to the room and find him there and he’d give us a look like “you know, this spot right here would be just great for a little bed.”


So, after a couple of weeks we got around to going to the pet store to get him a little bed and we put it right where he’d indicated that he wanted it. He was so happy when he saw it for the first time; he came trotting into the room, spied the little bed at the foot of the dresser, and gave us a look that spoke volumes: “Finally.” And that was where he spent almost every night the entire time we had him.



Huck was definitely a “people cat” in that he always wanted to be where the action was. Not standoffish at all. I was very fond of picking him up and toting him around from room to room with me in a way that we called “portaging the Huck”. His “elevator butt” skills were unparalleled; he got so into being petted that his rear legs almost lifted off the ground.



He was also notorious for wanting to get out. We had to be very careful when bringing groceries in from the car to keep an eye on where he was. If we weren’t vigilant, he’d sneak out into the garage, and if we really screwed up, he’d make it all the way outside and be off to the races. If you’re wondering why we considered this a problem — well, we’ve always kept our cats indoors. There are lots of things in the Vermont woods that would eat a cat, and all things considered equal, we preferred Huck whole and undigested.



Like any cat, he could be a bit … destructive at times. He was a fierce and mighty hunter, and once in a while we’d find all the books on the bottom shelf of a bookshelf pulled off onto the floor. Whenever we saw that, we knew he’d been a-mousin’ and had been trying to get at a mouse that’d taken cover. And when there were no mice, he found other things to hunt. He was particularly interested in Christmas ornaments, so much so that we eventually got him his own set of relatively shatterproof round ball ornaments that we could hang on the lowest levels of the tree for him to bat down and kick around the room.




He vigilantly protected our house from all enemies, foreign and domestic. If he wasn’t in his little bed or chilling on a sofa, we could count on him sitting in a window or hanging out on the credenza in our dining room (which we’ve always called “the cattlements”).






He was a mighty deconstructor of boxes; if we left an Amazon box sitting in the dining room, it was more or less a given that he would chew it to pieces. He was a very friendly cat and always got along with everyone, saving only those first few weeks we had him when he was still a bit rambunctious. When we walked into a room he was in, he’d give us a look that we interpreted as “‘Sup?”



Huck was kind of my cat; Carole preferred our two girlcats, Thursday and Starlight, and considered Huck a big ol’ friendly lummox of a cat that properly belonged with me. Carole had had many tabbies when she was a kid; tabbies were nothing special to her. But I’d never had a tabby boy before, not counting poor Freddy who was with us for such a short time, and so I found him charmingly companionable.



We had a lot of pet names for Huck. He rarely got called “Huckleberry”, but once in a while we’d call him “Huckleberry Sassafrass Q. Puddytat Furr”. He picked up the nickname “Droolbarge” during the first year or so we had him when he was so fond of drooling on our heads. But the one that I probably used the most was “Rupert”, as in “My assistant, Rupert”. No idea where I got that from, but Huck didn’t seem to mind. So long as he had his little bed to sleep in, three squares a day, and warm places to lie around philosophizing in, we could call him whatever we wanted.


He would always greet us in the basement when we came home, sitting on our basement stairs as we came in from the garage, like a little welcoming committee. If I got up in the middle of the night, he’d often come strolling out to say “Heya” and to see if might be persuaded to toss some cat treats his way. He was a loyal, faithful, friendly cat.


Unfortunately…


A few days after Christmas Carole noticed that Huck’s abdomen was swollen, like he was retaining a lot of fluid or had … well, something. We’d noticed that he was eating less, but he was an older cat, at least 13 and probably closer to 14, and we know that appetite drops off with age in many cases. But the swollen tum was a concern. We took him in to the vet and the vet’s reaction immediately told us we had a problem. Our local vet recommended ultrasound, so that necessitated a trip to one of our two local vet hospitals, and that’s where the really bad news came down. Huck had a tumor on his spleen that was already fairly far along, and probably more tumors on the lining of his abdomen, and was retaining a ton of fluid. I had the odds presented to me in a kindly, but very matter of fact fashion. We could prolong his life through heroic measures but probably just make him suffer, or we could try to make his last days comfortable and show him all the love we could.


