Oh, by the way

April 28, 2009

Farewell to bad things

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 4:24 pm

This is my week for saying farewell to bad things.

By far the toughest of them all is kicking tobacco out of my life. After 32
years of a pack-a-day habit, I¹m giving up cigarettes. The time has come
because I finally mustered the resolve to do it.

I am tired of smoking. I don¹t like stopping what I¹m doing to pause for a
cigarette. I don¹t smoke in my home or my car, so it is increasingly inconvenient to take a smoke break. It¹s not a pleasant ritual anymore. Smoking has become a colossal pain in my rear.

I¹ve been reviewing my gotta-have-a-cigarette triggers. Holy cow. Just about every move I make is punctuated with a cigarette. When I finish a task, I reward myself with a cigarette. When I have a cocktail, I want a cigarette. When I¹m stressed, I want a cigarette. When I¹m sitting around a table with friends who are smoking, I want a cigarette, too. When I sit and think, I want a cigarette. When I gab on the phone, I want a cigarette.

Right now, as I write this, I want a cigarette.

My trigger list is long. It¹s ridiculous how my waking hours are stapled together with pencil-thin sticks of plants wrapped in paper. I’m deeply disappointed in myself that my addiction is so out of control that it requires an elaborate scheme to rid myself of the habit.

But perhaps it is precisely because of all the energy I’ve invested that my plan will succeed. I bought nicotine patches; I am financially committed to this self-improvement project. A week’s worth of patches are cheaper than a week’s worth of cigarettes, so I’d like to think I’m making a sound fiscal decision as well as a good health decision.

Other preparations for my Quit Weekend include laying in a couple of good books to read in case I need to get out of my own head. I’ve also planned some projects around the house to keep my hands busy. If the shakes set in, I’ll go for walks. I’m a napper, so there’s always the possibility of taking an afternoon snooze to escape my cravings.

I considered bringing in extra favorite foods, but I shot down that idea because I’m not an emotional eater or a snacker. I’m just not wired for oral replacements. I chose the patches over gum because I am not a gum-chewer. I keep Jolly Ranchers on hand, but I’m not really a hard candy fan, either. But I’ve got them in case of an emergency.

I’ll be smoking my last cigarette on Friday, May 1. May Day! That coincidence is so ripe for bad puns, but I’ll restrain myself. After all, I am turning over a new leaf. Might as well start right here and right now.

Saturday and Sunday are going to be excruciating days, so I’ve been trying to prepare my cat, Louie, by telling him Momma may have a short fuse beginning Saturday morning. We’re not on the same page yet, but I suppose he’ll figure it out the first time I holler at him for no good reason. I’d better lavish him with extra attention between now and then so I’ll have some love built up in the Louie bank.

I suspect I’m going to need it.


March 18, 2009

The cat that cried ‘wolf’

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 6:24 pm

As much as I love him, Louie gets on my nerves once in awhile. Like last night.
Grandsons Tanner and Aydin were over for a visit. Apparently, the three of us weren’t paying enough attention to their feline uncle because Louie launched into an extended version of manic mode. For a good 30 minutes, my six-month-old kitten was zooming around the house, running up and down the hall and flying up and over the furniture.
At one point, I walked out of my bedroom and startled him. Louie’s response was to arch his back and walk sideways on his tippy toes.
“What’sa matter? Did I scare you?” I asked.
He glanced up at me, abruptly switched gears to pounce on a piece of lint, then high-tailed it to the living room.
Normally, this type of behavior amuses me. But I was in a yank to cook dinner for the boys. Sensing my lack of focus on him, Louie pulled out all the stops, determined to remain underfoot. A ferocious fan of running water, he jumped into the kitchen sink each of the three times I turned on the faucet.
When I opened a lower cupboard to pull out a skillet, he scooted past me into the back of the cupboard and nestled into a wok. When I opened the refrigerator, Louie climbed in and parked his carcass in the back of the bottom shelf. In both instances, he went limp when I tried to pull him out with one hand. I had to drop what I was doing so I could use both hands to drag him out of the cupboard and then again out of the ‘fridge.
“C’mon, Louie,” I pleaded with him. “Behave yourself so I can fix dinner.”
When Louie does things I don’t want him to, I redirect his attention elsewhere. This usually involves food or toys as bait. He’s got me pretty well trained.
Like Pavlov’s dog, I filled Louie’s half-full bowl with cat food. Even if he’s not hungry, he will take a few bites just because the food is fresh from the container.
Predictably, a calmer Louie crouched down to his bowl and nibbled. The next 30 minutes were uneventful as I cooked, served and ate dinner. Just as I began to clear the table, Louie meowed from the galley-style kitchen. It was a plaintive meow, as if he was in distress.
From my seat at the dining table, I scanned the counters, but I couldn’t see him. Steeling myself for a potential rescue, I took a couple of steps into the kitchen, but still couldn’t locate him. Louie meowed that troublesome “meow” again.
Following the sound, I looked up. Way up.

