Living Lessons From Dead Kittens.

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Kittens were flying.

flying Kittens

Not in the joyful verse of a storybook tale read aloud to wind down the kids before sleep.

Distant from a place of precious fluff balls, gossamer wings; where white feathers lullaby children.

Just the opposite.

This memory jumps right from the pages of a magazine I loved almost as much as Mad.

Terror Tales.

terror tales

Bone-chilling cries.

A skyscraper wall of piercing sound – decibels of feline sirens carried three city-blocks deep, two buildings high.

I remember. Straight up at 2:10am, my nightmares, which are frequent due to a three-year horrific fight with a former employer, increasingly begin with flying, howling kittens. Fur matted in life fluids. The more kittens, the stronger the images, the stronger I cold-sweat the bed.

1975 – Drowned out pop melodies of summer booming from open windows; 70’s tunes played from Panasonic hand held radios from behind shadows, dingy shades that framed pre-WW2 tenement pane glass.

“Brandy, you’re a fine girl…”

City traffic fumes rise high and hang heavy in humidity. Inhaling them is a compromise. A choice to swelter through a New York August behind closed windows, or fool yourself into believing a blast furnace of urban air is a refreshing alternative.

I enjoyed the confluence of odors; after years they smelled like home – auto exhaust, hot tar, ethnic cooking; easier on eyes and nostrils compared to the rank of cigarettes and beer that destroyed oxygen within our small apartment.

I swear the lead-based wall paint would emit a strange odor when the worst of summer heat arrived. The walls were coated in poison. I was doomed. At night, I’d dream how the shiny white lead chips that always pooled at the baseboards, would come alive, enter my bed and eat my skin. I didn’t sleep much as a kid.

“What a good wife you would be…”

The strong signal from Music Radio 77 WABC-AM drowned out. Harry Harrison’s legendary airwave trademark phrases fade to black; overwhelmed by shrill feline vocal daggers which ricocheted off concrete, found its human auditory target, and penetrated my skull.

Urban dwellers fortunate enough to enjoy white noise and chilled air of window air-conditioning units were spared of the sounds of people living and dying in a restless city.

window AC

I hated them; all comfortable in their icy luxury.

And there was the laughter.

It was out of place. Insane.

No way in hell should giggling immediately shadow the screams. Horror squares in happy round holes just don’t fit. In psycho movies – sure, but not real life.

I approached the red brick and banged-up aluminum doors of single-car garages in rows that bordered the Brooklyn apartment complex I called home. The panic noises I’ll never forget, grew louder. It sounded like babies being tortured. And that disturbing chuckling.

insane laughter

I needed to understand what was happening. My mind screamed “run.” My legs moved ahead. Faster than the upper part of my body. Labored but steadily onward.

I was close enough to observe three pre-teen boys on a garage roof. A kitten in each hand; six small lives gripped by the mid-section, writhing desperately to break free.

The ringleader of the demon trio, I recognized immediately. That ruddy complexion, dark eyes closer to his ears than the middle of his face, the unkempt hair. No surprise it was the neighborhood terrorist, a bully to all: V. He made so much of an impression on me that today all bullies I encounter lose their identities and take on bloated, blotchy Vinny face.

He and two other soulless boys in unison were raising helpless animals above their heads and like taking jump shots with basketballs, were propelling tiny bodies into the air. I took solace in the fact that cats land on their paws. I imagined them a bit shaken, possibly injured, but still able to flee from the scene quicker than these pudgy kids could catch them.

Wishful thinking.

It was a cowardly method for a frightened brain to work through the disgusting activity unfolding before my eyes. I despised the fear that gripped me more than I hated the thugs.

Deep breaths.

I felt my speeding heart squeeze through the veins inside my ears; t temporarily blocked all other input. I needed to see the kittens. In my head, I was already cycling through save-and-escape plans; my goal was to grab as many of the injured I could carry and then run like the wind. Anywhere. Just away. How can I get this done without getting my ass kicked?

I couldn’t move faster. I tried.  I was disappointed by sludgy footfalls. As I turned the corner, as I came upon the asphalt alley between long rows of garage doors, there stood a fourth culprit.

