The Clark Report: The Church Mouse

CRRRUNCH. Crunch.

The saying "quiet as a church mouse" must refer to a living church mouse, because a church mouse being consumed as a snack is quite loud.

Yes, I am speaking from experience. No, don't worry. I didn't eat it, Clark did. And the mouse wasn't alive at the time. Clark had killed him, swiftly.

We were out for our weekly outing. I saw Clark chasing something as I sat in the churchyard chatting with cousin half a world away. Usually he doesn't catch anything. "Oh, he's hunting, but – he — he may have actually caught something," I said to my cousin, casually at first, then with rising concern as I bent down to see him under the church yard bench, and something clearly in his mouth. "Oh no – I think he has a mouse!" She let me go to deal with it… but by the time I hung up the phone and got down on my hands and knees, he'd dropped the mouse, and the mouse was clearly deceased.

I reached under the bench to try to get him away from the mouse, and he growled softly. He gets very irritated when I take his mice away from him, which I've done about a half dozen times. This time, since the mouse was clearly a goner, I thought, "Oh I'll let him toss it around for a minute, since I can't get it from him now – he'll get tired of it in a bit and I'll grab and discard it."

He must have read my mind. He looked right at me, picked the mouse up by the tail, and began to suck it into his mouth – tail gone then body gone then feet sucked in — it all happened so quickly! As the mouse disappeared into his furry mouth, there was a surprising CRUNCH of the little mouse bones in just a few quick mastications, and it was over. The mouse was gone.

I was in shock.

Clark wandered off, clearly satisfied with his snack. Somehow I managed to get up off the concrete. Behind me, on the other side of the garden in he church, there was a mass in progress. Quietly, I called back my cousin, who undoubtedly wasn't expecting this return call about my "Circle of LIfe" moment.. She helped calm me down with the story of a spider and a bee, which had a similar sad but predictable ending.

I let her go, and next call was to the vet – as there are rat poison stations in this garden, and I was concerned the mouse might be poisoned or diseased.

The after hours vet answered the phone, and though he seemed surprised by the call, said Clark would have to eat about 100 poisoned mice to get sick from it, and there was little to worry about in immediate moment, and no, it is not an emergency, although he might "vomit a bit" and feel ill, he reassured me, "Cats do eat mice all the time, and while we don't recommend it as a diet, just keep an eye on him and bring him in if he shows any symptoms."

So, OK. I started to calm down – then looked around – and Clark was gone! I started searching through all the hedges and bushes – no sign of him. I started to panic – then heard the neighboring crows screaming. They had raised a ruckus earlier in the spring, during nesting season, and Clark hadn't been able to visit the churchyard at all for months. Now, they had spotted him and were giving him the what for. I guess this is what a murder of crows sounds like….

I followed the sound out the gate, and found him in the small back garden by the parking lot, looking for another snack. I scooped him up – no admonishments, just took the furry hunter home.

So, now I have a killer in the house. And for the moment, he is as quiet as….

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Mother’s Day

Sunday May 14, 2017
Mother’s Day

The second mother’s day without your mother, etiquette says you’re supposed to keep it to yourself. I was reminded yesterday that I was lucky to have my mother still alive for my 50th year. That’s true. But somehow, you know. It’s a wee bit hard to feel grateful for something you no longer have and which you miss quite a lot….

I’m typing and can’t avoid the fact that my hands look old. A series of tiny little cuts had been opening overnight on my hands and lower arms. After a series of visits to doctor and dermatologists over the last year, and the cat having been blamed by several (he isn’t the culprit), one dermatologist – who is probably 20 years younger than I – basically told me that my skin is pre-pre-cancerous – she said it’s like a field of sun damaged cells – and that sometimes it will spontaneously crack open. Wait – I’m leaking through my own skin? and it’s because of sun damage?. I avoided the sun my whole life, except for a couple of summers when I was 13 – 14, trying to get a tan and realizing after laying out for weeks, that it would never happen. Sun damage after decades of avoiding the sun.That’s like hearing you have second hand smoke damage when you never smoked and didn’t even live with a smoker except for that one year in college…

Also on this Mother’s day, I am sure I am developing quite the cataract. Something anyway making it a pain to see. I suppose I could wear my glasses when I type – but … I have allergies which bother one eye, so wearing contacts doesn’t work when it acts up, and my computer glasses are in the trunk.

I’m sitting here writing in a car, looking over grassy field, trees, bay, and the sounds of traffic like a constant ocean wave. All day long I drove around aimlessly with the cat in his case next to me, stopping several places where he could wander around, sit in the sun, smell and taste the grass. Now he’s napping in his soft carrier on the seat next to me. I had to force myself to get the laptop out and just write something down.