The top of this cupboard is about 8 feet off the floor.

The top of this cupboard is about 8 feet off the floor.

Louie was on top of the tallest cupboards eight feet up from the floor. I envisioned his path from the floor to the counter to the top of the refrigerator to his new-found perch. If he was stuck, he was really stuck because I didn’t have a ladder that would reach that far.
“Oh, for pity’s sake, Louie! What are you doing up there?” I scolded.
Intrigued, the boys hustled over to where I stood. The three of us stared at the cat. Louie stared back, blinked and then lazily rolled over on his back. This move speaks to his agility because he had only about four inches’ clearance between the top of the cupboards and the ceiling. In his rollover position, Louie’s head was hanging upside down and his front paws were outstretched. Clearly, this was not a cat in distress.
The boys asked how I planned to get Louie down.
“I’m not. He got up there on his own, so he’ll have to come down on his own,” I replied.
I herded the boys into the living room. Sure enough, his audience gone, Louie promptly came down and joined us.
I don’t know how I’m going to handle the next time Louie cries wolf. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve me stopping what I’m doing to go and investigate. Like I said, Louie’s got me pretty well trained.

February 9, 2009

A little pick-me-up

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 5:26 pm

Could you use a pick-me-up today? Click on this link and enjoy the video. It was shared with me by my daughter, Lara.

The clip has been making the rounds on the Internet for a couple of years now, but I suspect that it only gets better with age.



February 4, 2009

Red toaster, zebra shoes

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 4:36 pm

zebra-shoes-fixedI went to Kmart today during my lunch hour with the intention of buying a new toaster.

My current toaster is about five years old and on its last legs. It chronically misbehaves and requires tending to ensure items are evenly browned on both sides.

To make toast, I let the bread brown on one side, flip it over and let it brown on the other side. It doesn’t matter which of the four slots or which setting I use – the routine must be the same to get picture-perfect toast.

Woe is me if I get distracted. After popping in the bread, I reach in the ‘fridge to get the butter and inevitably eye some old lettuce or other food item about to sprout fuzz. I walk the bad food over to the trash can hidden in the pantry. Louis the Opportunist (my cat) runs in the pantry and has to be fished out before I close the door. Then the phone rings.

One thing leads to another and before you know it, I have burnt toast.

Yes, I have tried scraping off some of the black stuff with a knife, but really, that’s more trouble than it’s worth. I have to rinse out the sink right away because scraping toast creates a peppery mess. Then I must rinse the knife because if I don’t, tiny burnt toast shavings riding on the knife taint the butter supply. Between sink and knife duty, the toast is cold by the time I get ready to slather on the butter.

So I never scrape. I also decided over the weekend that I have wasted enough bread, which is why I am browsing through the toasters at Kmart.

I’m a little disappointed at the selection. The temporary sale tags explain why. Apparently I’m not the only person in Havasu who needed a new toaster this week.

The model I like is only available in red. I pull a box down off the shelf and cradle it in my arms. I pause. It’s a bold move for me, buying a red toaster. I stare at the floor model. Can I really live with that color? I know it is cheerful, but is it really the first bright thing I want to see when I’m stumbling around the kitchen in the morning? My current home décor leans toward the organic, decorated in soothing shades of green and brown. A red toaster could be construed as a punch in the nose.

