Three days without a poop or a pee in my cat’s litter box. No amount of digging in the eco-friendly “if you were hungry enough you could eat it!” corn-based litter produced a sign that my cat was doing two of the few things that she does on a daily basis. Full disclosure: I have no idea how bodies work. Human, feline, or otherwise. But I have enough experience with going to the bathroom to know that if I didn’t do it for three days, the odds of me dying would be high. And the same stuff comes out of the cat. Therefore, I deduced that the cat is dying.
To silence the part of my brain repeating “the cat is dying,” I did the thing that I do best – 30 seconds of frantic internet research. “Cat+no+poop+pee+3+days” produced thousands of results, all saying the same thing – if your cat isn’t dying, it’s already dead. I tried reasoning with the results. “But I’m looking at my very much alive cat right now, she seems fine.” The word “NO” flashed on the screen, followed by pixelated skulls screaming the words “CAT KILLER.”
It was time to gently break the news to my wife. Maybe I could start referring to the cat in the past tense, reflecting on the good times before her excretory system shut down. No. Too confusing. The charade falls apart when the cat is rubbing on my leg as I tearfully recount the time we had a cat that was alive. Instead, I used my best “this is an extremely casual conversation” voice. It’s the voice I use to hide the fact that my brain is broken by even the slightest change in routine. The voice that I run through a calming translator, that turns frantic sentence fragments into complete thoughts, punctuated with very cool chuckles and the sense that, look, I could totally handle this situation on my own, but I just wanted to have a quick chat sesh with you first and I’m not overthinking this. I’m NOT OVERTHINKING THIS.
“OK, first of all you need to calm down,” was my wife’s response. Clearly my calming translator was malfunctioning. “She’s probably just going somewhere else in the house.” This notion seemed ridiculous to me, as her top-of-the-line litter box was the winner of the 2009 International Contemporary Furniture Fair design award, and I was promised “an unparalleled experience” not just for my cat, but for me as well. A litter box so well-designed that a video of Jony Ive comparing the feeling you get when you scoop a clump of pee out of the box to a religious experience would not seem out of place.
We checked under the beds. We checked the closets. Basement corners. Nothing. Then I remembered the weird crawlspace underneath the basement stairs, where we store house crap that we have no memory of inheriting (two folding chairs) and broken electronics (two dustbusters and a stereo receiver). I turned on my phone’s flash and shone it into the dark corners of the crawlspace and saw what could only be described as the gates of hell. Three days of cat waste in awful piles. Rivers of urine staining the concrete floor, obscured only by the shadows of hot pipes overhead. These were the missing scenes from Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” video that they could only show at 2 in the morning.
Cleaning the crawlspace involved crawling on my hands and knees, scrubbing the concrete floor with heavy duty pet urine cleaner, waiting five to ten minutes for the chemicals to do their thing, then wiping up the runoff with a thousand paper towels, all while bashing my head against the previously mentioned hot pipes. We moved her litter box into the crawlspace, since she was making it obvious that this was where she would like to go the bathroom please, but she still wouldn’t use it. This continued for a week, and after the third day my brain started to produce a chemical that made me think I was smelling cat piss twenty four hours a day. This was Christmas day. I kept this fun development from my wife until I brewed a pot of the fancy coffee she bought for me, and had myself a merry nervous breakdown when it tasted like the floor of the cat’s crawlspace toilet.
“Don’t you like it?” she asked. I held up one finger, which is the international sign for “Give me a minute while I google ‘coffee+urine+taste+?’ and get real sad about the ways in which my brain doesn’t work in stressful situations.” Because, you see, I never assume that things will be ok again. There’s a straight line running through my mind labeled “everything is fine,” then the cat goes to the bathroom on the floor, the line skyrockets, and then nothing is fine. I obsess and obsess then obsess over the fact that I’m obsessing but I can’t let anyone know that I’m obsessing over something so small so I bottle it up and then obsess some more until, ultimately, coffee tastes like cat piss.
In the end, all the cat wanted was less bougie litter and a litter box that would disgust Jony Ive with its pedestrian gray plainness. Perhaps it was a sign from God, punishing us for our pretensions. Instead of receiving a savior for Christmas, we received a half-feral eight pound furball, hell-bent on the destruction of our crawlspace through urine and feces-based protest. But, her new setup seemed to be working. I gave the floor one last chemical scrub and we packed every large bin in the house into the offending area, leaving just enough room for the litterbox. Since that now meant we couldn’t reach it without climbing into the crawlspace (which would send me spiralling back into my self-created prison of self doubt and “fuck”-laced tirades), we bought a long extendable claw arm to grab the box for daily scooping. Also, since her bathroom is completely devoid of light, we bought a battery powered lantern, which creates unholy shadows as the mechanical claw disappears into the void of the crawlspace. This setup turns litter box maintenance into a bizarre game of chance, where every prize is sandy cat waste. And while I’m grateful, the real prize is the bandaid on my broken brain, placed like a badge of honor after successfully winning a battle of wills against a feline basement ISIS.
