Friday, June 30, 2006


Lately, I've been thinking about the things in my possession that have stuck around. Not the items I've purposely saved because of sentimental attachment, but utilitarian things that for no apparent reason have weathered decades of my life and countless moves.

Exhibit one: The green plastic-handled fork that came in the picnic basket given to my ex-husband and me for a wedding present by my friend Kathy, with whom I grew up but with whom I no longer stay in touch. I no longer have the picnic basket but I saved the utensils to use at work. The fork "went missing" a few months back, but I didn't notice it was gone until I went to the restroom one day and found it sitting on a shelf in front of the mirror. Apparently, left behind by someone who had "borrowed" it from my desk. Age: 10 years.

Exhibit two: An orange and white bath towel that made its way to my childhood home after my mom's sister died. Somehow after my own father died last year, it made its way to my new place -- perhaps it was wrapped around a breakable item in a suitcase. The other day I looked in the mirror after my shower and thought, "I am wrapping my hair in the same towel that I wrapped it in when I was in high school." Age: 20+ years.

Exhibit three: A predominantly sky blue tie-dye tank top that my sister brought me back from a trip to San Francisco when I was 16. She doesn't even remember giving it to me. Age: 22 years.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Stosh, the Farting Cat

In 1991, my college roommate and I rented a house in the country, in a little town called Yorklyn in Delaware. It was huge, with a big yard and a horse farm in the back. This house, we soon found out, already had an occupant: a young brown tabby cat that knew how to climb under the back porch, into the basement, up the basement stairs and through the basement door that never did latch properly.

I met him outside the first time I stopped by to clean the house before we moved in. Then, there he was upstairs when I turned around from vacuuming on the second floor.

It was clear he wasn't going anywhere, so Vic, my roommate, and I decided to let him stay. We initiated him to the three cats he would be living with -- mine, Vesper, and hers, Sophie and Theo, by throwing them all together in the kitchen on move-in day. There was no hissing as I recall, and the only inconvenience was that the tabby -- who was not neutered -- occasionally tried to hump the other cats, even though only one was a girl.

I adopted him, neutered him, fixed the hernia the vet discovered in his belly and named him Barn Cat, Barney for short, as Vic and I were confident he had been born in a barn somewhere around there.

Barney got fat. Really fat, to the point where anyone who met him for the first time would say, "That's the fattest cat I've ever seen in my life!" A plumber in San Francisco really insulted him once when he asked me, "She pregnant?"

I moved that cat, along with Vesper, to another apartment in Delaware, then to apartments in North Carolina and Boston, with a quick few months in New Jersey one summer, and finally, out to San Francisco.

Barney was healthy until a few years ago, when I took him to the vet because I'd felt odd bumps on the back of his neck. Turned out he had gotten a shot somewhere along the way, for rabies or feline leukemia, probably, that had had a bad reaction and resulted in a tumor. Vaccine-associated sarcoma, it's called.

With the help of my sister and a friend, I paid to have the tumor removed and for the ensuing radiation. He lived for another three years -- one more than the doctors had predicted -- and had a high time lying in the sun on the porch in Noe Valley. You see, Barney wasn't just a cat, he was a personality, a presence. I think when it was time for him to be incarnated, God just happened to have a cat's body on hand. He could have been any animal, and was at home with dogs and cats alike.

He died two days before Thanksgiving.

It was a shitty year -- I'd lost my father, my cat, and some of my siblings were being real asswipes. But I didn't want to get another cat too soon. And actually, Vesper seemed to be just fine being the sole object of my affection.

Two weeks ago, I decided it was time. And into my small family I adopted a gray and white cat that had been on death row at Animal Care and Control. I named him Stosh, a Polish nickname for Stanislaw.

He is smart, affectionate, gets along fine with Vesper -- and, it turns out, he farts.

(In the second photo, Vesper is saying, "That stupid cat thinks his shit don't stink. Well, he's got another stink coming.")

When I first got Barney, he would fart too -- usually when I had just picked him up. I don't think he was used to being picked up, and he just kind of let loose sometimes.

With Stosh, I think it's because he's probably not accustomed to wet food.

The first time he did it, we were sitting on the couch. I didn't hear anything, but suddenly the SMELL! I laughed and he looked perplexed.