I decide to live a little. Maybe it’s time to depart from the sleep-inducing color palette and punch things up a bit. The red toaster could be my inspiration piece, the springboard for a whole new decorating scheme. I decide that if the red toaster truly offends me in the morning, I can always avoid looking at it. Besides, I might really like it come afternoon.

I take two steps in the direction of the checkout lanes when I remember my burnt sienna kitchen rug and burnt sienna kitchen towels. Red and orange together? Blasphemy! If I was color blind, maybe. But I’m not. Red! Am I out of my ever-loving mind? Am I really ready to adopt such a dramatic change?

I do an about face, put the toaster back on the shelf and stomp off. I could get the red toaster, but then I would have to purchase a new rug and new towels. I’m getting ready to move and don’t want to buy all new stuff right now.

What if red is just too bold? I would have to suffer and live with my decision, particularly if the toaster functioned well and its only crime was being red. It’s such a big commitment.

I believe you need to live in a new space with most of your current stuff – for a few days at least – to absorb the vibes, find the hot spots and figure out how your possessions can be incorporated into the new dwelling. Then, if need be, you begin the process of replacing things.

I’m not in the replacement mood today. I just want a new toaster.

I wander away from the Kmart’s home section, deciding that I’ll live with my dysfunctional toaster a few days longer. All of a sudden, I find myself in the shoe aisle.

Now this is not a slam against Kmart, but I don’t buy shoes there. I’m not a snob, but the store’s shoes have never fit my skinny feet. I’ve tried. I’ve bought a couple of pairs, but they end up collecting dust because they are not totally and completely comfortable after all. I’m of the age where my feet bite back if they are not coddled. So I spoil them rotten and wear only comfortable shoes. Period.

Since browsing is not against the law, I have a look around. I spot a pair of zebra-print high heels. In size 7!

They’re so funky, they’re cute. I slip one on. It’s comfortable. I try on the other. It’s comfortable, too. I take a lap around the shoe racks. They fit! I push myself through a couple of more laps, picking up the pace to see if a real pounding sets off a wave of pinching and squeezing.

Nothing happens, which means the zebra shoes have officially passed the first test. I feel a little giddy. The style is way over the top for me. I’ve got to find a mirror, to see the truth. I am wearing khaki pants and a t-shirt, so I know the big picture is going to be sketchy at best.

I find a mirror and sha-zam! It is love at first sight. As I stand there adoring the zebra print shoes on my feet, I recall a long-ago slogan that a shoe company once used:
She used to be conservative, and then she got those shoes.

Is that me? It might be, in these shoes. I remove them and put them back in the box. I eye the empty slot on the shelf where the box in my hands used to sit.

I should put the shoes back. What will I wear them with? Will they inadvertently cause a fashion crisis for me? Will I need to buy something new to go with them? I didn’t want to buy towels and a rug to go with the red toaster. How could I justify buying a new outfit to go with the zebra shoes?

I throw caution to the wind and march towards the checkout counter. I need to buy the shoes right now, before I lose my nerve.

I put the shoes on the counter, and the clerk – a young man – asked me if I found everything I was looking for today.

“I came in here to buy a toaster,” I said quietly.

I’m debating again. Maybe I should put the shoes back and get the red toaster.

The clerk peers in the box.

“These aren’t a toaster,” he says brightly.

“No, they’re not, but I’ll take them anyway,” I replied.

I buy the shoes for $16, which happens to be about the same price as the red toaster.

But that toaster wouldn’t look nearly as cute on my feet.

February 3, 2009

Playing for Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 12:01 am

Visiting large cities is one of my favorite things to do. The food, the shopping, the entertainment choices, the diversity, the energy — what’s not to like?

A highlight of every trip is being entertained by street musicians. I’m no critic, but I think they’re all really good. More often than not, I have to drag myself away from them to get on to the next thing.

I had a friend who was a street musician for several years. He made a decent living at it — or at least he paid the rent and put food on the table with his earnings. He said you have to be good or you don’t make any money.

Being a fan of street musicians, I was delighted last week when a friend from Michigan sent me this link:

The clip is from a documentary in which essentially the street performers are all performing the same song, even though they live worlds apart.