Carole took Huck in to have the excess fluid drained one day last week. Huck perked up a bit and showed a bit more appetite, but still clearly felt very bad. I know very little of cat physiology and tumor growth, but he’d gone from acting more or less as he always had to looking very peaky and sick and afraid in a pretty short amount of time. The fluid draining only seemed to help for a day or so and then he was back hiding in closets and showing the characteristic behaviors of a cat who would like to be allowed to go off somewhere and die with dignity, as Carole put it. She had him drained again last Friday before I came home from an out of town trip so I could see him somewhat lively one last time, but I think by that point it was already too late. He looked absolutely miserable.



And that’s why we lost him last Saturday. We took him in to the local vet and Carole stayed with him while the vets did what they had to do. I was so sad that I stayed sitting in the waiting room. I knew that if I’d gone in I’d have just bawled. I felt bad about not going in, but I knew I’d feel even worse if I did go in — the memory of watching his eyes close for the last time would have haunted my dreams. We’ve lost Thursday and Starlight in a similar fashion, euthanization after realizing there was no hope of recovery from a wasting illness, and so I know perfectly well what it’s like to see a cat go to sleep for the last time. Huck was different, though — as I said, Carole always said he was my cat, just as Starlight was hers. I really wasn’t able to grasp that I’d never again come home from an out of town trip at 1 am and find him sitting on the stairs as I came in, that I’d never again have him come climb on top of me as I lay in bed reading. That I’d never again see his elevator butt. Or scritch his head. Staying in the waiting room was about all I was up for, and I was barely keeping it together even so.



We haven’t buried Huck yet. The ground in Vermont is thoroughly frozen and it’d be impossible to dig a grave. But his body is stored in a freezer at the vet, and come spring we’ll say our proper goodbyes to him. We’ll bury him with everything he’ll need in the afterlife, as befits a proper cat funeral — his food bowl, and of course, his little bed.


I’m going to miss that tabby boy.




Sepia

A Perfect Moment

 


Once in a while, when you’re not looking, life up and hands you an absolutely perfect moment. It may be brief. It may not be obvious to others. It may defy explanation altogether. But when one happens, you take down every detail, note every facet, and treasure it forever.



For me, one such perfect moment happened during the summer of 2000 when Carole was working as box office manager for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. In other words, she sold tickets to people who stopped by the office, mailed tickets out to subscribers, and manned a mobile ticket sales table when the VSO went on the road to play concerts around Vermont. The VSO annually holds outdoor concerts for the Fourth of July in places like Rutland and Manchester and Shelburne and Quechee. I went along to most of the concerts to keep Carole company and to serve as all-purpose gopher, roadie, and coordinator of volunteers.


One concert took place at Hildene, the home of Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert, just outside Manchester in southern Vermont. It was a hot sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, just perfect for an outdoor concert with fireworks and the 1812 overture (which together, could reliably be counted on to set off half of the car alarms in the parking lot). The big outdoor tent was set up at one end of a field and Carole’s table was at the opposite end of the field, near where everyone was supposed to park. We had quite a few volunteers show up to help hand out programs, direct people to parking, handle will-call ticket pickup, and so on.


Unfortunately, the rest of the VSO staff mostly hung out over at the tent and stage prior to the concert and paid our part of the operation no attention whatsoever… so this meant that no one brought us any water. We all got fairly punchy standing around, thirsty, in the sun, smiling politely at the concertgoers walking in with their bottles of wine and their coolers full of picnic food and drink.





Finally, at one point, some of the other staff did wander over. There was a little knot of ’em: the development director, the assistant development director, the publicity and advertising director, the overall office manager, and Carole. Lurking a few feet away was yours truly, quietly eavesdropping but not overtly paying attention.


And that’s when it happened. They were discussing logistics and what still needed to be done before the concert started, and one of them — I think it was Mary, the development director, started to say “We need more… we need more…” and then couldn’t think of the word she wanted.


I happily filled the gap in for her, although probably not with the actual word she’d been groping for:


“Leeches”.


I said it in this polite, quiet, helpful, friendly way that left no doubt whatsoever as to what I’d said, only for their brains to absolutely suffer a system crash trying to make what I’d said make sense. It was absolutely perfect: everyone in that little circle of people had the most “what the ___” looks on their faces. Total, absolute, pole-axed confusion.


Everyone, that is, except Carole, who of course was used to me saying strange random gibberish at the oddest of times, and who was kind of peeved at the rest of the staff over having been ignored and not having gotten supplied with water and all that — she was trying hard not to wet her pants laughing.