I was shocked to see a thug at ground level. Right below where the three other boys were up and into the driveway.

I didn’t recognize number four; I thought I knew all the assholes in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

Tall, sinewy. I remember the definition in his biceps that popped his veins.

A devil in red Ked sneakers.

Kitten three released – fly in the sky.

Damn the fate of gravity.

Tiny legs, paws flailing.

I was far enough from the action remain noticed but close enough to take in the fiendish plan unfolding.

Red Ked gripped a wooden bat.

In a pro-baseball player stance, he swung with full force at kittens “pitched” to him from 8 feet above.

bloddy bat

The home run kitten-head balls were the worst.

There was living sound one second, deadly silence the next. Mid scream. Then nothing.

And again – laughter. The serious side-splitting kind.

The swing-and-miss felines dazed by a rough asphalt landing, failed to hit pavement and flee. They sort of dragged themselves off, walking with an unsteady gait. Definitely not fast enough. Much different than I imagined.

I observed the keen sweat beads on Vinny’s face as he maintained visual contact on the shaky cat balls.

Close to ripe for another pitch.

I prayed for a strike-out afternoon.

I stood unnoticed. In front of a garage – door open. Empty, dark. I sauntered into the black to gather my wits. I needed to think fast. I glanced upon an abandoned tire iron in a back corner. Upright against a cinder block wall, begging me for my attention. Not sure how I noticed it in the darkness but there it was. Calling me.

I grabbed for it hard. I held on to it like it was a lifeguard and I was about to go under for a third time.

As I accepted what I needed to do.

From dark to light.

Firm stride onward.

Closer now to red Keds, I’m able to observe how his sneakers were white at one time. Sick to my stomach. He looked at me then.

I was the next fat pitch.

No matter what I was in a strikeout zone.

No matter what.

Secure in a place where dead kittens don’t interrupt the summer, my life and ultimately my dreams (nightmares).

Looking Glass pop stuck in my head. An endless musical loop that refused to stop.

“He came on a summer’s day. Bringin’ gifts from far away.”

Surprise. Your turn to be the ball, red Keds.

Here’s your gift.

red ked

Random Thoughts.

At one time, any time, you’re at risk of becoming a dead kitten. Something bigger and menacing will swing at you, long to crush your skull, ruin what’s left of your existence.

For three years I’ve been hit repeatedly by a large corporate red Ked, a former employer spinning outright lies, bashing my reputation, attempting to take me out and away from the profession I love.

Oh, I’m staggering, my gait a bit shaky, but I won’t be tossed in front of high-paid legal bullies for another chance at a feeding frenzy. They took much from me, already. Money, family, physical and mental health. But I’m still here. And I have found my weapons.

Ready to strike. My turn to swing.

It’s these incidents, the events that position me next in line behind the next dead kitten, that ultimately define how quickly I escape and survive (thrive). Unfortunately, I know Louisville Sluggers continue to lurk; bullies are like that. Life is good. Then they come out of nowhere just to fuck with you. Dryer lint can catch on fire and take the house down with it. I heard that.

Whatever swings with murder in its eyes, will eventually tire and move on because it can’t kill me. What stays after the hit sharpens my resolve, clarifies me and steels my purpose. And I’m not sure what energy stays exactly, but I’m glad for it. Like a warm, comforting shadow. Bullies and dead kittens show up right before defining moments.

It’s all about tire irons. The strongest arsenal, the most effective weapons I possess reveal themselves deep in black corners. Just when I think I’m a sitting duck, an obliterated feline, I accept and allow what’s about to happen as if I chose it. At that point, I am a clear thinker. A fighter.

Many people look for hope in light. Not sure I get it. I’ve learned that you must venture and stumble through darkness to discover what’s good. The universe reveals itself and nurtures me when I accept my fate and understand deeply that what I’m experiencing, as painful as it may be, needed to occur.

It couldn’t have happened any other way.

Looking back, those challenging episodes have formed a perspective I’ve used to help others make their way through red Ked moments.

Death is only the beginning. A music legend once told me that death is only the beginning. Near death, too. And before he passed, he told me again. I’m thinking in life we face several deaths. Illness, divorce, loss of inner circle relationships. And the beat goes on. Then stops. Then continues. The beating is the same, the sound is different.

