Poetry for Cats

Call me crazy, but I like to write poetry.

For cats.

Cats are a good training ground for poets. They are largely indifferent to poetry, like the overwhelming majority of people, but that still makes them a more receptive audience than my wife, who is openly hostile to the stuff.

Writing poetry for cats is low-level mental stimulation, like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, but you make up the problem to be solved, rather than some faceless drone at a newspaper syndicate, so when you’re done you’ve created something. Albeit on a par with a gimp necklace at summer camp.

It takes very little activity, or inactivity, on the part of my cats to serve as my muse. Here’s a cat poem I thought of just last night:

I take my laser pen in hand
and shine it in a circle.
My little cat goes chasing ’round,
it drives him quite berserkle!

Then I take what I’ve written, crumple the paper up into a ball, and throw it across the room. My cat pounces on it, extending our fun, and conserving precious resources through recycling. I’m trying to reduce our humor footprint.

Just because I write poetry for my cats doesn’t mean they’re sissies. They’re both males who will stay out all night, getting into fights with all manner of beasts. They bring us sustenance; field mice, birds, chipmunks. Once Rocco, the younger of the two, horse-collared a squirrel from behind, like a member of the New England Patriots’ defense, and dragged it, dying, to our back patio. As a former high school middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive alignment, I found this to be a most gratifying spectacle.

Horse collar tackle

T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is perhaps the most famous collection of cat poems, but it has always struck me as a bit fuss-budgety, like its author, a native of St. Louis who became a British subject in 1927, thereby missing out on seven World Series titles by the St. Louis Cardinals. What a dope! That book, of course, was turned into the hugely successful Broadway show Cats.

T.S. Eliot: And you call yourself a Cardinals fan!

My wife once bought us tickets to see the show for my birthday, assuming that because I liked cats, I would like the show, but she sensed my indifference to Eliot’s work at dinner. As we left the restaurant for the theatre we were approached by two show tune mavens who breathlessly asked us if we had tickets we were willing to sell. We gave each other a look that lasted as long as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, then sold the ducats at a premium. This is the first and only known instance of scalping by a Presbyterian woman since the church was established during the Scottish Reformation in 1560.

Cats: Thanks, I’ll pass.

Lots of poets have had cats, chief among them Samuel Johnson, whose cat was named “Hodge.” I had a girlfriend whose cat was named after Johnson’s. When we had her refined friends over she’d tell the story about how, when Johnson learned of a wave of cat-napping sweeping London at the height of the popularity of catsmeat pies, he looked down at his cat and said “They’ll not have Hodge!” Sort of NPR humor, as Harry Shearer would say–loads of muted titters. We broke up; she got the cat, and I got the hell out of there.

Johnson: How do you know you won’t like cat’s meat unless you try it?

For my money, the greatest of all cat poems is For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey by Christopher Smart (1722-1770), from Jubilate Agno. It’s a work that every pet store owner and cat groomer should have up on their wall, in needlepoint. Surely you know its stirring opening lines:

Christopher Smart, wearing his “everyday” mortarboard

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey.
For he is the servant of the Living God,
duly and daily serving him.
For at the First glance of the
glory of God in the East
he worships him in his way.
For is this done by wreathing
his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk,
which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

Musk is the smelly substance obtained from a small sac under the skin of the abdomen of the rodents cats kill, and to “roll upon prank” refers, in a charming 18th century way, to cats’ preferred method of applying it. Yep–that’s a real cat there, not some Broadway-bound dancer-pussy.

Oh–I neglected to mention that when Smart wrote the above, he was a resident of Bedlam, the London hospital for the mentally ill.

Call him crazy.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Cats Say the Darndest Things” and “poetry is kind of important.”

Celine Dion, Ph. D.

Celine Dion has been awarded an honorary doctorate degree by a Canadian university.