Be warned: Watching the video may lift your spirits. When I viewed the snippet for the first time, it put me in a great mood for the rest of the day.


February 2, 2009

A parting of the ways

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 9:47 pm

I had a yard sale over the weekend. Considering that most of my items cost 25 or 50 cents, I did okey-dokey. I was able to put $250 in my savings account, a little cash in my wallet and a lot of quarters in the belly of my cow bank.
My friend Valerie helped me with the sale, answering questions, taking people’s money, making chit-chat with the customers. When the foot traffic slowed down a little after noon on Saturday, we positioned a couple of chairs just outside the garage and basked in the sun. A little later, Val and I munched on spinach salad and onion rolls, laughing that our first picnic of the season took place in my driveway.
It was an interesting day. One observation is that 75 percent of my customers were retired, or at least of retirement age. We only saw half a dozen kids the whole day. Four different people brought their dogs along, so it was nice to see them, too.
All my customers were friendly, pleasant and laid back. Daughter Lara and son-in-law Earl popped in for a nice visit, Valerie’s dad and mom put in an appearance and the neighbors sauntered over for a spell. My girlfriend Becky and her family came by, too, and took a very large plant container off my hands.
Valerie’s new pal also breezed by, just in time to meet her parents. I later told her that it was awfully nice of him to stop and see her while she was at her girlfriend’s yard sale — a girlfriend whom he did not know. Most guys wouldn’t bother, so I was impressed that he extended himself. Not that she cares, but he gets my vote.
Our friend, Dave, also stopped by and bought a box of assorted springs from me for a quarter. I was keeping them for an art project that never quite got off the ground. Since I was in the mood to rid of a lot of things, the springs made it the sale table.
I told Dave that I was made fun of because of the springs. Either Lara or Valerie — I can’t recall which — said, “Why are you selling those? Who would want a box of old springs?”
Dave said, “I’m buying them because you never know when you’re going to need a spring.”
My thoughts exactly.
All the familiar faces helped make the process painless because the yard sale turned into a social gathering. Plus, the weather was gorgeous, so we definitely got the cherry on top.
I am preparing to move across town in a few weeks, so the relocation was the impetus for my sale. Every item that someone bought was one more thing I don’t have to lug to the new place. When a customer bought a bagful of stuff, I was beside myself with joy. I gave out dozens of bags, so my happy meter was on “high” most of the day.
Those who know me well might not believe that last statement because I am such a packrat. But I find that as I age, I need less. I want to own less. I feel less burdened when I have fewer things to care for.
As the years roll by, letting go becomes easier.
Some of the stuff I sold Saturday were things I have been carting around for 30 years or more. The pots and pans, dishes, books and other doo-dads were fairly well-traveled. Many began with me in Indiana, were shipped to Miami, returned to Indiana, headed south again to Louisville, then headed north to Michigan. Their last stop with me was Arizona.
In one sense, parting with those items was like saying goodbye to old friends. We’d been through so many ups and downs together. But many of those things had been packed away for years. It was time for those objects to see the light of day again and be useful or make someone happy…as they once did for me.

January 28, 2009

I’m thinking egocentric

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 5:31 pm

Sometimes you just have to wonder what people are thinking.

A woman whom I do not know from Adam calls me about an upcoming newspaper project. She’s considering contributing her story. It took me a few seconds to even figure that out. As soon as I said hello, she says, “Hi, I’m So-and-So,” and immediately launches into her life’s story. No preface, no nothing.

She speaks loudly and quickly, even though I’m fairly certain she is not from New Jersey. Her demeanor is like a slap. It hits me as rude and pushy, so I cut her off.

“Is this for the project?” I ask.

She says it is. Then she starts to lobby for herself in a fever pitch. I am shocked that she is so egocentric. But I let that part go.

I cut her off again, quietly explaining that at that very moment, I’m on deadline. I want to emphasize the “quiet” part. Speaking softly can be an effective tool when someone is yelling. In most instances, if you lower your voice, the yeller will follow suit and tone it down.

Not this gal. She was having none of it. With the volume on high, she rambled on about her wonderfulness, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what she said. I just wanted to get off the phone.