Before nightfall I sit in the backyard, my dog Rosie next to me. I ponder who and what I lost up to then. I sort of feel like Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather III. Alone. Thinking in my last scene I should fall out of my chair. Dead. Rosie’s hot breath yapping in my cold face.

What an embarrassing way to go for Michael.

dead michael

Except I don’t drop. I’m fortunate to remember that with each liability, every loss, I gain a greater asset.

And I’m at peace. Finally.

Dead kittens are also dead presidents. How many times have I bloodied my net worth with a bat? Oh, many. I’ve loaned money to relatives who didn’t care if my credit went bust (never again), I worked for one of the worst penny stock chop shops and had my father purchase stock I knew would go bust (sorry dad), just to collect a commission, I have over-purchased shit I didn’t need, spent extravagantly at restaurants, too much wine. All dead money that taught me valuable living lessons.

“Hey asshole, what do you think you’re going to do with that thing?”

And as kittens were falling, I kicked red Ked in the shin. Before another word, he went down. I remember one furball jump in panic over his face, her back paws scratching deep into red Ked forehead (score).

I then slammed the iron down hard on his right shoulder.

RK lost his grip on the bat.

I wanted to hit him again.

I wanted him dead.

For all the kittens.

Past, present and future.

I grabbed his weapon and ran.

Directly to my Cousin Louis’ apartment 9 blocks away. He was NYPD. Built like Sly Stallone.

When I’m asleep and I see dead kittens, I know something big and life-changing is clawing at me.

Another lesson up at bat.

From the blood.

The music plays in my head.

And they disappear.

At least for now.

I hit the snooze.

“I know what you look like and I’ll see you before long.”

Ben Nichols.

This Old Death.

kittens with angel wings

I Called her Daisy: A Love & Money Story.

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I was only with her for six hours but I had a name for her; I called her Daisy. I wanted her around longer. Naming her was a reach for hope. Hope she would make it.

To some thoughtless prick, Daisy was a living thing to be thrown away-destined to die on a busy Texas street. She hugged a dirty curb as best she could, her head too heavy to hold up from oncoming traffic. It was only a matter of time before Daisy’s frail dark frame would melt into a dark roadway and she would be killed by unsuspecting or uncaring drivers.

It was around 8:40pm. I drove a path from the gym I rarely take. I’m also seldom at the gym at deep night hours. I’m not overly religious but truly believe I was to come across Daisy for a reason. As I passed her up, she was literally sitting in a puddle of dirty water, barely able to move.

For a very brief second I too thought of driving on; I wanted to see my daughter and it was late. I played out in my head what was to happen next: It was inevitable this thin, weak puppy was going to be road kill. I was praying just one of the cars passing quickly would stop. Nobody did. As I looked in my rearview mirror I could see this poor thin animal attempt to stand. As she attempted to walk I could see the limp.

It was too much for me, I pulled over to get her.

I approached slowly; I didn’t want to scare her into traffic. As I methodically moved closer she got up and I stopped-talking to her gently with each step. Thankfully, she veered the opposite way toward a wooded area and not into the road. As she dragged herself and cowered behind a makeshift billboard in high brush, I was taken aback by her thin appearance.

She was tall, but looked half the size of a normal border-collie/lab mix (the vet educated me). She was not much more than skin, bones and big expressive eyes which followed me (and remained with me for hours after). I knew it was a she from the frayed pink and rhinestone collar around a thin neck.  Once I felt she was safe, I retrieved a bottled water from my car.

Thirst was the only thing ferocious about this pathetic soul.

I carry a few huge bath towels in my trunk. I got them, scooped the puppy up in my arms and rushed her to a local emergency clinic. There was a two-hour wait to see a vet-I was willing to stay as long as necessary. Once we were in to see the doctor, I felt optimistic; in the waiting room Daisy got up a bit, wagged her tail, appeared curious about her new surroundings and me especially.

A little movement tired her quickly, though yet she never took her dark eyes off me. The receptionist called her eyes “soulful,” and there was something especially sad about them. In a very short period of time I was hooked. In love.