Mes cher amis–

It is a great honor today to accept from thees fellow with thee funny hat the honorary doctorate degree.  For too long, how you say, “smart aleck” rock critics have made fun of me because I have 3,000 pairs of shoes or something like that.  Well, to them I say–“Phooey.”  What do they have, a worthless English degree from a cow college in one of America’s square states, or one that begins with an “M” such as Missourissippie or something.  Fat lot of good that will do you when you apply for the job of mutli-talented singer with her own theatre in Las Vegas!

Alanis Morrissette:  “Anybody got any Static Guard?”

I see you back there, Monsieur and Mademoiselle Protestor!  You say University Laval has lowered its standards by giving me an honorary degree.  What do you know, you who have spent five or six years sucking down American cola drinks in the student union to stay up for your crummy calculus mid-term, while I was winning the hearts of millions?  Let me tell you what you know–zero for nothing!  Who do you think should get the honorary degree–maybe Alanis Morrissette, who is only beginning to be somewhat good-looking after years of stringy, fly-away hair.

“Excusez-moi if I look a little–how you say–smug?”

You cannot know how long my lack of a high school degree has haunted me, like a hidden scar on my body that you would die to have–if you are une femme–or to touch if you are un homme!  Now, I skip over the awful high school years–and college too!  I am Celine Dion, Ph. D, like Brenda Starr, Reporter, or Nancy Drew, Girl Detective!

Trois Celines–no waiting!

How many plus often times after a wonderful performance would I attend a reception with powerful people, and my lack of education would hinder me.  “Celine,” someone would say after introductions and pleasantries, “I know you are beautiful and have a voice that would blanch an almond, but what are the principal exports of the Benelux Countries, and when did they dig the Suez Canal?”  To these questions, I could only respond with that determined-petite-jeune-fille look I get when I play air guitar, and sing “My Heart Will Go On” to change the subject.

L’guitar d’air, a la francais.

But no more.  Now, when someone asks me “Dr. Dion, who wrote Voltaire’s ‘Candide’?” I simply say–“I cannot answer that now.  Come see me during office hours between 10 and 11 p.m. on the fifth Tuesday of each month.”

Feminist Gift-Shopping is Man’s Work

High school graduation time is here, which means that over-achieving young women across America are preparing for the next phase of their lives–matriculation (which is not as painful as it sounds) at an expensive four-year liberal arts college. One of them happens to live in our town.

Wellesley College

“We need to get a graduation gift for Alicia,” my wife said yesterday.

“Isn’t that your bailiwick?” I asked.

“She says she needs something feminist,” she replied. “Why is that?”

“At most of your better schools, it’s mandatory, sort of like the swim test,” I replied. “So the cheerful, outgoing co-captain of our state champion all-white Hip-Hop Dance Team . . .”

“That’s her . . . “

“First team conference All-Star in field hockey . . . “

“The same . . . “

” . . . is going to become a grim, humorless feminist?”

“I guess,” my wife said with indifference.

I was silent for a moment, taking this in. “Well, good for her!” I replied finally. Of course, I went to college in the seventies, when a mildly insensitive comment by a male was often rewarded with verbal and physical abuse by gangs of marauding females. I learned my lesson orientation week when the most affable, outgoing guy on campus was kicked in the shins for giving the wrong answer to the litmus test riddle about the child who’s in a car accident with his father, wheeled into surgery and examined by a doctor who says “I can’t perform the operation–that’s my son.” (Hint: Some doctors are women.)

Burger: “I do not now, nor have I ever, owned a Helen Reddy album. Well, only her Greatest Hits.”

My wife, on the other hand, graduated in the early eighties, when most of the gains sought by the feminist movement had been achieved. Oh sure, the Equal Rights Amendment and comparable worth legislation are still a distant dream, but the right of whiny, nasal female singers like Helen Reddy to record feminist pseudo-anthems such as “I Am Woman” was affirmed by a unanimous Supreme Court, 8-0. Chief Justice Warren Burger, a night law school graduate, abstained because his wife was a woman.

“Leave it to me,” I said reassuringly. “Shopping for feminist stuff is a man’s job!”

Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap

I harkened back to my time on the South Side of Chicago, where I first imbibed the potent brew of radical feminism. Those were heady days; at the University of Chicago, an alumna–radical bomber Bernadine Dohrn–was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List (take that, Ohio State!), proving that a woman could do anything a man like her future husband Bill Ayers could.

Bernadine Dohrn: Bombs away!

My pals and I would sit in Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap, drinking Heileman’s Special Export beer, pondering the apparently unsolvable mysteries of The Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir’s term, not mine). “Hey Jimmy,” we’d shout at the bartender, whose real name was Bill, but who had acquired his nomme de biere along with the furniture and fixtures when he bought the joint.

“What?” he’d reply, speaking in monosyllables in order to keep his overhead down.

“Settle a friendly wager for us, would you?” we’d say, and then repeat Sigmund Freud’s enduring question, “What does a woman want?”

Nat Fleischer: “Pound for pound, Emily Dickinson was the greatest feminist poet who ever lived.”

“Jimmy” would reach behind the cash register for the reference books he used to adjudicate bar bets–the Guiness Book of World Records, Nat Fleischer’s Ring Encyclopedia, The Collected Works of Honore de Balzac.

“Let’s see,” he’d say as he flipped through them. “Sugar Ray Robinson, Lake Chaubunagungamaug–okay, here it is. ‘A woman must have everything.’”

The winner would accept congratulations from the house and enjoy a beer at the loser’s expense.

It was from such diligent study that I acquired a working knowledge of the best in feminist thought, which I pass on to you gratis, to make your graduation day shopping a breeze.

Non-fiction. Two classic choices, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The first comes with some baggage of the mauvais foi (bad faith) sort; while writing her, uh, seminal work, de Beauvoir allowed Jean-Paul Sartre to boss her around like a chambermaid. What’s up with that? Go with La Friedan.

Anne Sexton: “Look nonchalant–like this?”

Poetry. The obvious choices here are Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton, two confessional poetesses who committed suicide. But this is poetry–you’ve got to look beneath the shimmering surface. Emily Dickinson is the Cal Ripken of feminist poetry; she goes to the ball park every day, bangs out a single, and by the end of her career has an oeuvre that, pound for pound, makes Plath and Sexton look like flyweights. To mix my sports metaphors.

Marilyn French

Fiction: Plath’s The Bell Jar is a perennial favorite, but you should also consider The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French, which sold twenty million copies. French said her modest goal in life was “to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world.” Perfect for the young woman who’s feeling sorry for herself because she missed the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy.

Drama: Irony of ironies, the greatest feminist plays have been written by men. Sort of like how the Red Sox used to trade their best players–Babe Ruth, Red Ruffing, Sparky Lyle–to the Yankees. There’s Lysistrata by Aristophanes, about the eponymous character who persuades the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands as a means of forcing them to end the Peloponnesian War. There’s Hedda Gabbler, by Henrik Ibsen, which is loads of laughs. And there’s Medea by Euripides. I summarize the plots of the first two plays for my wife, and am about to describe Medea to her when she gets up from the table.

“Excuse me,” she says, “I need to see whether Mr. Jock,” our wayward senior, “has finished his final assignment.” She goes to the foot of the stairs and explains “FOR THE LAST TIME, FINISH YOUR GODDAMN INTERNSHIP REPORT OR YOU WON’T GRADUATE AND I’LL BE STUCK WITH YOU HERE NEXT YEAR, WHICH BELIEVE ME I AM NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO!”

Children: They’re cute when they’re young.

She returns and I give her a synopsis of the Greek tragedy; Medea kills her husband’s lover, then their two children.

“That sounds nice,” she says. “I’ll keep it–send Alicia the other two.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Difference Between Men and Women.”

The Lost Ballet of Sidney Bechet

In the annals of jazz there is no more strongly polarized musician than Sidney Bechet. A Creole–that is, a descendant of mixed European and African heritage–he came from a class that considered itself superior to pure descendants of African slaves, and yet despite his superior education and comfortable upbringing he was forced by Jim Crow laws into a class he considered beneath himself.