I asked her to submit pictures and a couple of paragraphs about her story. I explained that I would follow up later, to flesh out the details. I intended to close the conversation by giving her my standard response.

“Don’t worry about how they (the paragraphs) are worded,” I said. “I’m going to fiddle with it anyway, so don’t agonize over it.”

I say this to most everyone who submits news items to the Herald because the fiddling part is going to happen as sure as the sun is going to come up tomorrow, whether their item is letter-perfect or not. We have a specific writing style that we adhere to, so rather than enforce the rules on incoming submissions, the news staff takes items “as is” and handles the squaring up part. This is pretty much standard procedure at every newspaper.

My prime motivation for the standard response is to put people at ease. For most folks, following closely behind their fear of public speaking is a fear of formal writing. It’s not a flaw…they’re just a little rusty at writing because they don’t do it very often. When I speak with most people about their pending written submissions, they almost always offer an apology or a disclaimer up front.

“What I put together might not be very good. I’m no writer, you know. I’m sorry,” they say.

“It’s okay. Just include the who, what, where, when and why and we’ll take it from there,” I say.

In my 10 years at the Herald, every single person to whom I have said that is audibly relieved.

“Oh, thank goodness. I was kind of worried about that part,” they say.

For them, it’s kind of like finding out the cavity isn’t so bad after all and it can be fixed without using novacaine.

Not So-and So. She turned my standard response against me, or rather against the newspaper. She doesn’t think too highly of the Herald.

“Oh, I can write,” she said, oozing with unbecoming confidence. “I’m in the master’s program for creative writing, and I correct you guys all the time.”

She may as well have called my children ugly.

“Oh, well, then I don’t have to worry about you then, do I?” I replied sharply.

She began to read the Herald’s pedigree, but I was done. I gave her my e-mail address and promptly ended the call.

So and So is not the first egocentric self-proclaimed expert I’ve met, nor is she the last. But these kind of people never fail to astonish me, no matter how many times I’ve been around the block.

What kind of person calls a complete stranger hoping to be included in a product and then proceeds to insult that same product? Not a very bright one, I’m thinking.

I will concede to So and So on one point, however. Like most newspapers, the Herald does have its share of mistakes and typos. But I promise you, not one person employed at the Herald wakes up in the morning, gleefully rubs their hands together and thinks, “Bwahhahaha! How can I screw up today? What’s the one mistake I could make to harm or insult someone?”

Every person I work with at the Herald takes great pride in his or her work. Each is highly aware and very concerned about public perception of our product. They know all too well about “moments of truth.” We have about 30,000 of them a day, so the goal is to be on top of our game with every issue.

In the newspaper business, a moment of truth is when a reader forms an impression about our product. On average, one copy of a newspaper is read by 2.5 sets of eyes. Given how many newspapers we sell every day, 30,000 is actually a conservative number.

Part of being in the newspaper business is accepting that mistakes are going to happen. But that never diminishes the wince factor. It is particularly high because our work is so public; everybody and their brothers are going to see an error. We detest mistakes, but know they come with the territory…and that we must live them down. In the newspaper world, there is no such thing as a product recall.