An open letter to the pre-teen who rolled his eyes at me while waiting in line at Starbucks 7 months ago.
For the purposes of this open letter I’m going to assume your name is Jackson. What the hell was that about, Jackson? It was a Sunday morning in the type of town that has two farmers markets. There’s the good one where it’s implied that you’ll bring your own eco friendly tote, and the crap one where they just throw your shit produce in a white plastic bag emblazoned with the words THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU in bold red lettering. Equidistant between the two is a Starbucks, and that morning it was packed. The line was long, and I moved up a bit so that you and your mom could get out of the heat and inside the crisp yet also stale Starbucks-smelling Starbucks. That’s when we first met, Jackson. You looked me up and down, rolled your eyes, then took your place in line behind me.
It wasn’t the type of eye roll that you save for a long line, like an airport security checkpoint or bumper-to-bumper traffic. You’re 10 years old, advanced concepts like airport security and traffic mean nothing to you. No, you weren’t rolling your eyes at the line, you were rolling them at me and I’m trying to figure out what I did to deserve it.
Did you think I was clinging to my youth too much by wearing a fun, retro Star Wars t-shirt? It’s not a new Star Wars t-shirt, Jackson. I didn’t find it in a pile of pop culture crap at Target. It’s not covered in laser beams or exploding ships or aliens holding space rifles. It’s just a plain gray t-shirt with the words “STAR WARS” written in that classic yellow font that we all know and love. People my age see it and their eyes light up with recognition. They do not roll.
The line trudged onward. Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” was playing over the speakers. Admittedly a heavy choice for a Sunday morning coffee run, but maybe it spoke to you. Was I the something in your way? Do you even know what that song’s about? It’s about doing drugs under a bridge, Jackson. It’s from a time when the notion of doing drugs under a bridge was so romanticized that there was not one but TWO very popular songs about the subject. Oh how we all wanted to laze around with poor posture under those bridges, eating fish with Kurt Cobain and eating whatever Anthony Kiedis was cooking up. Probably maize. But not you Jackson. If you were there your eyes would be rolling so hard that you’d get vertigo and nearly stumble into a trash fire.
Was my lingering duck scent off-putting? I spilled a large amount of wet cat food all over myself a few hours before our encounter. Is it because my face isn’t symmetrical? Is it because I’ve convinced myself that the rest of my body also isn’t symmetrical so I overcompensate by putting more weight on my left foot to balance everything out? There are two large moles on my head that were once covered by my hairline, but as it recedes they’re becoming more and more pronounced. Sometimes I think people stare at them because they’re almost too symmetrical. Like two perfect stars forming the constellation “Orion’s 5 Inch Ruler.” That’s probably what it was. My symmetrical constellation moles offended you. I’m not going to lie, I’ve thought about getting them removed, but that’s not something a dermatologist can do, right? That’s like plastic surgery territory. And am I ready to become the type of person that gets elective plastic surgery? Would you roll your eyes at my scar tissue, Jackson? Or the flesh from my back that was harvested and injected into my mole holes? I think you would. I think I would too.
The New Yorker published an article about the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami that’s going to destroy most of the Pacific Northwest sometime in the near future. Quoting from the article, “FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.” The tsunami’s height “will vary from twenty feet to more than a hundred feet. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking the land. Once it reaches the shore it will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.”
Those were just a few excerpts that my wife read to me as I was quietly drifting to sleep the other night. “You have to read this article, but for now, let me select a few of the most horrifying scenarios and get those firmly planted in your brain. Sweet dreams, love you!” It’s all terrifying stuff. The main takeaway is that once you know the thing’s about to hit it’s already too late. Their advice was basically just run. Run where? I don’t know, somewhere that’s not the Pacific Northwest. Maybe it’s all a cunning plan to sell more Fit Bits and Couch to 5K apps… in fact, yes, let’s assume this is all a cunning plan to sell more Fit Bits and Couch to 5K apps and go over some survival techniques that FEMA doesn’t want you to know about.