Sidney Bechet


He and other Creole musicians became “persons of colour” after the Civil War as the South was resegregated following the collapse of Republican state governments, and they were excluded from white orchestras and white venues even though they were in many cases classically trained.



As a result, he was steeped in the more emotional music that was played on the “wrong side of town” in New Orleans–the red-light district called “Storyville,” or simply “The District.” The rhythms of the music he learned to play on his clarinet there were looser, and the notes were bluer, bent to places in between the “normal” pitches of the European twelve-tone scale.

Scott Joplin


And so Bechet’s repertoire, as preserved today, included such gut-bucket songs as “Shake It and Break It,” “Save It, Pretty Mama,” “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None O’ This Jelly-Roll,” and “Here It Is Daddy, Just Like You Left It–No Hands Have Touched It But Mine,” pieces you wouldn’t hear when the conductor motioned for a classical orchestra to begin.



Yet Bechet, like ragtime composer and pianist Scott Joplin before him, never abandoned his classical aspirations. He moved to France, the country of his white ancestors, in the 1940s, and he lived out the rest of his life there, achieving fame and wealth that would always have remained beyond his grasp in America. He was the first foreigner to sell more than a million records in France, and he became something of an institution there in his golden years in the manner of Louis Armstrong. Bechet was an irascible man all his life, arguing with bandmates and clubowners and spending a year in jail in 1929 after shooting and wounding a man and two women in an argument. “Pops” he was not.

In the early 1950s Bechet composed several major orchestral pieces, including “La Colline du Delta” (The Hillside on the Delta), a ballet.  As Bechet described it in his autobiography Treat it Gentle, he was approached at the Vieux Colombier in Paris by a gentleman named Andre Coffant who said “I have a proposition to make.  I’m working on a story for television, for ballet, for this young lady.”  Coffant then introduced a dancer to Bechet, who said “I’d like to see the story.”

Bechet read the script and, in his words, “put the music to it as best I felt about it; I always had a desire to do something like that, you know.”  When Bechet returned to America he had his friend James Tolliver arrange it for him, and “everything was fine”–except that the young lady who was supposed to dance the piece went to Vienna and “gave up dancing entirely.”  There were further discussions between Coffant and a producer about filming the ballet that came to nothing, because (according to Bechet) one wanted to film it in color, and the other in black and white.

It wasn’t until 1953 that the music was recorded, and the ballet wasn’t performed until 1955 in Brussels.  The score was subsequently performed twice in France, then recorded without a full orchestration in a limited edition and forgotten until a few years ago when James Ralph of the Oregon Festival of American Music found an out-of-print CD and persuaded the French publisher that held the rights to the work to produce orchestration for it.

Dance notation

The score consists of but twenty minutes of music which must support a too-heavy story line involving the death of Bechet’s grandfather following a romantic entanglement with a fellow slave. No dance notation exists, and so choreographers are free to interpret the music without the burden of representation, as did Toni Pimble when La Colline was performed in Oregon.

We will never know what La Colline could have been in full, just as we will never know what Joplin’s first opera, A Guest of Honor, sounded like. The score to that work is believed to have been impounded by the proprietor of a theatrical boarding house after a member of Joplin’s touring company stole the box office receipts and he could not pay the bill.

We will have to make do with what we have, which is Joplin’s Treemonisha and twenty minutes worth of La Colline, and try to imagine how a native African-American classical music could have developed from such roots.

High Stakes Transform Innocent World of Spelling Bees

SEDALIA, Mo.  It’s the final round of the third-grade spelling bee at Sacred Heart Elementary School in this small Midwestern town, and you could cut the tension in the school’s gymnasium with a wooden ice cream spoon.

The two finalists are Dixie Lee Ray, a tall girl with dark brown hair, and Teddy Grotka, a shorter boy wearing the tie and white shirt his mother bought him for his First Holy Communion.