January 20, 2009

Two words speak volumes

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 7:05 pm

Other than when my sister and I would brawl as kids, I have never been a violent person. But bright and early this morning I wanted to slap a complete stranger. I wanted to slug him hard, to wake him up. I wanted it so badly that I began to shake.
To me, he represented everything that is wrong with America.
I was at the Circle K at Industrial and the highway. I stop there every morning on my way to work. I am always cheerful because a new day is beginning and I look forward to going to work. I like my job.
I am not alone in this. Other customers who stop in at the Circle K are cheerful. The clerks are always cheerful. In terms of human contact, it’s a good place to start the day.
As I place my purchases on the counter, I chat with Virginia, who is manning the cash register. We talk about how it’s too bad that the store doesn’t have a TV because she won’t get to watch President Obama’s inauguration in real time.
“No, I’m gonna have to miss it,” she said regretfully.
This creepy guy, a customer, approaches the counter and butts in on our conversation.
“Who cares?” he sneered. As in, who cares about the inauguration?
In an instant, my face feels like it’s on fire. I look at the guy. He’s a sloppy excuse of a man, wearing baggy sweat pants and a ratty t-shirt.
I begin to shake. I open my mouth to speak, to say “I care,” but the words won’t come out. I glanced at Mr. Creepy – his eyes were blank and expressionless. Nobody is home behind eyes like that.
I knew in an instant that there wasn’t one thing I could say to this person that would matter. He was too far gone. You know the type – they’re the folks who are just taking up space on the planet, not lifting one finger to be contributing members of society.
I’m certain that at the moment he uttered those two words -“Who cares?” – he believed he was coming off as cool, aloof and somehow above it all. But to me, he presented himself as uneducated, ill-mannered and crass. I’m also fairly certain he was nowhere near the polls on Election Day this past November.
Like the president, don’t like the president…it doesn’t make much difference. But be informed and have an opinion, for crying out loud. Bury the apathy and care about your nation. Do what you can to make this world a better place.
In the end, I’m glad I walked out and didn’t openly acknowledge or challenge Mr. Creepy. I also hope he isn’t breeding. We don’t need any more of his kind.

January 19, 2009

Porches I have known and loved

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 7:56 pm

As I was driving to my friend’s place the other day, I noticed a home that had a couple of park benches sitting in the gravel, flanking the front door. The benches looked lonely and inviting all at once. I supposed the seating didn’t get much use because Havasu isn’t really a front-porch kind of place.
And that’s a shame, because I’ve known some really nice front porches. They’re a great place to sit and think, or sit and read, or just sit. And perhaps best of all, a porch is great for your social life. When you’re sitting on your front porch, it is an implied invitation for friends and neighbors to drop by for a chat.
The visitors’ conversations almost always start like this: “We saw you sitting on the porch, so we thought we’d just swing in and say ‘hi’.”
And the host is delighted. “Sure, sure, have a seat, take a load off. How’re are you doing, anyway?”
Sometimes the chat is just a chat, but there are times it leads to refreshments served or an impromptu potluck dinner and a game of cards. Everyone’s so amicable; we’re all having such a great time, why stop?
When I was a kid, my family’s lake home had a front porch, and it was a busy place. The floor was brick; a low brick planter ran the outside length of the porch. Mom put lush red geraniums in the planter every summer. A large striped awning shielded the porch and the planter. There were chairs for six, but the porch could hold another dozen people if you counted the short walls of the planter.
The lip of the planter wall was ideal kid seating because our little hineys fit on it perfectly. And when The Adults weren’t looking, you could draw your fingers through the rich black dirt in the planter and create designs or, better yet, flick some soil on your sibling.
When I was a young mother in my early 20s, I lived on a pig farm. The old farmhouse we rented had a wonderful front porch. I put red geraniums in the planters, in memory of my late mother.
The farm was out in the sticks, surrounded by cornfields. There were no neighbors close by, but we always seemed to have plenty of front porch visitors. My favorites were those who arrived by tractor or combine. While I thoroughly enjoyed our friends’ company, I also got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing that farm equipment parked in the barnyard. I deeply regret never taking a picture.
It’s been about 10 years since I’ve had a proper front porch. But I am reminded of it every time I wear my pink sweatshirt because there’s a spot of hunter green enamel paint near the cuff on one sleeve. I acquired the green smear one cool morning when I was painting the porch floors at my Michigan house.
Actually, I had two porches at that house — a front porch and a long side porch. And every summer I’d give both those wooden porch floors a fresh coat of green paint. It was a labor of love, but I have to tell you, they looked like a million bucks when I was done.
The front porch of the brick Queen Victorian house was a little more formal and seldom used except by the mailman and people we didn’t know well.
It was the side porch that got all the action. We lived on Pearl Street, one block off the main drag in a neighborhood of large historic homes. It was a fairly busy street mostly frequented by the locals.
When we were porch-sitting, we’d see lots of people driving by whom we knew. Some would wave, others would honk and the loudmouths would yell something silly at us out the car window as they drove on. More than a few would pull in the driveway, hop out of the car and mosey on up to the side porch for a visit.
As the guest climbed the wooden stairs and walked across the wooden planks of that porch, well sir, you never heard a sweeter, more solid sound. It meant that company’s coming, that a friend has arrived.
Just so you know, I cursed that green spot on my pink sweatshirt when it was fresh. But now, a dozen years later, I view it as a happy accident. I’ll never get rid of that sweatshirt because it holds a gentle reminder of a cherished porch.

