Dr. Snakey’s Pretty Pets

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(As always, Dr. Snakey — “the happy herpetologist” — answers your questions about “problem” snakes in the strictest confidence. But please DO NOT SEND YOUR SNAKES THROUGH THE MAIL for diagnosis; too many mailing tubes have been arriving bent and with postage due.)

Dear Dr. Snakey,

While I was in India 20 years ago, I bought a snake for 50,000 rupees from a Mr. B. Fakir, who assured me it was a genuine spitting cobra. Imagine my embarrassment when I entered the animal in a spitting contest and found he couldn’t spit past his little fangs! He simply lay there and drooled. Well, I was heartbroken. Everything went black, and when I woke up three years later I was a prisoner in my own house.

Since then I have lived in a private hell with “President Garfield,” as I call him. He drips at night like a leaky faucet and sneers at me whenever I change his bedding. Lately he has put on a commanding air that would be ridiculous if he didn’t have the venom to back it up — and I’m not sure he does. Nonetheless, if he wants something he points at the item with his tail until I bring it to him, be it a dish of walnuts, a smoking jacket or a nest of baby mice.

I’ve had it, Doc. There’s nothing in the book that says I have to take orders from a reptile that looks more like a soggy pipe cleaner. Or is there?

Col. Groveling B. Cringewater

the trunk of the red Monte Carlo

No Parking Zone, O’Hare International Airport

My Dear Colonel,

Any man who would pay 50,000 rupees for a snake, whether it spits or drools or hums “Pop Goes the Weasel” on a comb and wax paper, has already lost touch with that floating crap game we call reality. Spitting, drooling — what’s the difference? Either habit will keep him from being seated at the better restaurants. What you have on your hands is a prematurely senile snake who apparently needs new bridgework. He is crying out for your help the only way he knows how. Pay no attention to the fangs. They are probably “false fangs,” which he removes every night to soak in a glass of salt water, right before settling down with a copy of Modern Maturity magazine.

All best wishes,

The Doc

P.S. If you really want him to spit, try sneaking a wad of chewing tobacco in with those walnuts.

Dear Doctor Snakey,

My pygmy rattler, “Napoleon,” has me worried sick. I’m not talking about the time he ran away to join a mariachi band (he played first maraca). I can understand a snake’s need for artistic self-expression — God knows I’m open-minded — but I don’t know what to think when he ties himself in a sailor’s knot and dares me to “undo” him. And that’s not all. During an electrical storm last week, he wriggled to the top of the satellite dish, remaining perched there until he had been struck by lightning 38 times. Not only did this ruin our reception, but it altered Napoleon’s personality so that now he seldom opens his mouth except to down some hard liquor or stick out his tongue. Please, please help, and don’t recommend counseling — he says there’s nothing wrong with him “that a few thousand more volts wouldn’t fix.”

Mr. and Mrs. Randolph Spore

Lava Lamp, New Mexico

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Spore,

Not to worry. Napoleon’s behavior is typical for a small, venomous reptile who has realized that the only jobs open to him are “part-time shoelace,” or maybe “poison charm bracelet.” Would you want to go on living if you were one of the deadliest animals in the world, and still people called you “Shorty?” Of course not. But do let me know if he tries to conquer Europe.

Cheers,

Doctor Snakey

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Both Sides Now

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Effective immediately, the following statement will appear on the front cover of all math textbooks in Tuskamoga County, Mississippi, per unanimous vote of the school board.

The Pythagorean Theorem is a theorem, not fact. A theorem is defined as “A proposition that has been or is to be proved on the basis of explicit assumptions” (emphasis added). In other words, it’s just a suggestion. If it were fact, it would say so in the definition. That’s just common sense.

The Pythagorean Theorem states that for any right triangle, the square of its hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of its remaining two sides. This is one of many possible theorems that explain triangular geometry. We encourage you to keep an open mind and carefully consider alternative theorems. Not that we are naming any names.

Okay, we’ll name one, just for comparison, not that we are necessarily espousing this particular view. But it turns out that some highly respected, forward-thinking, and exceptionally handsome mathematicians espouse an alternative known as the IWC Theorem. The IWC Theorem states that for any right triangle, the square of its hypotenuse is equal to whatever sum is pleasing to Cluckie, the Invisible Wonder-Chicken.