Image result for wooden ice cream spoon

The metal folding chairs are packed with parents, teachers and students, all perched on the edge of their seats.  Only one person looks out of place; a middle-aged man with a sport shirt open at the collar to reveal a gaudy gold chain on his hairy chest.  He skulks along the back wall of the gym holding a Dora the Explorer back-pack in each hand, one blue, one pink.

Lloyd “C-Note” Daniels, the apparent intruder, is a new element in the increasingly high-stakes world of competitive spelling; a sports agent who stands to make millions if he can sign a young phenom and serve as escort to the world of professional orthography and big-ticket product endorsements.

“The smart money’s on Dixie Lee,” says Daniels as his eyes scan the room for the school’s principal, a Precious Blood nun named Sister Mary Joseph Arimathea whom the agent describes as a “holy pain in the ass.”  “Teddy’s a comer, no doubt about it, but Dixie Lee’s parents are professors at State Fair Community College, so she’s got the bloodlines,” says Daniels, handicapping the action.

Spelling bees, like beach volleyball, had been around for years before a “perfect storm” came together in the entertainment industry to bring them to national prominence; the documentary film “Spellbound,” the Broadway musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and the movie “Akeelah and the Bee.”  “Before all the hoopla, I had this gig pretty much to myself,” says Daniels.  “Now, guys who used to schlep sneakers around to CYO basketball tournaments are trying to horn in on my game.”

Teddy Grotka steps to the microphone to spell the first word of the final round.  The moderator, Sister Mary Clarus, the school’s no-nonsense music instructor, calls out “accelerator.”

Teddy is obviously nervous, and Daniels watches closely to see how he handles himself in this clutch situation.

“Use in a sentence, please,” the boy says, and after a moment’s thought, the nun says “When the green light turns to yellow, Mommy steps down hard on the accelerator,” to scattered laughter.

“Did you see that?” says Daniels, folding his arms across his chest as if he is evaluating the brush strokes in a Caravaggio.  “He knows what the word means.  He just asked for a context check the way a good point guard calls a 20-second timeout–to settle things down.  Smart,” the agent explains.  He nods his head at the same time as he starts to tap his temple, and ends up poking himself in the eye.

Up on stage, Grotka clears his throat and begins.  “Accelerator.  A-C-C-E-L”

“Lot of kids will say ‘O’ now if they’re spelling phonetically,” Daniels says.  “Street smarts are okay, but you want kids with good fundamentals, too.”

Grotka pauses, and a mind-reader would see his brain running through the possible vowels to use–A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y–for the next letter.  The gym is as quiet as it was the day before when the seventh-grade basketball team needed two last-minute free throws from power forward Earl Glehrke to stave off a late rally by archrival Knob Noster.

“E”, Grotka says, and the rest of the letters spill out like SpaghettiO’s from a can.  “R-A-T-O-R”, the boy declaims, and Daniels is duly impressed.

“The kid nailed it,” he says.  “He’s got Kool-Aid in his veins.”

Dixie Lee is next, and she strides forward with a confident air that borders on cockiness.  “She’s like a Derek Jeter, you know?” says Daniels, “’cause she’s got that playoff experience under her belt.”  Indeed, the slim girl with harlequin glasses scored a perfect “100″ in last year’s second-grade competition, advancing to the regionals in Green Ridge, Mo. before transposing the first “a” and the “u” in “restaurant.”

Sister Mary Clarus calls the word “malfeasance,” and a murmur rises from the crowd.  “Geez,” Daniels says with a bewildered look on his face.  “That’s not part of a third-grade curriculum.  She can handle it, but it’s not gonna be easy.”

The girl clears her throat but doesn’t hesitate.  “Malfeasance,” she begins.  “M-A-L-F-E-I–”

A groan goes up from Dixie Lee’s mother, and just like that it’s over.  At first, Teddy Grotka doesn’t realize what has happened since he’s never heard the word that brought him victory.  When he sees the girl break into tears, however, he leaps out of his chair and pumps his fist before heeding hand signals from his mother not to incur a personal foul for excessive celebration.

