Menagerie of Fools

I continue the story of Ashley Cooper now and in the true American style of journalism.  By that I mean that the truth is often abbreviated and the piece has editorial digs.  Unlike our great newspapers, my digs lack any significant levels of sophistication.  The more notorious and even infamous politically minded descendants of Citizen Cane dig with a sharper shovel.  Their objectives are perhaps meaner, and with sponsorships, they have more at stake.  I can’t afford stake very often.

Ashley digs, too.  She is somewhat of an archeologist albeit an amateur one.  Her relentless practice has uncovered many things previously thought to be lost forever.  Old keys, pocket knives, hats, gloves and other things my children have long since been punished for taking, now show up.  They appear often right in the vicinity of where I may have dropped them during some brief unfocused moment.  Under Ashley’s regime and unrelenting scrutiny of this her new world, all lost things (except our minds) are expected to reappear.

Though I hate to chastise honest industry, I think it best to leave telephone and cable-vision stuff left buried and un-chewed.  My defense here of the status quo may sound a bit conservative, but just try using a telephone or a television that isn’t connected to the rest of the world.  It isn’t a progressive change.  Well, maybe it is, considering how people use ’em.

Ten thousand moles would be a blessing compared to that dawg: every tree and shrub we’ve planted recently now lies uprooted in the sun.  I guess it’s her way of rearranging the furniture.  Brenda has fits of that urge in the house from time to time, and it makes no more sense to me than the “work” Ashley Cooper is doing in my yard.  The dawg digs up some things, and buries others.  She buried a rock I’d dug out of the flower bed.  She buried it back IN the flower bed.  But she does so not without precedent: our own congress does that sort of thing all the time.

Her digging is a high art form.  The local hardware store sells emplements that look just like her front feet.  But her strong suit is eating, and she waits for no policy to filter down from any appropriations committee.  Her searches for snacks would be considered inappropriate at a formal social: her fork reaches out to plates assigned to others.

When finished with her own portion and the portion put out for the other dawg, she seeks out the cat’s dish.  She takes no mind of the cat…just the dish.  She’ll push a chair (and has) to the kitchen counter to get at it.  I’ve wondered why they call it the “counter”?  It’s just a flat surface and it doesn’t count forwards or backwards or do any other arithmetic.  But we call it the counter just the same.

My wife has a far more elegant and dainty style when it comes to eating.  She likes to carry her breakfast around with her in the mornings placing it here and there within reach, while she “fixes” herself up (not that she has any need to…she’s fine just like she is).

Just because a piece of toast is left unattended does not mean Brenda gives up claim to it.  Ashley unwittingly approached suicide recently when she found Brenda’s English muffin sitting on a plate in our bedroom windowsill.  In order to reach it, the dawg got onto our bed, and that is where she ate the muffin.  The two sinful acts didn’t go unnoticed:  The screams scared the dawg who became frantic and anxious for an escape route or hiding place.  She did not want to face Brenda.

I had been sleeping soundly ’til then in that day-off post snooze alarm dream time that is so rare and valuable to people who raise children, dawgs and cats, and have to work for a living.  Ashley Cooper tried to hide under me, so I joined the chorus of screams which unnerved the children who came running in to add to the confusion.  Little bits and pieces of English muffin were everywhere, and I have bits of cornmeal embedded in my back to this day.  Somehow, the dawg and I both lived through that morning.

The dawg has poor table manners and chooses a dietary selection without bias or prejudice: she is an omnivore.  She ate the throw-rug in the hallway, and for dessert, enjoyed an old shirt belonging to my son, David.  The remains of the rug were thrown out, but the shirt, contemporary teenage styles and fashion being what they are, was returned to wardrobe as is.

Why we took that dawg into our home in the first place is a question that pops up often.  My own part was that Ashley (in spite of the original layer of dirt) is a remarkably handsome animal.  I’m sure the idea that being with handsome things could help my image was at least in some way an unconscious motive for accepting such a gift.  But I played a minor role.

When faced with one of God’s troubled creatures, my wife will usually find the only acceptable closure to be taking the poor thing in, and feeding it.  The creature finds salvation, unless it is of the human kind.  Our culture has taught us to give lip-service to the idea of helping people, but not to actually do it.  I have to be forceful, or Brenda would shame all the saints and martyrs of the ages with a generosity we could ill afford.

I guess I’m the heartless one.  When left without a witness, I can pass right by a kitten or an un-nested baby bird with no compunction to share my table, bed, bath or closet with them.  I see it as a strength rather than a weakness, but Brenda does not always agree with me on these matters.

As a younger man, I took in a pair of hamsters.  But keeping only a pair of hamsters is quite impossible if one is female and the other not.  They are as prolific as wild onions after a good summer rain.  Hamsters experience huge population growths as long as food and water is available, and increase exponentially.