January 13, 2009

Training My New Man

Filed under: Uncategorized — by pamashley @ 5:54 pm

During my last visit to Key West, my friends and I wandered down to Mallory Square for the island’s nightly celebration of sunset. Beverage of choice in hand, it’s a fabulous and very popular way to end the day and begin an evening in paradise. My favorite factoid about this event is that the sunset ritual is so highly valued in Key West that there is a law which prohibits cruise ships from being in the harbor after a certain hour so as to not block anyone’s view of the always-spectacular sunset.

As the sun slips down to mingle with the horizon, street performers entertain the crowd in the long plaza. Hands down, my favorite act was Dominique and his trained house cats.

If you’ve ever owned a cat, you would have been equally impressed. Convincing a cat to do what you what them to do when you want them to do it nearly impossible. Yet here was this guy who taught his cats to perform a variety of tricks on command, not the least of which included jumping through a ring of fire.

Fire! A cat! I was floored.

I talked with Dominique after the show, to find out about the cats and see if I could weasel out any training tips. He said his cats were run-of-the-mill, no special breed, no preference of one gender over another. In fact, he noted that his top cat was a kitten he found at a rest stop in Michigan.

His training secret? It’s a persistent combination of firmly tapping the cat on the head with his index finger (to get the cat’s attention) and using a tiny bit of raw hamburger as a bribe. “They will do whatever I want them to do because they love the hamburger,” he explained.

Which brings me to Louis (pronounced Loo-ey). This little two-pound bundle of fur was a Christmas gift from my family.

Now I’ve had cats before, most notably Babe, who died in July 2008. She was 16. After her death, I was devastated. I resisted getting a new cat for a variety of reasons. I’m not home much, it was kind of nice being free of litter box duty, and my number one fear: Could there ever possibly be a cat as good and sweet as Babe? She was highly socialized and very friendly. When we adopted her, the kids were still at home and there were always lots of people around.

My home life now is so different from that. Would it be fair to bring a cat into a one-person home, a home that is zero-person for much of the day?

As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. My little guy and I are getting along famously, and he doesn’t seem to be suffering from being alone during the day while I’m at work. I’m suspecting that he sleeps most of the time, because by the time I get home, he’s in Wild Man mode.

Another thing that helps is my daughter Lara and son-in-law Earl are sort of sharing ownership of Louis with me. He is a regular visitor at their home. Louis has a carrying case, and when I place it on the floor and tell him it’s time to go bye-bye, he gets in and plops down. I tuck in his tail, zip the case shut and off we go.

The downside is I am not getting anything done around the house. This is not good because I’m getting ready to move and there is a lot of organizing, tossing and sorting that needs to be done.

All I want to do is sit and play with Louis. I’ve been late reporting to work more often than not because I can’t seem to tear myself away from him. My choices are play with Louis versus get ready for work. Hmmm. Not much of a toss-up. Who wants to fiddle with mascara when a little purring kitty wants to sit in front of me and explore my face with the velvety pads of his paws? The cat usually wins. I even tried crawling out of bed a little earlier, but that didn’t work…it just gives us more time to play.

Which brings me back to Key West. Louis is pretty smart little fellow, I’ve learned. So I’m inspired to teach him a thing or two. He knows his name, and he’s pretty good about coming when he’s called.

He knows what “Get down!” means, because he whips his head up and looks at me. He knows he’s where he shouldn’t be. Like the day he skidded across my dresser and knocked over 10 perfume bottles.

Of course, we’re working on the part about actually climbing down. Louis has a stubborn streak, so this may be a lifelong process.

While he won’t be jumping through rings of fire anytime soon, I think he’s capable of learning a few simple tricks. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

In the meantime, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrQoFaz0Pw8 to see a video of Dominique and his trained cats. In fact, if you Google “Mallory Square trained cats,” you’ll have several video choices.


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