Image result for dora backpack

It’s time for Daniels to make his move.  “I’m going after both of them,” he says as he picks up the backpacks and moves to the door through which the students will return to their classrooms.

“Hey Teddy–great job!  Dixie Lee–tough, tough word, okay?  I got something for both of youse.”

Sister Mary Joseph Arimathea sees Daniels and moves to cut him off.  “Get out of my school, you scumbag!” she screams.

“Hey Sister Joe, I don’t want no trouble, okay?  You’re doing your job, and I’m just doing mine.”

“Dora!” Dixie Lee squeals with excitement when she sees the pink backpack.

“There you go sweetie,” Daniels says as he hands it to her.  “It’s got an Artgum eraser in it and some Eberhard-Faber pencils and . . .”

Arimathea grabs the backpack and throws it in the school’s lost and found bin.  “That’s what I think of you and your . . . your . . . bullfeathers!” she says, spitting the words out with fury.

“I want Dora!” Dixie Lee cries, and the flow of tears she had stanched before begins again.

“Here sweetie–I got some Sour Patch Kids for you,” Daniels says as he slips the girl a pack of the soft and chewy treats before she runs off in tears to the girls’ room.

“You’re going to ruin her amateur standing,” the nun screams, her red face brilliant against her white habit.

“What about me?” Teddy says as he tugs at Daniels’ sport shirt.

Image result for scapular

“You?” Daniels asks expansively.  “You’re the champ!  You get one too!” he says as he hands the boy his backpack.  “Scram, okay?” the agent whispers.  “I’ll meet you over by the teeter-totters,” and the boy eludes the grasp of the angry principal.

“It’s people like you who are ruining spelling!” Arimathea says, her face so close to the agent’s you couldn’t slip a scapular between them.

“Sis–don’t look at me.  I could never spell for nuthin’, but at least I’m honest, unlike some of the maggots you got in the game today.”

“Like who?” she asks.

Daniels’ glance turns towards the girls’ room where a shadowy figure hands over a Barbie Dream House to Dixie Lee.  “I’m not gonna mention any names,” Daniels whispers, “but his initials are Jimmy ‘The Squid’ Alfonso.”

Image result for barbie dream house

The nun recoils in horror at the scene before her.  “Point shaving?  In my school?”

“Let she who is without sin,” Daniels says smugly before stalling as he forgets the rest of the homily. “Ding-a-ling-ling-ling, or whatever.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fun With Nuns.”

How to Talk to Your Cat About Drugs

If you have cats and they’re anything like mine, they’re apolitical. Mine are outdoor cats and get plenty of exercise, so they’re not fat cats. A check of the records at our state Office of Campaign Finance revealed that neither made any political contributions during the last election cycle. That’s why I was surprised this afternoon when Okie, the older of the two, jumped on my stomach while I was trying to take a nap, a petition to legalize catnip in his mouth.

“I’ve asked you not to disturb me when I’m resting,” I said.

“This will only take a minute,” he said. “We’re gathering signatures to legalize catnip.”

I looked at him with my left eyebrow raised to express my pitiless contempt for his inferior intellect. “Catnip is legal, you stunod.”

Image result for grey tabby


“That’s not what mom told us.”

I shook my head, almost involuntarily. “For somebody who’s supposedly curious, you’re awfully credulous.”

He gave me that tilted-head look, like the dog in the old RCA Victor ads. He does that when he’s confused or I’m playing the harmonica.

“What does ‘credulous’ mean?” he asked. I was glad to see that he’d at least learned to add quotation marks around a word he’s mentioning but not actually using in a sentence. It’s something he picked up when I read to him from the writings of Willard Van Orman Quine, a philosopher. I’ve tried to instill this linguistic precision in all of our pets, except for the fish my son’s girlfriend gave him, who seems to be a mute. The fish, that is, not the girlfriend.

Image result for w v o quine
W.V. O. Quine: Note obligatory beret to offset four initials.


“‘Credulous’ means you believe things too readily,” I explained. “Mom tells you catnip’s illegal because she doesn’t want you getting high.”