It’s been years since I really wrote anything other than a Facebook post. I had been writing daily, having gotten in the habit of doing “morning pages” (from Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way.”) But after the assault, I couldn’t face my own thoughts, because those thoughts were almost all jumbled trauma flashbacks and there was no way to sit with them long enough to string sentences together. It was the beginning of a series of major losses, not the least of which was the loss of perspective.

Being submerged under a sea of intrusive thoughts and images for years, one loses buoyancy… and then one day out of nowhere you exhale and go shooting up to the surface, and find all the lifeboats left long ago.

So you dive back under, closer to the glittering interface of sea and sky, but looking up from below… Now the thoughts that glide around me are mostly of my mother. Her face, her voice, the way she could still thread a needle when she needed to despite terribly arthritic hands. She was determined and stoic, although she wouldn’t turn down a sympathetic comment, she didn’t seek them out. Somewhere in her center she was pure steel, or maybe diamond – the pressures of life had made her inwardly strong, even as her body began to give way when she was in her 40s…

I have vague memories of her having some mysterious illness, and a woman who came in to watch us from time to time, cautioning us to be quiet so she could rest…. I believe it was a long time before they figured out she had a thyroid disorder. Back in the late 60s/early 70s, when I was a tot, thyroid disorders were difficult to diagnose…. It wasn’t much later before she complained of arthritis. I remember one night, she’d been shopping, somewhere, and had trudged back in zero degree weather from the bus stop some blocks away. She’d gotten mild frostbite on her knees, which gave them a sort of whitish crusty complexion.

She did all this trudging and hauling for us, in the years when she didn’t have a driver’s license. She’d let hers lapse when she was living in NYC as a young woman, after having been in some kind of accident which put her off driving. So when she decided she really needed to drive again, she had a house full of children. I remember the driving school car would come to the house to pick her up, and we’d all tease her. But she did it anyway, got her license, so that she could drive to the store, do errands, and — for one special summer, she got us into a country club. The one we could afford, and fit into, was over the river. I forget the name of it, since we only went that one summer. But she wanted us to have that experience, once, while growing up. A club with a pool open every day, a snack bar, tennis courts, a gym (untouched by us) and a sauna, which we all enjoyed.

And most days that summer, she’d load us into the car, with towels and tennis racquets and a cooler filled with sandwiches and snacks and off we’d go in the red Volkswagen square back that had belonged to her father, and we’d go to the Woodlawn club (I think). I remember she was convinced I was anorexic because I was concerned about my tummy (even as a skinny young girl, I never was slim-waisted) and wanted a more hourglass shape, so I eschewed salty snacks. I remember her in her bathing suit with a long sleeve shirt over it, tied at the waist, and an old tennis visor, holding down our little area on the grass above the pool.

On weekends, my Dad would sometimes come with us, a vision in bad late 1970s Dad-wear: an orange plaid fishing type hat, blue-ish striped office-type short sleeve shirt, red and black swim trunks, an unsightly combination topped off by blacks socks and his black office shoes (it was years before he spent the money on getting himself some sneakers, and that only because of late onset diabetes). The black shoes and socks were high contrast against his super ultra white legs, that only saw the sun 6 days a year; his legs only avoided blinding passers-by because of the thick black hair peppering the white limbs.   It was not a good look, more suited to the public beach at Lake George than a slightly upper crust country club, and he truly stuck out like a sore thumb. I often wonder if she tried to outfit him in something more suitable, or just had given up on that by then.

… to be continued….

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Clark’s Cat Chat

Reader Katy B writes in:

How do you keep your sleek appearance?
Do you miss not having the urge to go catting around with other female cats?
What is <your person>‘s best, and worst, traits?

Dear Katy,

I’ve been napping and contemplating your questions deeply.
Fur-stly, thank you for your compliment on my appearance!  While I certainly take care of my grooming regularly, I’m not a compulsive bather.  My fur is shiny due to my human giving me plenty of petting – the oils from her skin help keep my my fur shiny.  She also brushes me regularly – I insist on that.
Second item – that is a rather sensitive question.  We boy cats don’t like to discuss our missing, er,  fur balls, not to put to fine a point on it.  That said, I prefer the company of humans.  Other cats, while of course superior creatures to humans, are very hard to control and I don’t like fisticuffs – although I’ll take on any dog that dares come to close, I’d rather not get into a cat fight.
As to my purrson – She is a very attentive and caring human and caters to my needs as best she can.  Unfortunately, she likes to sleep through the best part of the night – between 2-5 am.  I’m doing my best to break her of that habit, and it seems to be working — for the last 2 weeks, I’ve had her up between 3-4 in the morning for food, treats, and walking the halls.  Hoping to get her fully night-trained soon.
Thanks for your very insightful questions!
LOVE,
CLARK
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Blogs, getcher blogs here

Typical San Francisco day, sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe on the cable car line, with an acquaintance from Los Angeles. We’re shooting the shit about life in San Francisco, the first dot com boom, whether life is “tactile” anymore, why the SF Ballet resembles a fortress (I posit that it is to protect a dying art form from the vagaries of tech bus riders), whether anyone under 30 knows they are supposed to surrender seats on busses for the elderly – without being asked.