In my head I was thinking about how much this was going to cost (the talkative front desk person at the emergency clinic reminded me consistently they were not “good Samaritans,” and treatment was not free). Exactly what I was willing to pay to get this girl healed up and the strategy to find this abandoned sweetie a good home was somewhat calculated.  My heart was a different story. Already, I added the cost of a new dog house and development of a cordoned-off place in my backyard.

The ongoing lessons about puppy diseases, especially canine parvovirus, began to dampen my hopes a bit. When it was suggested I could spend $300 I didn’t flinch and approved a test for the virus and an X-ray on a swollen left paw. By then I knew Daisy was approximately seven months old and had a whole life still ahead of her. Obviously, her future was taking a turn for the better. At least in my heart it did.

A couple of more hours passed. By that time, Daisy was asleep soundly on a cold exam table. I covered her so her shivering would cease and stroked her head incessantly. I spoke gently in her closest ear and she’d awaken to stare at me a bit and then put her head back down. By this time I knew there was no way I could part with her and would do what I could to make her well again. She deserved that.

After the parvovirus test came back positive, I was told it would cost $1,200 to take care of her for the night. My financial bandwidth expanded. Ok. Sold. Another hour passed. My firm belief was the investment in this girl was worth it; after all we would be together a long time.

Based on the increasing flow of serious patients, I was getting piecemeal information from three different sources and it felt like forever. It was now four hours later and with each bit of data I was riding an emotional high, then a low. I was on a high on the last round of discussion, until the vet came in again. Low blow time.

“Have you decided what you would like to do?” the vet asked me.

“I’m willing to pay to get her well, you said $1,200 right?” I blurted out. In my mind, the money was spent. I already mentally accounted for it and documented it in my I Phone budget app to make it official. I visualized a sliding scale and figured I was in the mid-range of what I would be willing to spend. It shamed me a bit since I was monetizing a life.

“Well, that’s only for overnight.” She continued as I began to feel a pit growing in my stomach. “In the morning she would need to go to another vet office for daily treatment. At night she would need to be transported back here to complete 24-hour care.”

I wasn’t told this crucial additional bit of information originally. As I mentioned, data received was scattered and piecemeal. After that bombshell I was left alone again as the sole, overworked doc on duty needed to exit for another emergency walk in.

By this time I’m stroking Daisy’s head and ear so hard, I’m afraid I’m going to pull the skin away from her skull. I’m thinking odds, probabilities and fiscal bandwidth. Then I suddenly felt like I was cheating on my current pup Princess. The figure $5 thousand popped into my mind too-no idea why. Would I spend this sum on Daisy who I barely knew but felt responsible for?

What if it was Princess in her place? What was Princess’ life worth?

What if Princess got sick soon and I already spent a fortune on Daisy?

I was stress-testing my fiscal parameters. And would Princess bite Daisy after all this? What were the odds Daisy would get well even after days, possibly weeks of intense treatment of 24-hour intravenous and monitoring? The vet was very cryptic to say the least. I needed more information to make a decision. And I was frustrated. I’m usually the one who is responsible and is consulted to resolve situations. Now, I just felt queasy and my brain was reeling. I realized the one who is customarily consulted did not like the unfamiliar role of one who required consulting.

Another hour passed. It was almost as if they timed a visit like clockwork every hour. I was beginning to think I could set a clock by the emergency crew.

This time a stocky vet technician entered. She was refreshingly straightforward, in my face and I was appreciative. “Rich, overall, this treatment will run $5 – $8 thousand by the time you’re done and there’s no assurance she will get better. The virus is pretty far advanced and the odds are not good.” She fell silent after that.

My dreams of a dog house and run in my new roomy backyard began to fade. The awkward introduction of Princess to Daisy also seemed to be more of a wish than a future reality.

“What would you do?” It just came out deadpan, without thought. I didn’t want it to, but it did; I did not want to hear the answer and I could feel my face tighten to a wince after the question left my lips. I rarely feel truly helpless-I can count the times on one hand. This night I moved on to the other hand.

“I would consider euthanasia. It might be for the best. It’s what I would do.”