He took all this in. “Sign it anyway,” he said after a while. “Just to be sure.”

I signed, and began to scratch his head. “Look,” I said, “I know you guys like it when I give you catnip, but it’s a special treat, or to get you to stop beating the crap out of each other when I’m listening to music.”

He stared off into space, the way dogs in George Booth cartoons do. “I think music sounds better when I’m on catnip,” he said after a while.

Image result for george booth cat

“That’s because catnip is a euphoric, like marijuana,” I said, scratching him under the chin.

“How would you know?” he asked, and with that, the moment so many Baby Boomers have dreaded arrived. It was time to talk to my cat about drugs. I cleared my throat and set sail over what were uncharted and possibly stormy waters.

“Okie–buddy,” I began, but he cut me off.

“You only call me ‘buddy’ when you’re putting me down in the basement for the night.”

“This is one of those subjects that call for ‘tough love.’ When I was your age, I experimented with a lot of things. Rather than risk an arrest that would follow me for the rest of my life, one day I took some catnip . . .”

“Which belonged to Baby Cat and Big Kitty, right?” He was referring to the two cats I grew up with.

Image result for orange tabby and calico
Baby Cat: Nobody wanted her because she was *sniff* different!



“Those are extremely stupid names.”

“We named those cats when we were toddlers.”

“Still,” he said with a little snort. “Continue.”

“Well, when I reached high school, a lot of kids went off to Haight-Ashbury for the Summer of Love. I stayed home.”


“I needed something to help escape my boring summer job, so I put some catnip in one of my dad’s pipes and–smoked it.”

He looked at me like I was the one with the sub-human intelligence. “Why didn’t you just put some in a felt mouse and roll around on it?” he asked.

“I was out with friends in a car–that would have looked pretty stupid.”

“Okay,” he said. “So what happened?”

“Not much. I felt a little light-headed, but that could have been just from the smoking. Humans can get high from catnip, but the effect is pretty mild.”

He seemed to be taking it all in, processing it. “I know you’re going to hit me with a moral now,” he said after a moment.

“Not really,” I said as I stroked his back. “I think you’re better off trying something that won’t do you much harm than to have you discover it on your own after mom has scared the bejeezus out of you.”

He nodded his head and took a lick at his left shoulder. “I appreciate your honesty,” he said finally.

“I think it’s best.” So I’d gotten through to him after all. “I always feel better after we have these talks,” I said. “Anything else on your mind?”

“Yeah,” he said as he jumped down from the couch. “Do you have any Grateful Dead albums?”


Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

Take Two Llamas and Call Me in the Morning

A Massachusetts nursing home that doesn’t believe in antipsychotic drugs uses alternative methods to calm patients including a llama named Travis, whom a caretaker leads through the halls.

                                                              The Boston Globe

Over-the-counter generic.

We had tried everything with Mr. McKelvey–drugs, electroshock, Wheel of Fortune–but nothing seemed to calm his agitated mind.  He would wander the wards, enter other patients’ rooms and move their personal items–family photos, eyeglasses, much-beloved tchotchkes–not out of malice, as we ultimately learned, but from a deep-seated sense of aggrieved mischief-making, which is totally different.

Still, he was at times a danger to himself.  He would wander off the grounds seeking–we didn’t know what.  I thought it was time to call in a specialist from Boston’s extensive camelid-based therapeutic community.

Crack team of specialists

“Do you have the LLamatologists Directory?” I called to the young woman who was interning with us in the geronto-petting zoo ward.

“Right here, doctor,” she said in a voice made husky by the long nights she was on call, tending to the various South American fauna needs of our patients.  “But are you sure a llama is . . . appropriate?”

I gave her a look that spoke volumes–nos. 2A through 4 of the International Encyclopedia of Camelid Medicine.  “And what, may I ask, do you propose as an alternative?” I asked skeptically.  You have to put these young people with their “holistic” medicine in their place before they start questionning tried-and-true methods the elder statesmen of the profession have perfected after years of stepping into llama poop.

