Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting a Pet

Pets and new houses go together like fleas and flea dipping.  After years of living in apartments with “no pet” policies, part of the appeal of owning a house in Los Angeles was that finally we could have a dog.  I looked forward to the day when Mr. Wonderful and I could join the hordes of Angelinos walking their pooches in the park, on the beach and down the aisles of Petco.

In this world there are dog people and there are cat people.  My husband and I belong to the dogs.  I grew up with a friendly German Shepherd and when Mr. Wonderful was a boy he had a lovable mutt who was his constant companion.  Both were sweet, tail-wagging pets who filled our childhoods with countless hours of fetch and happiness.  After we moved into our fixer upper house I revealed my canine wish.
“You don’t need a pet to come home to,” Mr. Wonderful said plastering a wall. “You have a house needing work to come home to.”  And there was the truth: A) He didn’t want a dog; B) because we needed to focus on the house; C) A house that required 10 years of fixing, give or take a decade.

The next day my colleague, Carrie, cornered me at an after work event.
“Your house needs a pet.  And I have the cat for you,” she said poking the lime wedge in her Diet Coke with a straw.  I don’t like cats.  They’re egotistical, suffer from superiority complexes and are frustratingly independent.  I’ve known prisoners in San Quentin nicer than cats.  I shook my head, “No can do.”
“I work for the local Cat Rescue,” she said flashing a business card with her email address and a smiling cat logo.  I don’t know where she found a smiling cat logo because cats don’t smile.  Their facial expressions range from sleeping to pouting to more sleeping.  She continued, “I have a cat in need of a family.”
“My husband and I are dog people,” I said pressing my back against the wall and sliding away.  She pursued.
“He’s five years-old and neutered.”
 I don’t care.  Cats are selfish animals!  I wanted to shout.  Instead I slid along the wall until I hit the corner of the room.  Trapped.  Carrie’s face got so close to mine I smelled the lime on her breath.
“Adopt him,” she said.
“My husband dislikes cats.  A lot—”
“Peggy found him when he was just a kitten.  She raised him and he lived with her until…” 

Carrie and I exchanged a look.  Despite her pushiness even she couldn’t bear to say it.  Our dear friend and devoted cat fancier, Peggy, had passed away five months earlier due to a short, painful bout with cancer.  Two of her cats were immediately adopted by her family, which left this one cat to place. 
“Don’t adopt him for me,” Carrie said with big brown eyes.  “Do it… for Peggy”.

We hugged.  We cried.  I agreed to a Sunday drop off, which gave me exactly 36 hours to break the news to Mr. Wonderful: We were now cat owners.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year's Superstition

“Look what I found,” Mr. Wonderful said dropping a small plastic statue in my lap as I knelt in a mound of earth.  We’d spent two days digging out the prickly, ragged, 50 year-old holly bushes from the front yard and now on a sunny day in late December, we were replanting the bed in a dozen lavender bushes. 

The statue, just three inches tall, depicted a man in robes holding a jug in his right hand and a tool in his left.  “It’s St. Joseph,” I said.  “Jesus’ step-father.”

Growing up Catholic in the Midwest the gardens of my mother, grandmother and their friends all contained saint statues.  St. Francis for the animals, the Blessed Virgin Mary for suffering mothers with teenage daughters and Jesus for everything, especially suffering mothers with teenage daughters.  The only saint statue not visible in a Catholic woman’s garden was St. Joseph because he was buried in it.

A carpenter by trade, St. Joseph was said to protect homes (not just the wooden ones) and their inhabitants.  If a resident sank a St. Joe statue outside the house he’d provide them protection and luck as long as they lived in it.

This tiny statue had been in the garden when we bought the house, moved into it and for the past few months had lived in it.  And up ‘til now we’d been safe and happy.  The statue wasn’t hurting anything and—just maybe—was protecting us. 

“Bury him again,” I said handing St. Joseph to Mr. Wonderful.
“You’re superstitious,” Mr. Wonderful said raising an eyebrow.
“Am not,” I said, Catholic guilt washing over me. 
“Gardens are for plants,” he said decisively and tossed the saint into a bucket of rocks.

Then it started.  The next day I couldn’t find my keys (the only set!) to the laundry room.  Then my beloved Steel Casey desk chair broke.  On New Year’s Day, the harbinger of what’s to come for the next 12 months, I walked out the front door and stepped into a pile of cat vomit.  Not my pet’s vomit but the sickly pink and yellow chunks of a feral cat I didn’t know. 

“Where is he?” I asked, my voice cracking with fear.  “Where’s St. Joseph?” 
“I thought you weren’t superstitious—”
“I’m not.  I’m just tired of my life falling apart!”

Rushing out to the garage I dumped out the green garbage bin and at the bottom found his white plastic form.

Beside a blooming lavender plant in the front yard I dug a hole and placed St. Joseph in it, carefully covering his pristine whiteness with fresh dark soil.  I even watered the spot so he could put down roots.

That evening dressing for a sushi dinner with friends, I slipped on a black blazer and in the left pocket my hand curled around the cold metal of the laundry room keys.  The next day, I schlepped my broken writing chair to Rose Upholstery in Hollywood, where they reaffixed the chair to its base and recovered it in a beautiful light cream vinyl making it look better than it had before the break.  Then arriving home from work I noticed dozens of feral cat footprints among our newly planted lavenders.  But no poop or vomit. 

Now St. Joseph’s roots to our house and my roots to the house were intertwined.  Thankfully, our home and garden were once again under his protection.  I breathed a sigh of relief.
If you don’t believe me, I dare you to try living without him yourself.