#1 OK But Seriously, You Should Actually Just Run. And I’m not talking, oh shit McDonald’s is about to stop serving breakfast, let me trot to the front of the line and prepare to do battle with a pimply-faced clock-watching teenager. No, you need to RUN, like a Kenyan Sonic the Hedgehog being chased by a 100 foot water wall of death. FEMA advises against grabbing anything important from your house before you start your run, including photo albums, pets, that mug you really like, children, Wrestlemania tapes, spouses, old issues of Nintendo Power… NONE OF IT. Leave it all behind, but…
#2 If You Happen to Have a Gun, Now Would Be a Good Time to Maybe Grab it Just in Case. I’m not saying the economy in the post apocalyptic Pacific Northwest is going to be bullet-based for a few years, but I’m also absolutely saying that. Also, do you know what happens when you unload a few rounds into a tsunami? Don’t say you do, because you’ve never done it. Maybe you stand on top of a mountain, slam the bullet thing into the bottom of the gun and then pull the thing on top back and line up the shot and BLAMMO. You instagib the goddamn tsunami and save the day. Or, y’know, you rob some bandits at gunpoint for a can of beans. Both equally heroic and necessary. And finally…
#3 There is No Shame in Drowning in Your Own Home, Surrounded By Your Stuff. Hey, you had a good run. Maybe this tragedy will kickstart some new evolutionary traits. Maybe we’ll finally evolve into screaming half man / half fish bio freaks. We just don’t know. We don’t have the data. But there is plenty of data that shows mother nature is done with us, and she’s going to be crashing on your floor for a while. And in the rest of your house, too. Also inside your car and your favorite strip mall (the one with two Chipotle’s) and pretty much every place you’ve ever been. Sweet dreams, love you!
When you’re a kid and adults ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” your answer is limited by the jobs you’re familiar with because you’re young and you’re very stupid. A police officer came to the house yesterday, I want to be a police officer! Big Bird teaches me how to count, I want to be a 7 foot tall bird monster! Dad locks himself in the basement for a few hours every night, I want to be a locksmith! By the time you’re done answering, the adults have already forgotten the question, as they’re in the middle of their third panic attack of the day induced by their own job.
As a child, my first love was baseball, so that was what I wanted to be when I grew up – a professional baseball man. To be honest, I really just loved baseball cards and was so-so on the whole going outside and playing baseball thing. But still I went to the stupid practices and played in the stupid games. My ego was dealt a devastating blow when I was 8 and a ball rocketed into my finger, shattering the bone in my very delicate pinkie. With tears in my eyes I ran to my father in the stands and screamed, “I don’t wanna play baseball anymore,” holding my jacked up hand in front of me like it was on fire. He knelt down, patted me on the head and said, “Well then why don’t you become a fucking ballerina, instead?” Now if this was a really good story I’d rip off my tearaway pants, reveal a pair of leggings and pirouette across your mind’s eye, middle fingers saluting the heavens. Like, “I did it Dad. I did it because of you.” But no. 8 year old me thanked god that neither of my thumbs were broken and continued playing Mario 3.
Thankfully, we live in a world where you can take a quiz online and figure out what you want to be when you grow up, even if you’re already grown up. No more daydreaming on the side of a hill, looking up at the clouds, pondering your existence. Just answer some questions like “What is your favorite color” and “In a group of six friends, which are you most likely to be.” I answered “white” for both. With a resounding 84%, the internet said that I should become a “criminal.” I’m not sure what the percentage represents, and while I agree with the assessment that I “enjoy the rush of getting down and dirty,” I need a bit more stability and less gunplay in my life. Number two with a bullet was Dare Devil, but I’m not sure if that meant I should become a blind, crime fighting lawyer or some off-brand Evel Knievel, dead and penniless at the bottom of a gorge. I didn’t read the rest of the results because I was distracted by another quiz titled “How Tennessee are y’all,” which, if you’re wondering, I am 34% Tennessee.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what you want to “be” when you grow up, because a job is just a job if you’re lucky enough to have one, but it’s not who you “are.” I mean sure, we all wanted to be Robocop when we grew up, but Robocop was a good man… or at least a good pile of flesh. And all that pile of flesh wanted to do was see his family again and shoot rapists in the dick (nsfw) with a gun that popped out his leg. The point is, I need a way to go back in time and warn my 8 year old self that your job is going to be soul sucking and boring for the rest of your life, and none of your dreams will come true. Get really good at online gambling, maybe invent something like a 3 cent mini nickel or a rake that’s actually two rakes. And when someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, just say “a good person” or “a fucking ballerina.”