“You sure stepped in that one.”

“Perhaps an alpaca, or a guanaco–maybe even a vicuna,” she said, looking for all the world as if she had just stepped out of a particularly overwrought episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

“Shouldn’t you have added a tilde to the ‘n’ of that last species?”

“It is the internet–there is only so much I can do by way of punctuation,” she said, her eyes narrowed scornfully.  I knew what she was thinking; I was past my prime, old-and-in-the-way, a hidebound relic of a bygone . . .

“Would you stop with the internal monologue,” she said finally.  “We only have so much time.”

I granted her that much.  “How many llamatologists are there?”

“There’s Llama, Dr. Llance; Dr. Llarry; Dr. Llamont; and Dr. LleMoyne.

“What’s up with the last guy?” I asked.

“He’s from Missouri–what did you expect?”

I’m not an East Coast snob–even though I’ve never been further west than Kenmore Square–but still, I didn’t want to be questioned in hindsight.  Or foresight.

“Where did he go to school?”



“The beaver–nature’s engineers.”

Chicks dig beavers.

“Is he board-certified?”

“Looks like it.”

“No record of disciplinary proceedings?”

“He’s domesticated–and lanolin free.”

I’ve never understood why that last factor was important, but in my head I could hear myself defending the referral by saying “I checked him out–not a drop of lanolin on him.”

I hesitated for just a moment, then said “All right . . . ring him up.”

Baby llamas–kissing!

He was there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, which the lamb didn’t appreciate one bit.

“You are in need of a llamatologist?” he asked as he stood at my doorstep.

“Not me–Mr. McKelvey.  One of our toughest patients.”

“What seems to be the problem?”


“Advanced dementia, but he’s not responding to standard petting-zoo therapy.”

“It may be too late,” LleMoyne said.  “Which ward is he in?”

“Down the hall, to the left,” I said.

He slipped on the short, white coat that is the trademark of the healing profession.  I followed him as he went and could tell from his gait–and the huge chunks of dung he left behind–that he was a true professional.

We entered the Alzheimer’s ward–Alzheimer was out, so he spoke to the nurse on duty.

“Which one’s McKelvey?” he asked sharply.

“The cantankerous old coot over against the wall.”

LleMoyne sized him up and said “I can handle him.”

Bachelor party llama

We approached the old man’s bed and LleMoyne turned on his bedside manner.

“Well, well,” he said apropos of nothing in particular.  “How’s the world treating you?”

“Damn nurses won’t let me have my CAKE!” he screamed into the air, not looking us in the eye.

“Have you finished your vegetables yet?”  A well-trained geronto-llamacologist will encourage a patient to dig into his past in order to relate to the world around him.

“No.  Not gonna finish vegetables.  Don’t like ‘em.”

LleMoyne turned and gave me a look.  “He’s going to be a tough nut to crack.”

“Do what you gotta do.”

LleMoyne leaned over the bed and said softly “I’ll bet you’d like to pet me–wouldn’t you?”

McKelvey gave the llama a look of wild surmise, as Cortez’s men did when they first saw the Pacific Ocean, as described by Keats in On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.

“Could I?” he asked hesitantly.

“Of course you could . . . llamas feel good,” LleMoyne replied.

The old man began to stroke the regal creature, who responded by lowering his neck and nuzzling the patient on the cheeks.  “You really need to shave,” animal said to man.

“You do too,” McKelvey said right back, although his face had softened to a smile.  I took the patient’s pulse, and his heart rate had slowed to a crawl.

“You’ve done it!” I exclaimed to the llama, as McKelvey started to munch on yellow beans, cottage cheese and pureed carrots.  We’re known for our 5-star cuisine.

“It’s what I’m trained to do,” LleMoyne said as he tried to write out a prescription in his illegible handwriting–even worse than human doctors!

“What’s this say?” I asked as I turned the scrip every which way, trying to decipher it.

“Take one llama every day before meals,” he replied.   “And don’t use the generic stuff.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”

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