As for me, I was also trying hard to avoid laughing — it was important for the overall effect to work to look absolutely composed and calm, as though I expected my comment to make sense in context. But in my head, I was going “Where the hell did that come from?” Sometimes I even surprise myself.


Neither of us had ever seen a group of people all suffer simultaneous blue screens. It was just an absolutely marvelous moment. If I could’ve, I’d have taken a picture right then and I’d hang it on my wall and look at it on cold winter nights.


 




Sepia

Wish Lists


I’ve got an Amazon.com wish list. Woo-hoo!


Okay, so what? So do a lot of people. It’d probably be easier to list the people who don’t. I’ve got a friend who has a pet bunny and the bunny has a wish list. You wander around the net, reading stuff on blogs and forums, and it’s more or less inevitable that at some point you’ll come across some stranger’s wish list, posted on the off chance that a random reader might be so taken by the author’s analysis of Freud’s seduction theory as to want to drop $25 and send the author a pair of Hello Kitty snow socks. Some people want a lot of Harley-Davidson miscellany. Some people want semi-precious rocks. You name it, someone’s probably hopefully added it to their wish list in hopes some stranger might one day have a momentary lapse of reason. (Okay, I can’t recall seeing anyone posting their wish list for Leather Masters, but that’s probably because I don’t tend to hang out in those communities.)


If you were bored enough to look at my wish list, you’ll notice my tastes and wishes are a little more pedestrian — mostly I use it to keep track of books I’d like to buy and read but haven’t because I, er, already have a library cart full of impulse purchase books and don’t want to have to buy another right away. But I also keep a few stupid-ass items on my list just to confuse someone who might wind up there, maybe some randomly-paired Secret Santa partner who winds up trying to buy me something despite having absolutely no idea who I am.


Case in point:






Well, Carole usually has no idea whatsoever what to get me for birthdays and Christmas and most years just gives me a card and shaves my back and calls us even, but this year she decided to put in a little effort. And promptly wound up on my Amazon wish list, which I hadn’t really expected anyone to actually use — as I said, it’s mostly books I want to remember to think about buying one day, and strange crap put there to confuse strangers.


Punchline:



Thanks, honey!


And, oh — I almost forgot…



Thank you, my 2017 Secret Santa!




Sepia

Wish Lists

I’ve got an Amazon.com wish list. Woo-hoo!


So do a lot of people. I’ve clicked on author profiles on various forums and websites and found links to one form of wish list or another, posted on the off chance that some random reader might be so taken by the author’s analysis of Freud’s seduction theory as to want to drop $25 and send the author a pair of Hello Kitty snow socks. Some people want a lot of Harley-Davidson miscellany. Some people want semi-precious rocks. You name it, someone’s probably hopefully added it to their wish list in hopes some stranger might one day have a momentary lapse of reason. (Okay, I can’t recall seeing anyone posting their wish list for Leather Masters, but that’s probably because I don’t tend to hang out in those communities.)


If you were bored enough to look at my wish list, you’ll notice my tastes and wishes are a little more boring — mostly I use it to keep track of books I’d like to buy and read but haven’t because I, er, already have a library cart full of impulse purchase books and don’t want to have to buy another right away. But I also keep a few stupid-ass items on my list just to confuse someone who might wind up there, maybe some randomly-paired Secret Santa partner who winds up trying to buy me something despite having absolutely no idea who I am.


Case in point:






Well, Carole usually has no idea whatsoever to get me for birthdays and Christmas and most years just gives me a card and shaves my back and calls us even, but this year she decided to put in a little effort. And promptly wound up on my Amazon wish list, which I hadn’t actually expected anyone to actually really use — as I said, it’s mostly books I want to remember to think about buying one day, and strange crap put there to confuse strangers.


Punchline:



Thanks, honey!


Oh — I almost forgot.


Secret Santa 2017: THANKS!





Sepia

College Football


I’m a graduate of the University of Georgia (class of ’88) and of Virginia Tech (master’s, ’90). In other words, I matriculated at two of the biggest “football factory” universities in the USA. They’re fine institutions in their own right, but when you mention either to the average American, the first thought that comes to mind isn’t “excellent engineering programs” or “cutting edge bioscience research”. It’s “football”.


I’m not immune to the all-pervasive influence of the gridiron. One of the main reasons I attended UGA despite growing up in Blacksburg, Virginia (home of Virginia Tech) was to attend a university with a lot of school spirit, and Georgia had that and then some after being named the college football national champions in 1980 and playing for the championship the next two years. People cared about attending UGA. A visit to the Georgia campus in the spring of 1984 showed that plainly: everywhere I looked, people had on Georgia spirit wear.