The next time it happened, we were at the vet for his first checkup. "He's gorgeous!" the vet was telling the person who was checking us out. So I lifted Stosh's carry bag up onto the counter to show her. And he farted again! I laughed again and told the girl the he must have farted. Judging by her look, I don't think she believed me.

But he does! Cats, not just dogs, do fart! Really, it wasn't me ...

Really, I ask you, how can you resist this face?

How I Got Here & Little Henry

I moved to San Francisco from Boston in 1996 after agreeing to marry the man I thought was the love of my life -- against the advice of my best friend, Erica. This advice came in two sittings:

In the first, we were at lunch in the cafeteria of Houghton Mifflin publishing, where we earned enough money to drink beer at Charlie Flynn's after our graduate writing classes at Emerson College. (That cafeteria made killer butternut squash that we could eat by the tubful.) The conversation went something like this:

E: Are you in love with him?
Me: I used to be. I used to want to marry him when we first met.
E: You used to want acid-washed jean shorts, but you wouldn't wear them now.

I had to concede that was a pretty good point.

The second advice session occurred over dinner on another night at Small Planet, where we were addicted to the Thai shrimp and noodles with peanut sauce. (Years later when we visited, the waiter swore they had never served such a dish. Mysterious.)

Erica emptied out the container of white sugar, pink Sweet & Low and blue Equal packets onto the table and assigned each color a point value of 5, 10 or 15. She asked me to name all the negatives and positives about marrying Mark, and as I did so, she plunked the packets into two piles.

Positive (15): I could have children.
Negative (15): I'd have to move.
Negative (5): I wouldn't be able to date anyone else ever.

And so on. We had to do the exercise three times before "marrying Mark" came out with a better score than the alternative once all the packet points had been added up. (I have since found that the sugar-packet method of decision-making is surprisingly helpful.)

So ... off I went. Mark, a Northern California native, had gotten a job at Stanford, and I followed.

The rundown apartment he rented for us in Noe Valley, which earned our money by providing a spectacular view, lasted longer than our marriage. That screeched to a halt just shy of our third anniversary, when Mark headed off to a Stanford graduation ceremony and never came home. (OK, I'm being a bit dramatic here. He had said he wanted to leave, and I said, well, then, go. You'll see on his Web site that he's since morphed into a local lounge singer.)

I was in that apartment for 10 years. Well, I mean, not continuously.

Then last year, on June 10, the doctors told my 82-year-old father that he had stomach cancer and not long to live.
(Here's me and my Poppie dancing to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at my wedding.)
I returned to the town where I had grown up, to the only house I had ever known, that he and my mom had bought in 1955 when the family of eight they would go on to have was still a family of four. A Cape Cod-style cottage in Newark, Del. Four bedrooms, two baths. A basement that always scared the crap out of me. Surrounded by azaleas planted by my mother, who died in 1990. And a Christmas tree out front that was at least twice the size of the house -- from the first Christmas my parents spent there.

The rest of my siblings also came east, and we celebrated Father's Day with a picnic and pretended to be a normal family.

He died June 26, with three of us by his side, in the same room where, I imagine, I had been conceived.

I inherited a small amount of money, enough to claw my way into the real estate market in homeowner-resistant San Francisco by joining three other singles -- a police officer, a nurse and a computer trainer --in a tenancy-in-common in the Richmond District.

It's just a short walk from the Sutro Baths, Ocean Beach, the Coastal Trail and innumerable beautiful sights and conveniences. And we have roses (!) in the backyard.

Yesterday, I walked to the public library, reminiscing about how much I used to love the library as a kid. It was 12:30 when I arrived to find the building was closed until 1 p.m. So I ambled down another few streets to find a place to get some breakfast.

There it was, at the corner of 36th and Balboa: Little Henry Italian Cuisine. I ordered coffee, scrambled eggs and bacon, and it was fine. Then I looked around and realized -- everyone else in the place, the staff and customers -- were Chinese. In an Italian restaurant. Were there just so many Chinese joints already on Balboa that Little Henry thought to branch out? It put me in mind of another San Francisco riddle I've never been able to crack: Why are there so many restaurants that serve "Chinese Food and Donuts"? What do those two foodstuffs have in common?

And just who is Little Henry?