Brenda and I decided not to follow such an example and had only three children which wouldn’t even get a passing grade for a hamster who averages eight at a time and does that several times a year.  By the end of the first year, my female hamster was a great-great-great-great-great grandmother and the male rivaled Solomon whose offspring would’ve confounded the average school lunchroom attendant.  Solomon did all this while writing more songs than the Beatles, which is the primary difference between him and a hamster.

I’ll bet birthday parties at Solomon’s house was a zoo what with each child wanting it’s own cat or dawg to pet.  Dawgs, cats, and maybe some sheep and goats, perhaps, but no pigs.  Solomon’s people didn’t care for them except when a vessel for demons was needed.

Here, Brenda and I showed diversity.  Back before we had children, thus lacking an education, we had an opportunity to visit a commercial farm.  Among other things, they raised pigs.  It is a business.  The pigs are not there due to any charitable concerns on behalf of the swine.

The marginal profitability in a hog is tied to the amount of feed they consume to get to “killing” size.  That means there is no profit in feeding the runts in large litters since they consume more than they produce.  If all human beings on this planet came under such scrutiny, I’m sure that some who ain’t worth their salt might be pushed away from the trough. The two primary groups who offend in this way are the “haves” and the “have nots”.

On the pig farm, the runts are eliminated.  They just “knock ’em in the head” as we were told.  This didn’t sit well with Brenda.  In short order she was naming them and making plans for the greatest rescue effort since Dunkirk.  I talked her down to only one at that time, but we eventually went back to rescue two more.

So, you see, it was Brenda and not my outrageousness that was behind the adopt-a-hog program.  But I have to admit that pigs are intelligent companions…nothing like people at all.  Pigs maintain little in what you’d call an ideology and show no interest in enslaving themselves to machinery.  But they will ride with you in a car especially if you are going to get something to eat.  That gets us back to Ashley cooper.

While Ashley seems to suffer from constant hunger, it isn’t her only affliction.  She’s had every condition a dawg her age can suffer from except distemper, mange and rabies.  Perhaps the Deity hedges here to trick us into an attitude of smugness, then yank the rug out from under our feet.  History seems to be on the side of the Deity having that kind of a sense of humor.

Ashley Cooper has taken up wheezing.  Not the normal spasms resulting from too much dust in the air, but the awful asthmatic death rattle kind that will wake you from your brief but needed sleep, and cause you to check…not on the dawgs, but on the children.  This is a hardship that deserves some explanation.  My children sleep the sleep of troubled souls from a more classic mythology than I write today.

David, the oldest, leaps from both his bed and his sanity if disturbed at any point during the night.  He is a big boy now, so it isn’t a good idea to let your face get too close to his flailing arms: you might get poked in the snot-locker.  He won’t know who you are or even who he is which probably has something to do with genetics.  I’ve seen this sort of bewilderment in other relatives even when they are wide awake.

Nathan snores as if he were a much bigger person.  Some of us are amazed at the physics of it what with vibrations like that coming from such a small sounding board.  I always forget this until the nasal thunder increases my pulse and I’m stumbling about in the darkness searching for intruders.  This always starts a disturbance on the entire block.

If he would just pick up his toys, my maneuvers might go unnoticed by the people up the street.  Perhaps it is utterances motivated by sharp plastic toys sticking into the soft places between my toes that cause them to call the police.  I suspect we are under watch and suspicion of harboring devil worshipers, which is unfair because my screams surely sound more like a hymn.  At least they often start out the same way.

Mason is the youngest.  He persists in sleeping like a bat: upside down.  His head is under the covers.  I don’t see how he breathes that way.  His pillow suffers the burden of two feet that seldom see water and soap.

Due to early childhood training, if we wake him during the night, he goes straight to the bathroom and voids his bladder (which must be huge).  He often misses the bowl, but nothing else.  Still asleep, he then turns to you with a smile.  He gives a quick burst of air through his nostrils that sounds like a preview of a laugh/snicker combination, and goes back to bed: head down and feet up.  Like his two older brothers, he is a beautiful child.  so, I let them all get their sleep as best they can, each in his own style.

Now if Ashley Cooper is asleep, she is wheezing.  It will persist until you go over to her.  You make sure there is water to drink and that her collar isn’t too tight.  Then, she wakes up and seems fine.  Now, she wants to play.  There isn’t any point in my going back to bed.  If she sleeps, she wheezes; if she’s awake she wants to play.  Either way, I do not sleep at all.

With all of her diseases, you’d think she’d be racked with pain and want to sleep.  You’d think that all the medicines we have to give her might immobilize her to some degree, but they do not.  She wrestles and tugs any handle left exposed from under the covers.  If no hand or foot protrude, then the tugging is directed at the covers themselves.