Back in Blacksburg, which hadn’t yet started its climb into the national football spotlight, people basically didn’t seem to care at all. It was just a place; you went there, you got your degree, you left. A lot of that had to do with the Hokies’ sports programs — never played for a championship in anything, never set the world on fire, never had people talking about ’em at the water cooler on Monday morning.


Academically, does it make sense to evaluate a university on this basis? Obviously not. But then again, when I was 17 and applying to college, I didn’t give a damn about academics. I’d been a loser my whole life and wanted to go off somewhere where I could start over, have a lot of opportunities, enjoy being there. Academics was pretty far down my list of criteria. (The phrase “Brilliant, but lazy” could have been invented to describe me.)


All across the USA, sports seem to make a huge impact on perception of institutional worth. You win your conference, you win a big bowl, you make the basketball Final Four, etcetera, etcetera — alumni open their checkbooks. Anyone who’s ever followed college sports knows this.


Sad, really.



My raising this point probably all comes as pretty out of the blue, given that Georgia is going to be playing for the football national championship on Monday night against Alabama, their first shot at the national championship since I packed my bags and headed off to Athens in the first place. I know what you’re saying: “now he speaks up?”


I’m full of contradictions. I’m still a big Georgia and Virginia Tech fan, but on the other hand, I can’t help wishing football and sports in general played a lot less of a role in our society, and certainly in higher education.


Football runs academics. Universities are more like sports programs with classrooms attached. The NCAA Power 5 conferences behave as a law unto themselves, doing whatever they want and to hell with right and wrong. They refuse to let the NCAA actually run the football playoffs as they do in every other college sport — football money is too important and those NCAA bureaucrats would just screw things up! They lock the “Group of 5” teams into second-class status, even if, like UCF did this year, they go undefeated and beat the best the Power 5 conferences have to offer (Auburn, which beat both UGA and Alabama). It’s all about money, who has it, and who wants to keep it. Sports = money, and money = sports. In 39 states, the highest paid public employee is a college football coach.



People care more about whether “their” team is going to “win big next year” than whether they can pay their own bills, the quality of their kids’ schools, the environment, you name it. Here in Vermont, we’ve got a group of what I frankly consider idiots who are still fighting the South Burlington school board’s decision to change the high school sports’ teams mascot from “Rebels” to “Wolves”.


I mean, really? That’s what you consider a huge priority? I want to go shake these people and say “Are you so entrenched in the past, so rooted in your glory days from high school, that you can’t imagine the high school’s freakin’ MASCOT changing without grabbing a pitchfork and lighting a torch and heading down to the school board meeting with the rest of the angry mob?”


Don’t even get me started on those psychos in Pennsylvania who are still obsessed with proving Saint Joe Paterno was blameless and innocent in the Sandusky child molestation crimes.


There are high schools in Texas who’ve eliminated their foreign language programs at the same time they’ve paid for multi-million dollar football stadiums.


Priorities, people?


And yet, I’m a pot calling the kettle black. If you ever stop by my house, check out my closet. I’ve lost count of how many Virginia Tech and Georgia and Atlanta Braves and Durham Bulls and Vermont Lake Monsters caps and shirts and hoodies I own. I love sports, I love having something and somebody to root for, even if in the end I’m just using an imagined membership and affiliation to make up for how empty my own life is.


I love football. But if I could, I’d eliminate it tomorrow. And I’d probably accomplish nothing, because some other sport would just come along and replace it and continue to keep us from paying attention to society’s real problems.


 

Sepia

Will Trade Cat Hair for Quora Upvotes


I’ve had a cold for the last few days. It’s been annoying but manageable. Last night and today, a bad cough set in and I’m feeling a lot more puny than I otherwise had been. Carole had the same cold, but hers seems to be much better, which is good, since she had to start back to work today and I don’t really have to be anywhere work-related until next Monday.


When I feel sick and punchy, but can’t sleep any more because I’ve more or less slept myself out, I start posting idiotic answers to questions on Quora, the crowd-sourced advice site. I tend to focus on questions that haven’t gotten any answers so far, and as a consequence, my responses don’t attract a lot of attention either. And if you’ve ever been on Quora, you know that the big thing is getting “upvotes” for your answers. So here I am, feeling sick and irritable, posting inane gibberish, and then going “UPVOTE ME ALREADY I NEED VALIDATION”.