Well, this was a horrible turn. But wait-Daisy appeared to be getting better from the time I picked her up out of the dirt; she was more responsive to me, her gums were pink (supposedly a good sign). How can it be the odds were so poor? The technician was sure they were and she had seen many of these cases. During this time, the poor puppy was sleeping deeply but I can tell her breathing was labored.

It was a decision I didn’t want to make. I make decisions all the time about lots of client dollars I treat as my own, but this was truly a dilemma for me and I was now up against the wall.

Next hour the vet returned, this round she had a bit more time for me. It was almost like the tech had prepped her. We reviewed the details again.

After six hours of tests, dialogue and anguish I made the decision to do what I thought was humane for Daisy. The vet and tech shed tears and thanked me for not leaving this poor girl on the side of the road. Supposedly, a parvovirus death is very painful. I didn’t want her to suffer, I wanted Daisy to have peace however, I wanted her to have that peace with me for years to come. I hated the decision and hated the fact that I took that road from the gym-at least at the time. I asked for a few more minutes with this gentle puppy who trusted me to take care of her and here I was soon to be responsible for ending her short life.

I whispered in her ear that I loved her (I truly did), I said goodbye full of tears and as I moved closer to her face full of fleas she licked me lightly on the cheek….

Of course I documented my experience on Facebook along with pictures. I also kept my daughter Haley abreast of all developments and I’m glad she wasn’t there with me. Facebookl friends were surprisingly sympathetic and caring and it was appreciated. The next day my good friend Stephanie (an ardent animal lover) and I exchanged commentary about the experience through instant messaging. I will spare all the colorful expletives about Daisy’s former allegedly irresponsible owners.

Steph: “What are you doing today?”

Rich: “Don’t know yet. Work being done on house. Just writing.”

Steph: “What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Rich: “I was hoping she would be ok. I would have built a space for her in the yard. She was only 7 months old.”

Steph: “Of course you would have kept her.”

I rolled right over Stephanie’s comment; perhaps I was too full of grief to consider it or respond to what I thought later was such a prolific statement: What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Random Thoughts:

1). Saving is so much more than something you do for future goals like retirement or education. It’s about having choice and occasionally it’s about the right now. Guess I always knew it; I’ve been preaching this money stuff for years. But sometimes you can lose sight of the obvious until a series of words and actions conjoin to re-spark your perspective. Money is part of life and sometimes it allows you to make a decision out of love. Some thoughts:

2). Occasionally saving money is to make a choice for today, not tomorrow. Would I even had the ability to help Daisy if I was overburdened with debt and didn’t have a strong saving discipline? Probably not. I would have possessed little if any financial flexibility to save this precious girl if her odds of recovery were good. Saving today can help you today, perhaps on your way home from the gym or grocery store.

3). Why you save reflects your passions and beliefs about money: Perhaps you save to give to a specific charity, or to help an animal or take your family on a special trip every year. It’s not the money, it’s what it adds to the fabric of your life and the good you do with it based on strong feelings and beliefs. Eventually some of the money is spent on a form of enrichment. Or at least, I HOPE SO.

4). Your household budget should be on the tip of your fingers, or as close to you as your smart phone. I was able to assess my budget and financial situation quickly. I was under enough stress already with the decision to help a dying animal. I don’t want to fly blind financially. Sit down alone or with a professional to understand the daily dynamics of your finances.

5). Saving is a gift to yourself. Even though I abhorred the decision I was required to make about Daisy’s life, I realized after my head cleared a bit, the money empowered me to save her from a prospective horrible death she certainly didn’t deserve. What if I wasn’t financially prepared? I would have needed to call animal control perhaps and I would have never been able to sit well with that decision, at all.  I’m grateful to have crossed this puppy’s path; it was money well spent to give Daisy peace.

Years ago, a country music singer/mentor told me: “You name the things you love.” I realized for me to say I called her Daisy was blatantly incorrect.

I named her Daisy because for six hours, I loved her-because she needed me to. I still do. I will always. Are you saving for what and who you love for tomorrow and most important, today?

Think about it before a decision is thrown in the road on your way home.

I know she rests in peace. Love and money was able to provide a few more hours of comfort.

And I would do it again.

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