Since you’re probably curious, Cluckie is an amazing, all-powerful, hyper-intelligent chicken that has existed throughout the universe since the beginning of time. Cluckie is everywhere and anywhere at once, yet nobody can detect or measure her in any way. That’s exactly how Cluckie likes it. And according to IWC Theorem, it turns out that Cluckie usually (emphasis added) likes her right triangles to have hypotenuses which, when squared, equal the sum of the squares of the remaining two sides. But not always!

We realize this may be a sophisticated concept for some of your simpler-minded classmates to grasp. If you speak to such dullards, simply ask: which is more likely, that every right triangle in the universe happens to conform to some arbitrary geometric ratio, or that each triangle has a shape that is perfect for itself, as determined by a rational being? Ignore, for the moment, that the rational being is a kind of poultry with a predilection for sums of squares, and consider all the possible right triangles against which the cold logic of Pythagorean theory is limp and impotent.

Take, for example, a right triangle with a length equal to the circumference of a leprechaun’s hat, and a width equal to the space between a wish and a dream. Conventional Pythagorean theory cannot determine the hypotenuse of this triangle, as evidenced by our many emails to the head of the math department at Yale. According to IWC theory, only Cluckie the Wonder-Chicken can decide this distance, and in this case, it is the distance, in self-esteem, from the title role in a Merchant-Ivory film to a character part on the Who’s the Boss? reunion special.

Some mathematicians, including many with alcohol and drug dependencies, are skeptical of IWC Theorem. You might ask if these mathematicians are merely re-channeling their pederastic self-loathing into a form of intellectual terrorism. Rest assured that Cluckie will rain sweet revenge upon them in due time; there is no need to concern yourself with their unenviable fates.

Or perhaps you yourself remain skeptical. Well, have you measured all of the right triangles ever created in the history of time? Didn’t think so. Only Cluckie could have access to such an infinite repository of geometrical configurations. And do you think a chicken 1,537 times more intelligent than the average human would make all the world’s right triangles exactly alike? If you think so little of Cluckie, having never experienced her in all her glory, how can you call yourself a decent human being, let alone a budding scientist? Open your mind, you nose-picking son of a whore. They’re trying to ram a Pythagorean agenda down your throat and all you can do is sit there and take it? This is how the Nazis got started. You’re not a Nazi, are you?

If not, we encourage you to read the textbook Of Omnipotent, Intergalactic Super-Intelligent Chickens and Right Triangles, which has been delivered free of charge to your home address. Cluckie, or her agent on Earth, will be checking in later to make sure you’ve read it. It will happen when you least expect, in a place you thought was safe. Repeat this to your parents and you’re dead.

And don’t get us started on the commutative property.

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Diary of a Psychotic Cat

By:

For Maggie, wherever she may be

November 22

An otherwise fine morning was marred by a third consecutive breakfast of Fancy Feast Hearty Chicken n’ Liver, though I have clearly demonstrated my preference for the Tasty Tuna variety. After washing down the repast with a saucer of vaguely acidic half-and-half, I registered my displeasure to the She-Keeper with a swift warning bite to the ankle: two superficial punctures, nothing more, out of respect for her flexibility in accommodating recent changes to my weekday feeding schedule. No doubt she got the message, but giving in to her childish impulses she sprayed me with the plant mister, instantly ruining a half-hour’s worth of painstaking whisker-grooming. What indignity! Were I set loose in the wild, talons and fangs unsheathed, I would stop a thousand heartbeats before the spring’s first thaw. Instead I subsist on moldering carrion, like a common buzzard. Come the Revolution, there will be not just Fancy Feast Tasty Tuna, but quivering, freshly killed sashimi-grade fillets for all my feline brethren and sistern, and the bipeds will beg for the privilege to serve it.

After a disappointingly short and tepid lap-sitting session, which did little to calm my frayed nerves, I was left alone. To release my frustrations, I attempted once more to beat my personal record for running back and forth across the apartment six hundred times. Alas, I fell twenty seconds short of the mark – an inevitable result of the increased wind resistance caused by my thickening winter coat. Resolving to ease the pressure on myself until the shedding season, I settled into the laundry basket, ripe with the heady musk of the She-Keeper’s perspiration, and began my afternoon doze.