Brenda sleeps through all of this.  Part of it is due to an innocence deserving of sleep, and part is conditioned reflex for having lived with me and my habits.  I sometimes play my electric guitar until one in the morning and watch television ’til about 4:45.  then, I sleep until 5;30 when her alarm goes off.  She is accustomed to it.  It is a pattern.  That forty-five minutes is Holy and is not to be violated.  During that time, if either me or the dawgs so much as hiccup ( and they do) The morning becomes the Spanish Inquisition with me and the dawgs taking the roles of infidels.  Only fresh, hot coffee will save us now.

Now, most weekdays begin this way.  week-ends are different because I’m usually out of town pursuing physically exhausting assignments intended for younger men with fewer vices.  I work hard.  I keep some for maintenance of my vices, but most goes to the needs of my family.  The rest, plus all we can borrow, goes to support the dawgs and their drug habits.

Cosmo Topper doesn’t smoke tobacco; neither does Ashley Cooper.  It evidently is not a dawg thing.  But Ashley has watched me intensely while I’ve chewed on a pipe.  Now, I chew on the stem end which is a distinction she never took any note of.  While I was out of the room, she thought she’d give pipe-chewing a whirl.  After selecting one of my better pipes with a meerschaum lining, she began gnarling it into nothingness.

If chewing lessons were needed, I’d hire her out.  But as it is, I have a non-income producing, incorrigible, leather-headed, almost satanic and strong as an ox chewing machine on my hands that has taken on a love for me, my pipes, my vintage L. L. Bean bedroom slippers, and furniture legs.

Then, there is the cat.  Penny Lane is a small female calico (which is her category) with a mental condition.  In her first year she was struck down by a passing garbage truck.  I’m sure the truck intended no malice.  The truck probably crawled off and died.  We can’t be sure since it was never seen again.  The cat survived due to my wallet and a skilled veterinarian, but she was not without side effects.

There was some nerve damage primarily from the neck up, and her pelvis was impaired.  The vet said she could never have kittens, but I paid him extra to make sure.  One side of her rib cage is bald with the other side hairy.  She runs (her running is best referred to as mad dashes) sideways, and when she slows to a walk, takes on the distinctive style of John Wayne.

She has no fear of dawgs, but considers the sound or sight of any large truck to be of apocalyptic significance.  She arrived in our home just a few weeks after we got Cosmo Topper.  He was still a puppy at the time, but had to grow up to be the surrogate mother to a kitten.  She still cuddles up to him and tries to nurse.

At first, we fed Penny Lane outside.  She would subsequently come inside and throw up on the carpet.  The dawgs bark; the cat barfs.

The cat maintains an open-door policy: she goes through any door that is open.  In or out, as soon as she clears the doorway, she turns around and begs to be let back in (or out).  She continues this game as long as there is anyone in the vicinity of the door.

She attacks my socks.  As soon as my feet are stripped of their stockings, the socks become the object of a deadly game; she intends to kill them.  She rolls and tumbles around, flips onto her back and digs her hind legs into the socks as if they were fighting back.  I’ve considered changing soap and even foot-powder, but as it is, I just watch with a mix of amusement and a sense of a slight inferiority complex coming on.  Other than that, she is a normal cat except that I suspect she hiccups sometime between 4:45 and 5:30 AM.

I often wonder if the distractions caused by our menagerie have had any deteriorating effect on my parenting.  Obviously, if it weren’t for the animals, I could give the boys more attention.  Perhaps it is my fault but I suspect all three of my sons will attend reform school…and on scholarships!

Even at a young age, David has skills and talents that shouldn’t be allowed anyone short of a law degree.  He has Abraham Lincoln and John Wayne as heroes, the combination of which could lead to adventure.  I think he is working on kind of a dyslexic philosophy called: “If you can’t join ’em–beat ’em!”  Yet, as anyone who knows him can tell you, most sensible people of all ages like having him around.

Nathan, having read the biography of Benjamin Franklin recently, is taking up a big interest in things that spark: electrical or otherwise.  He has a huge curiosity about how things work, and will take things apart whether they need fixing or not.  He might grow up to be quite handy with tools some day if he don’t blow himself up.  Playtime for him is often building something and you can bet he intends to be in charge of it.

Mason is tall for his age.  Consequently, it takes longer for his brain to get a message down to his feet.  Sometimes his feet have already tripped over a rock (or a blade of grass) before his brain could yell: “Lookout!”  He has a masterful connection with his hands, however.  But they are eager hands, and will often reach for a glass of milk too quickly.  When we go to the beach, we try to make sure he is supervised whenever he is anywhere near the ocean.  We don’t want him to spill it.  Yet he is one of the most determined people I’ve ever met.

All three of my sons are very talented.  There is art in their lives.  They can laugh and be quite witty, and are a force to contend with–be assured of it.  They are beautiful to look at, and so is their mother.  In every way, she is tops in our generation.

We may be planning a trip your way soon.  If so, we’d like to bring the pets with us.  It would be a shame to leave them here causing you to miss out on all the fun.


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