 Sigh.


Back in the day when you were home sick from work you could just sit down in front of the television and watch morning game shows and then afternoon soap operas, but today we have more … refined ways to make time pass.


And for whatever reason, good or ill, in my case, that means “babbling pointlessly”. (And bringing in references to Cheez Whiz whether it’s relevant to the question at hand or not.)



Oh, if you actually wanted to see my blathering, click here.

Sepia

Happy New Year 2018


Carole and I aren’t doing a damned thing this New Year’s, and it’s not because we lack options. It’s colder than hell outside (like, -10) and we both have colds. I know standing for hours in Times Square wishing desperately for a port-o-john is the more glamorous alternative, but no, we’re just going to stay home and take it easy.


I hope those of you who imbibe tonight remember designated drivers, Lyft, cabs, and if all else fails, try and find someplace to pass out where you won’t freeze to death.


Happy New Year, everyone!

Sepia

My Heritage


The following gibberish was inspired by an IFLScience! article about white supremacists sending their DNA off to be evaluated and finding out, to their horror, that they’re not as lily-white at a genetic level as they thought.


Carole bought us MyHeritage genetic origin testing kits for Christmas. I had never bothered to do so myself since we don’t have children and aren’t going to have children and consequently there’s really no one to pass the results down to. That said, I’ll be interested to see what the results come back with. (And in any event, I can share my data with my sister, who does have kids.)


Now, here’re my reasons for sharing my thoughts on this issue:


I have pretty much 100% White Southern Redneck ancestry — Dad’s people go back to the mid-1700s in the area just north of Charlotte, NC, and Mom’s family have been in the central Florida area for a pretty long time as well. This probably means that I have a lot of Scotch-Irish genes and so forth, as well as some German/Swiss genes since that’s where my name original derives from (one Heinrich Furrer came over in 1742), but…


I also have a rare blood trait called thalassemia minor — I have tiny little red blood cells (microcytes) and only 75% of the amount of hemoglobin that you probably do. I’m always anemic as a result and so I can’t give blood under the current Red Cross rules. This trait is predominantly found in people who live in hot, swampy, mosquito-laden parts of the world, like the Mediterranean basin. It’s so common in Cyprus (1 in 6 Cypriots are carriers of the gene) that screening is mandatory to avoid having kids born with the much more serious thalassemia major, which would happen if both parents had the minor trait.


So, long story short, I just about certainly have some ancestry in the Mediterranean basin or in Africa — my particular strain of thalassemia is common there. I might be part black! Or Arab. My father at one point had a theory that we might be part Melungeon, which would certainly be interesting if you like obscure genetic subdivisions. I screwed around on Ancestry.com a couple of years ago but didn’t go back past the 1850s except in the main Heinrich Furrer line, which sure enough came from the area around Zurich, Switzerland as we’d always thought.


Long story short: I’m certainly not as Pure Strain Northwest European White as one might have initially concluded, if one looked only at where my last several generations of ancestors came from.


And …?


And this bothers me not at all.


You go far enough back, we’re all descended from African rift valley homo habilus.


Sepia

News

I’m an expert!


From time to time I see a reporter from some newspaper or other news source asking around on Twitter for people who wouldn’t mind sharing their opinions about this or that or the other. Being the complete attention whore that I am (when I’m not experiencing fits of self-loathing over my attention-seeking behavior), I’m not above raising my hand and going “me me me”.


This week an AP reporter asked for thoughts from Uber riders and drivers over the latest Uber scandal and, having the day mostly off with not much to do, I promptly volunteered to talk. I talked via phone to the reporter and said that I was tired of dealing with a firm with such a toxic culture and way of doing business and was happy that Lyft had come to Vermont. The official AP edition of the article is here, or if that link stops working at some point, you can look here.


I seem to have also given an interview to a Wall Street Journal reporter about our Tesla Powerwall home battery back in May and forgotten to share it. You can read that one here.


Privately, I’m amused by the endless appetite for comments from men-on-the-street and “experts” by news websites, blogs, podcasts, and, of course, Fox News. (Fox will put any relatively normal looking white male over the age of 40 who calls himself an expert on the air without doing much of anything to vet them.) If I wanted to get a lot of attention, I imagine it wouldn’t really be too hard.