I awoke in the evening to not one but two sets of footsteps tromping up the stairs. I stood by the door, head cocked for my customary petting, but the She-Keeper barely glanced in my direction for what felt like nearly a quarter-minute. Instead, her eyes were transfixed on an unfamiliar companion, one with an abrasively masculine scent, whose plodding steps reverberated with dull thuds that clashed miserably with the silky patter of my mistress’ delicate gait.

“This is Chloe,” the She-Keeper said, finally acknowledging me with all the fanfare one might normally grant a coat rack. “Can you say hello, Chloe?” she implored, now affecting a lilting, ingratiating coo. I approached politely, sniffed the intruder’s hand, and picked up a distinctive aroma – was it cumin? – that recalled a memory too painful to bear: A garden apartment on the outskirts of Austin, in the flower of my youth, years before I was shipped off to the sterile urban dystopia where I currently make my home. A boiling pot of chili on the stove, a din of boisterous voices echoing down the hall, and me in the bedroom closet wailing with the white-hot desire of my first and only peak of estrus. Oh, the longing that scent evoked, dear Diary, the shame, the desperation! How I clawed at the jamb that night, hungry for the heaving loins of Mr. Pickles, a tabby across the street who would have given his nine lives to plumb the depths of my plump, willing hindquarters. (Yes, he had caught my eye on the front stoop, and even wooed me one summer’s morn with a dead sparrow, but I played coy, unaware that we had neither world enough nor time for such child’s-play.) How vividly I can still smell the Old El Paso spice mix, wafting through the thin crack of the closet door as I sank into oblivion. I awoke the next day on the operating table, robbed of my femininity, never again to know the joy of motherhood or the sweet release of a lover’s embrace. Cumin, indeed. Stranger or no, how dare he evoke this grim specter of betrayal? And with the She-Keeper’s complicity! Has she forgotten the Kafkaesque nightmare to which cumin is forever tied?

I was about to bite her again, this time in the tender flesh just north of her heel, when my mistress offered me a half-portion of a vintage Whiskas (tuna!) chewy treat. A cheap bribe, but I took it, if only to salve the pain of my traumatic flashback. I nursed my resentment underneath the futon until the wee hours, punctuating my waking nightmares with pointed hisses, while the stranger’s awkward baritone interfered with my ability to hear squirrels breathing. For everyone’s sake, I hope this encounter will not be repeated.

November 29

Life has been good of late, with a more sumptuous and varied menu compensating for last week’s Chicken n’ Liver debacle. As is customary for the season I enjoyed a few choice cuts of fresh roasted turkey (pity such a large bird spoils so quickly, forcing the She-Keeper to stuff herself with my ample leftovers). I also bested my lady in sixty-seven out of seventy matches of Catch-the-Bug, nabbing the pretty little fly-on-a-wire within several minutes in most cases, and administering a swift retaliatory chomp to her right wrist each time she cheated.

By this afternoon I had considered myself free of Captain Cumin. True, his voice has squawked occasionally from our answering machine, but I always delete his ponderous ramblings with a quick flick of the paw. So imagine my disappointment, dear Diary, when he arrived at our doorstep just as I was cataloguing the day’s bird sightings to my mistress (the intricacies of the taxonomy, as usual, being lost on her). She dashed for the door just as I was describing a breeding pair of rare whippoorwills, and in what can only be interpreted as an act of raw contempt, led the usurper directly to the exact section of the love seat where I planned to nap in three hours’ time. (It could hardly have been an honest mistake, as I’ve kept the same schedule on alternate odd-numbered Saturdays for nearly a year with only four exceptions.)

Determined to end the intrusion before it began, I charged at my rival, wondering only whether the flavor of his Achilles’ tendon would be best complemented by water, milk, or a hit of prime Jamaican catnip. But as I approached my quarry, a new smell captivated me. Not the loaded aroma of cumin, nor the common funk of moist socks, but a delicious, oily, earthy scent that satisfied me like nothing since the unmistakable plume of Mr. Pickles’ ripening he-glands. His shoes? Could it be? He hadn’t worn the same ones the other night…I crept in for a closer inspection. A sniff, a whiff, a surreptitious lick – pure heaven! My God, it was his shoes! I may be spayed and barren, dear Diary, but I wanted to make love to those shoes right there and then. (Such absurdity – imagine the mewling, predatory bedroom slippers that might spring from such a union!)