At one point, he asks if I have a blog.

Not really, no.

“You should. You seem like a person who should have a blog.”

He’s a writer, so I guess he should know…

So. Does this count?

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Smartphone Blues

Ok, I am going to admit to a very technology-uncool item – I don’t have a smart phone. I still have the old circa 2009 low-tech Tracfone that my Dad gave me, before he died. I’ve held onto it out of sentiment, but I think it’s time to let it go.

Dad at Jacks

That phone had been his lifeline for his many hospitalizations in that previous year or so. Getting a phone line in the hospital was an extra expense and a hassle – and sometimes they didn’t work.  At one of the rehab-nursing care facilities there was only one portable phone shared among all patients on the entire wing – that was never going to work, as he loved to be in touch with friends and family by phone.

So my brother bought him the Tracphone and got it set up for him.  Once when I couldn’t reach him on his new phone, and called the nurses station, they brought the portable — and he was despondent.

“I fell asleep while I was on the phone and the Tracfone phone ran out of minutes, so I’m stuck!!”   I told him it was no problem, I could magically add the minutes for him from across the country, and did so while speaking to him; I heard the little chime in the background as the Tracfone minutes updated, and he was delighted to see it go from 0 minutes to 800 minutes while he watched.

There were so many times I had flown across the country to visit him in the hospital, or the ICU.  Once I took an entire month, got someone to stay with my cats, flew across country to take him to New York City to get a second (and third) opinion about a terminal cancer diagnosis.

The upstate doctors had given him no chance – “You had a good run, Joe” was the statement made by his primary physician during an appointment I’d accompanied him to.  I resolved at that moment to prove that doctor wrong.

We went to NYC, saw oncologists and surgeons at the two major hospitals there.  One surgeon looked at his previous tests, and said they could still do a thoracic surgery – a very invasive procedure with no guarantee of success – if he wanted.

I asked what the odds were – the surgeon gave him a 10% chance. “I’ll TAKE IT!” he exclaimed.  His will to live was strong.

The NYC docs ordered new tests; we went back to NYC a week or two later, and on that visit, the surgeon we met said the new tests showed that the situation seemed to be healing itself, there was no need for surgery, and he no longer thought there was any cancer but that it was some other kind of mass that was being healed/reabsorbed by the body.  We left that appointment and visited the Guggenheim, a building he’d seen being constructed while he lived in NYC, but had never been inside.  That night, we went to Little Italy for dinner.  As we walked back to the car, he needed to stop and take a rest, so he went to sit on a doorstep.  He was a little unsteady and sort of landed a little hard on the step.

A young woman walking past asked him, “Are you OK sir??

He looked up at her, cane in one hand, stair railing in the other.  He let go of the stair railing, raised his hand and with a bright smile and big eyed grin, said in a stage voice, “I’m going to LIVE!”

She walked away confused, but it made me laugh.

He was a guy who had lived through four heart attacks – FOUR heart attacks!  So many people don’t survive the first one, and he’d survived four.  Two open heart surgeries – during one in the early 1990s, he’d technically “died” for about a minute as he went into cardiac arrest on the table – but survived.  Other surgeries over the years, new arteries put into both legs, back surgeries, eye surgeries, and a long list of chronic health issues – but he kept on going.

But there came a time when his near miraculous ability to recover from the brink was no more.  A few months after his fourth heart attack, he was sent back to the hospital, and he wasn’t bouncing back the way he had so many times before.   When he was given a terminal diagnosis and a few months to live, we were told we had 48 hours to move him from the hospital either to a nursing facility,  or that we needed to set up 24 hour nursing at home for the transition period.

He said he wanted to go home.

So, we got him home, after jumping through seemingly endless medical and administrative hoops.

A few months later, I visited again to spend some more time with him now that he was settled at home.   I’d be there with him in the night when he’d wake up confused. He usually recognized me in the afternoons, and the time we had together to talk or interact was usually after lunch, when the pain killers had kicked in but were at a lower dose than the nighttime.