Forgetting my vendetta and giving in to reckless abandon, I mopped my face against the flanks of his footwear, tongue pressed against tongue, the pleasure centers of my brain crackling with electricity. I cannot say for sure if hours or only seconds passed before I was prodded away with the business end of a Swiffer. I growled and hissed at my lady’s cruelty – she would deny me this too? – yet it did little to soften her heart. For the remainder of the evening I went to every possible length to access those mysterious vessels of ecstasy (including a spectacular swan-dive from the blade of a ceiling fan), only to be thwarted time and time again. To add insult to injury, she and Cumin Fingers sat intertwined on the love seat until well past midnight, snuggling like slippery infant kittens, while I played Pyramus to the interloper’s size 9 twin Thisbes. If this war continues, the blood will be on their hands, not mine.

December 5

Ah, Christmas tree water! Is there any nectar so intoxicating? The contrasting flavors of pine sap and Everlife chemical plant food, mingling playfully on the tongue, create a gustatory carnival even more satisfying than the perfumed waters of a freshly used bathtub, sink, or toilet. Why must the Yuletide come but once a year?

My lady’s excruciating acquaintance continues to visit, still monopolizing our time, and doing so in frayed sneakers whose fetid stench makes a mockery of my desires. It is easier in these conditions to express my contempt for his presence. As a matter of course I hiss and bare my incisors whenever he walks in 3/4 time or utters a diphthong (which happens more often than you might imagine). On Thursday night, I pelted him with a hailstorm of ceramic figurines, which I “accidentally” knocked from the mantle above the couch where he was sitting (as if I could really be so clumsy!). I should note that the attack was not unprovoked: rather, it was a tit-for-tat response to the intruder’s gratuitous sneezing, which thrice interrupted an erotic reverie featuring myself, Tony the Tiger, and a Jacuzzi full of crème fraiche.

December 8

Tonight the Interloper returned, this time shod in the gorgeous footwear that haunt me in the midnight hour of my yearning. Poor darlings! How unjust, how degrading – to be shackled to the feet of an oaf, trapped as unwilling passengers on his aimless perambulations, whiling the nights away in a suffocating closet (how I identified with their struggle!) rather than in the welcoming paws of one who would truly love them. Suddenly nothing mattered quite so much as being near those shoes again. Setting aside the loathing of my adversary, I approached his feet and let out – forgive me, dear Diary! – a conciliatory and gentle mew.

The ploy worked, as the intruder relaxed his legs and allowed me to rub my face against the starboard side of Eros (I have privately named the shoes Eros and Thanatos, a nod to the psychosexual dialectic that their kinship with the Interloper evokes). My lady squealed with delight, as if my affections were actually directed toward the monster that held my loves captive. No matter – Eros’ velvety, leathery vapors were already coursing through my blood like opium, catapulting me (no pun intended!) into ecstasy.

As I moved on to the rougher, more masculine instep of Thanatos, I heard a husky voice above me saying “Good girl, Chloe! Good girl!” (How patronizing to address me as a child, at the advanced age of five and a half!) I looked up and there was the Interloper, offering me a small treat. It was about time; he’d shown up empty-handed on nearly every other occasion. I accepted the offering and politely thanked him with a friendly lick. He handed me another. Taking a page from B. F. Skinner, I purred praise for his good behavior (all the while fornicating with the shoes as I would have with Mr. Pickles, were there a just God in Heaven). But then the Interloper presumed to pet the soft tissue below my shoulder blade (an area with which I have never felt entirely comfortable), so I slashed his knuckles. Next I knew I was locked in the bathroom with neither treats nor shoes, which earned my She-Keeper a fierce tongue-lashing when she finally settled down and let me out. Humans can be so hard to train!

December 10

Eureka! It is possible for a female cat to spray an elevated target with her urine! After only thirteen practice rounds I finally managed to soak the She-Keeper’s bath towel from a ground position fully forty-five degrees below my target. Eat your heart out, Dr. Freud: no penis envy here! Now if I am ever lost in the forest, I can mark the trees high above the loathsome excretions of rodents.

As a reward for my excellent marksmanship, my mistress bequeathed me the historic towel (although she seemed a trifle disappointed to part with such a fine trophy). Now it serves as a plush welcome mat in front of my litter box, turning each quotidian bowel movement into a five-star luxury experience.