One afternoon, when he was up and talking, he saw me struggle with my cell phone; I’d dropped it and the screen had smashed, and he offered me his Tracphone.  I didn’t want to take it, but he insisted.

“This is the only thing I own now. I want you to have it. It’s the only thing I can give you.”

(pause)

“I won’t need it anymore.”

I’ve been using that phone ever since, for about four years. Part of the face of it fell off and was lost, but it still functions. Has no internet service or other bells/whistles, just a basic phone. No apps. No iTunes. Nothing but cell service. I almost feel like I’m carrying a pager sometimes. I see people trying not to stare at me when I use it in public. Once someone picked it up off a bar and tried to change the TV channels with it.

I’ve resisted getting a smartphone because that would mean retiring this little piece of my Dad, and I think of him most times when I use it. But, I think it is time to upgrade, as it’s nearly impossible to navigate the world without one these days.
I’ll still keep the Tracfone, as a memento… He sure loved to talk on the phone.

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From the “Ask a Stupid Question” Department

A new coffee shop called “Saint Frank” opened up in my neighborhood. I ventured in while waiting for my bus to work.


The coffee bags were insanely expensive. $17.00 for a HALF pound of ground coffee! That’s more than twice what you’d pay for, say, Starbucks brand, and even more than Blue Bottle brand.

As I browsed the brown bagged beans on the wall, the young man behind the counter kindly offered to answer any questions I may have.

“Ok,” I said. “I have a question. Why is your coffee so incredibly expensive?”

He did not blink or flinch at this very direct question – undoubtedly has been trained how to answer.

“Well,” he started, filling up a espresso maker portafilter with ground coffee, “Our coffee is sourced from a variety of growers, and they use the best methods to make the best coffee, which can sometimes take longer and is more costly.”

I interrupted him – “Such as, what kind of methods?”

He seemed momentarily stumped, as he leveled off the coffee grounds in the portafilter with a special leveler. “Well, it depends on the type of coffee. Sometimes it is organic farming. Sometimes it may be a special drying process. It really depends.”

I decided to let this slide. He continued. “So, we feel that those people who are doing the work deserve to be paid fairly for their work.”

I interrupt again. The story may be true, or have a version of the truth in it, but my inner cynic was already waving red flags and she took over the conversation…. “Oh. So – to pay them fairly for the extra work, you mark up the coffee well above any other coffee out there, so that you can retain the same amount of profit as other coffee companies while passing on a little more money to growers whom you’ve asked to do extra work on the product. But you aren’t really sharing the profit, you’re just charging more to the consumer and keeping the same percentage of profit as every other coffee selling company.”

He stared at me. The espresso machine spouted steam.

It wasn’t fair, I suppose, to cast it that way to the guy behind the counter just doing his job. Why shouldn’t they make the same profit as everyone else, and pay farmers a bit more, if there are wealthy San Franciscans willing to pay $17.00 for a half a pound of coffee? And who knows – maybe they really are a kinder, better paying coffee company. But my cynic was not longer interested in hearing any more justifications for the insanely expensive coffee. All she saw through the cynic-filter was a company profiting off those coffee farmers twice – once, to make a profit selling their coffee — and again, to make a BIGGER profit by overpricing the coffee and selling the “we are more fair to the farmers” story to the consumer. Truth or fiction? No way to know in the moment.

I decided to make a quick exit. I smiled and thanked him for the explanation and left.

But, ask a stupid question – get a stupid answer.

Why is your coffee so expensive?”

 “Because we charge more.” 

End of story.

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Heaven, in June, with catnip.

Tonight when I arrived home after a choir rehearsal, with a side trip to see two old friends perform at a local lounge, I was musically saturated.  My little apartment was piping hot, so I opened all the doors and windows, and sat in a little chair just outside my front door, and enjoyed the slightly chilled air in the lobby.

My senior cat came out to join me, and stopped a few feet away to sit in perfect Cat-ness on the cool linoleum floor, her calico patches smooth under the dim full-spectrum 25 watt bulb above her.

To get a little air flow, I’d propped the building door open, so the slight breeze came through the outer iron gate (still locked) and through the second open doorway, and brushed her white whiskers. She stared at nothing for a few minutes, as a cat is wont to do; then took three turns around my ankles and demanded a midnight snack. I was happy to comply. So glad this gorgeous senior Calico Gal is chomping away at meals again.

After dinner, she lounged on her brand new, Double-Wide Trader Joe’s Cat Scratcher, complete with fresh catnip sprinkled in all the cardboard crevices.

Heaven, in June, with catnip.

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