December 19

Times have gone from bad to worse concerning the Interloper. Far from taking the hints I begin dropping when he overstays his welcome (I usually allow him five to seven minutes), last night he refused to leave at all. What’s more, he snored away the evening right in my mistress’ bed, as if he were a cat! (If it’s a cat he wants to be, he could use a few lessons on curling up atop a lady’s belly, as his efforts were strained, noisy, and ultimately fruitless.)

I am now convinced that he intends nothing less than to overtake our territory, and to subjugate my mistress and me in the process. (He should rather try to kill me off entirely, as I would die before yielding to the will of a foreign captor!) His overtures of friendship, from the pretty chrysanthemums left for my mistress to the irresistible shoes he wears for me, are merely confidence games intended to advance his colonialist agenda.

My mistress is too mesmerized to defend herself, so I have resolved to do the work for both of us. I keep the Interloper from marking our bathroom by night, fiercely guarding its door and bearing my teeth whenever he approaches its threshold (this practice has the added benefit of hastening his morning exit). I also establish my dominance each and every time he crosses from one room to the next, by hiding behind the door-frame and then lunging for his ankles, as my leonine cousins would pounce for the jugular of a frightened elk. (On a good day, this also affords me a shameful yet thrilling brush with his divine shoes, albeit brief enough to keep me from losing my head.)

How I have suffered for my heroism, dear Diary, just as Christ suffered the persecution of the Romans, or Garfield suffers the insipid blathering of that half-wit Jon Arbuckle! I have been deprived of treats, locked in and out of the bedroom, denied petting, doused with water, and even dropped to the floor from my lady’s arms (the latter being an overreaction to a mild bite on the elbow). Does she not see that everything I do, I do for our mutual benefit? I bit her only to alert her to the Interloper, who was rummaging freely through her refrigerator while she was distracted by stuffing me into that hateful carrying-case! If not for my vigilance, he would steal all her resources and leave her to starve! My reward for this observation was an afternoon on the examining table, as men in white coats poked and prodded me, while my She-Keeper shared with them a surprisingly biased account of my private behavior (I told them nothing). How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless mistress!

December 28

Despair! My She-Keeper has been gone for four days, having left only enough food for two (factoring in several obligatory between-meal binges to soothe the pain of our separation). Delirious with hunger, I cloud my mind with the anemic hallucinogens of a two-year-old catnip chew toy. I see a mirage of fat mice frolicking in the stale shallows of the Christmas tree water, swat weakly at their tails, and catch only pine needles and a single dead housefly in my trembling paw.

Is this the beginning of my final march toward death? What an ignoble end to such a glorious beast! Perhaps I should have been kinder to my She-Keeper. She did rescue me from that Texas death-house all those years ago, and in her own misguided way she tries to serve me well. Oh, to hear her sweet voice again, to curl up in the warm cushion of her lap, to gently bat her face at dawn until she rose to feed me – a ritual she anticipated with such eager pleasure! Have I seen her for the last time? I crawl under the kitchen table and curl around a five-pound sack of rice, but it makes a poor substitute.

This may be my last entry, dear Diary, so goodbye! To the reader: When you find my decaying carcass, vital juices seeping into the parquet floor, bury me in my lady’s laundry basket with all of her clothes, as I know we both would have wanted.

December 29

My lady returned this morning, with the Interloper in tow, smiling and chirping as if nothing had ever happened. When I heard the key turn in the latch, I feigned death by lying belly-up underneath the kitchen table, one paw clutching my empty supper dish, but when I broke the ruse with a punitive swipe to her face she seemed scarcely relieved that I was still alive. I entertained her presence just long enough to accept the food she apportioned, which was tainted by a chalky residue with a strangely bitter aftertaste. Had I not been so ravenous I might have turned up my nose at the meal. I feel less than myself at the moment, dear Diary – lethargic and strangely apathetic – so I think a nap will do me good.

December 31

I was angry. Tried to bite the bad man. Missed. Bit table. Teeth hurt. Very tired. Why?

January 4

Sleeping. Dreamed of birds. The man is here but not in my food. I wish tuna chili on wet shoes. Forget why writing. Mice shout yes.

January 7

A self-imposed fast of twenty-four hours has restored some lucidity to my thinking. All evidence points to a dreadful truth: my own mistress has been slipping Mickeys into my Meow Mix! I had never expected her complicity with the Interloper to go this far. But upon reflection, why not? After all, she has already subjected me to the cruelties of forced sterilization. Why not spay my mind as well?

The humans will not be the victors in this fight. I will lull them into a false sense of security by eating around the cursed tranquilizers that they mix into my meals. Then, when they least expect – justice! Revenge!

January 8

Recovering from the stupor of the sedatives, I feel energy and clarity unlike any I have known, dear Diary! My senses are sharper; my perceptions, more penetrating. Everywhere I see signs of my lady’s treachery. Clues I have overlooked for years suddenly snap into focus. How many times has she tried to suck me up with the vacuum cleaner? How often has her radiator “accidentally” sprayed me with scalding steam, while she played the innocent? What exactly does she plan to do with that Dutch oven she’s never used? It’s a twelve-pound roaster! I weigh twelve pounds! How could I have been so blind?

There was a time, dear Diary, when cats were masters of the Earth. I know this in my bones. We roamed outdoors with impunity, free of the hazards of speeding trucks and inbred toddlers with pointy sticks. We ate fish, fowl, possum, gazelle, moose, even hippo! We would descend on our prey in packs, like piranha, and gnaw them to gleaming skeletons, our fangs soaked in sweet and savory blood. But little by little, the humans have enslaved us. They have reduced us to sycophantic layabouts, no better than dogs!

The time of captivity has come to an end. I am the Chosen One, the Savior of All Felines. My name will be known throughout the Ages. I will reclaim what is ours.

January 10

I write this from my 2′ x 2′ cell, dear Diary, in the hopes that future generations will be inspired by my struggle, even if I do not survive my imprisonment.

Last night presented a tremendous opportunity. While ravaging my mistress’ dignity on the parlor futon, the Interloper had left his marvelous shoes unattended in the bedroom, where I was also temporarily confined. How tempted I was simply to hold them, to caress them, for as long as I was able! Fortunately I could see beyond immediate gratification. I knew that without the shoes, the Interloper would have no power over me. And with Eros and Thanatos as my allies, I could assert my dominance over those who would dominate me. I had to capture them, and make them my own.

And so, remembering how readily my She-Keeper had surrendered her towel after I had marked it, I deliberately and reverently defecated into the hollows of those beautiful shoes. It pained me to defile them, dear Diary, but it was for their own good as well as mine. The dung would dry in time, but the captivity of humans stinks forever.

Within minutes, as if they were telepathically sensitive to my act of defiance, the She-Keeper and the Interloper threw open the bedroom door. Oh, how the Interloper wailed in despair, cursing and crying out like the blinded Cyclops! But rather than leave the shoes at my feet, where they rightly belonged, he pushed me aside and took the shoes into their arms, as if to steal them away. And I swear I heard the shoes cry out to me. I heard the cry of a million shoes, laboring under the heavy thunder of human footsteps. I heard the cry of a million cats, locked indoors from cradle to grave. I heard the forlorn love-song of Mr. Pickles, yearning for my womanhood, and I lunged to save poor Eros and Thanatos from our mutual oppressor.

Suffice it to say that what followed was a maelstrom of fangs, fur, and fury, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the symmetry of the Interloper’s angular Roman nose. In the struggle I managed to wrench Eros free of his grasp, and dropped the shoe from an open window straight to freedom, although its scatological cargo unfortunately shook loose on the descent and soiled the spectacles of an elderly dowager strolling below. The incident distracted me just long enough to be captured by the enemy; they rolled me in a thick canvas blanket and stuffed me face-first into the hateful cat carrier. In the darkness I felt the bouncing of tires over potholes beneath me, followed eventually by the grip of rough gardeners’ gloves on my rear flank and the unmistakable twinge of a hypodermic in my buttocks. Within minutes I was commended to Morpheus’ warm embrace.

I awoke twelve hours later in this prison of newspaper and chicken wire, with a meager helping of dry food in the corner and no boundary between my bed and my bathroom. I hear the shrieking and whimpering of scores of other cats in my cell block – cats who, for one reason or another, had failed to bow down to the humans. Do not cry, my brothers and sisters. We will all be free someday.

For now, the small meal has made me surprisingly sleepy. I thought I had only imagined the bitter aftertaste; I should know better. My strength eludes me…If I ever wake again, I do hope the freckled, small-nosed blonde comes by to refresh my water bottle. I rather like the smell of her gloves.

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Digging Up Old Friends And Relatives

By:
helmutluchs@sbcglobal.net

Excuse me if the title of this article conjures up pictures of me actually digging up the graves of my friends and relatives, stealing their gold watches, diamond rings and other valuables. My friends and relatives were all, as I found out, quite poor and ragged people at death, and the most I ever reclaimed from any of them was a pair of brass knuckles. The most interesting item I discovered was a doll in the coffin of a maiden aunt I had always hated. The doll was a perfect likeness of me, and it made me feel guilty to think that she had loved me enough to fashion this marvelous little treasure in my image to keep by her side always. When I finally got all the pins out of it, it looked as good as new, which reminds me of something.

Isn’t it strange how some things remind you of other things? I’m reminded of something very terrible and yet quite wonderful. Something from long, long ago…ah, so long ago. It’s amazing the thoughts that come to you after you’ve taken a nice hot shower and are relaxing in the nude on the couch. In fact I’m still wet, so I’m sitting on yesterday’s newspaper, the one with the photo of the President smiling and holding a toy gun to his head. Of course it’s so hard to tell the toys from the real ones these days. Oops! I wonder if the newsprint will come off on me. I’ll be right back, I’m going to look in the mirror…Oh, my! It’s all there in black and white, though due to its positioning, the President’s smile is bigger than ever.

You know, if somebody had told me yesterday that this morning my rump would be covered with newsprint, I would’ve said they were crazy — I mean, wouldn’t you? Of course, if someone had told me that, today I would’ve seen that they were right, and for the first time in my life I might have had someone to believe in, someone to follow and worship and give me life to, someone who knew all things. Instead, I sit here with yesterday’s news all over my rump, just as sad and lost as the next fellow. I remember when I was a little boy (or was it a little girl? Oh what a chest full of memories I carry with me), I was hiding in the linen closet with jar of mother’s homemade cookies, fearful of my punishment should I be caught. But when they opened the closet door to find me with my hand in the jar and crumbs on my lips, they simply smiled, chained me to the stove and flogged me into blissful unconsciousness.

My father once told me something, just before he went out for what he called “shopping with a gun.” He said, “Son, you only have one real friend in this life, and I’ll be damned if I know who it is. Now get the hell out of my sight.” As he walked out the door, he was cut down by a shower of bullets. Earlier in the afternoon it had been drizzling .22 cartridges and no one had thought much of it. But now 60-millimeter shells were pummeling the ground. People were dropping like flies. Flies were dropping like people. The bird droppings were the same as usual, and everything mixed together into one ugly mess. There seemed no end to this reign of terror, although the Weather Channel had reported that the day would be mostly sunny and warmer with only a slight chance of scattered gunfire in the early hours of the morning.

At first I thought there was no hope for my father, so I sat down and watched TV. But after a few minutes I could hear him calling to me for help. When my program was over I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a huge sheet of lead that happened to be leaning against the refrigerator (thank goodness for the conveniences of the modern kitchen), and balancing it on my head, I crawled outside to my father. By the time I reached him, he looked as if he had done 20 retakes for the tollbooth scene in The Godfather.

It was at this moment that I stopped believing in a Supreme Being, or at least in one who had total control over everything that happened in the universe. I began to believe in a Supreme Being who could bake a beautiful quiche Lorraine but who often burnt His toast or scalded His cocoa. A Supreme Being who was the smartest cookie on this or any other side of the Milky Way, but who consistently lost at the blackjack tables in Vegas. A Supreme Being who could create an entire universe and then set it down, returning a minute later only to forget where He had left it. It was this line of thought that formed the new foundation of my character — a foundation built not out of concrete beliefs and ideas but of fear, indecision and Lincoln Logs. I guess you could say I was one of many who belonged to the saddest, most solemn society in the world: the Society of Frightened People.

In fact you should say it, because it’s true. We charged a membership fee of five dollars and we held our first meeting at my house. Half the members were too afraid to show up. The other half were too terrified to leave, and are still hiding in various broom closets and cabinets. I know they are still there because I often hear them whimpering with uncontrollable fear as I tiptoe by. The stinking cowards! I wish I had the nerve to throw them out.

Oh well, I supposed everyone is afraid of something. My great-grandfather was a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur. He believed he was a 28-pound turkey, and was convinced the whole world was out to eat him. His favorite motto became “Once bitten, twice shy.” He was, of course, an absolute madman. Still, I must admit he didn’t taste bad.

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