Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ruby No

Regular readers will recognize the subject of the story and may want to go back to re read the story of Ruby's last days. Yes, for those of you who are paying attention, this is the second book. Thanks for joining in at the beginning.

Restlessness was afoot in the summer of 1990, and that’s never a good thing.

Not restlessness itself, it has led to a great many explorations, discoveries, advancements and so forth. Although to be perfectly fair, it has led to a few disasters as well. Restlessness got the Europeans looking over the horizon a few years ago. Hey, lets throw some wood and canvas together, see if it will float and see what’s just beyond the edge of the world. Good for us. Unless of course you happen to be amassing all the gold in Mexico at which point the arrival of a few tin-hatted foreigners is about as welcome as a Sunday afternoon with Great Aunt Xinoptal watching the maize grow.

For every time restlessness has gotten us to the moon, it has bounced a rocket booster off some unsuspecting Dorado’s head. For every internal combustion engine, there’s a corresponding leaf blower at seven on a Saturday morning. For every Masterpiece Theatre, there’s a Jackass Eight. So for every well mannered tabby, for every cute little kitten, for every curl up on your lap and fall asleep, for every deep purr…

There must come, by design, a little red, long haired hellion with claws we just happened to name Ruby.

He was a male.

Ruby was a fluke name.

In retrospect, Ruby was a fluke cat. He was the cat who never should have entered our four walls, who should have stayed at the shelter until some well meaning farmer would pick him out for a perfect barn cat, named him “Jack” and made him earn his keep.

Instead, Ruby was our cat. Like I said, restlessness was afoot and that’s never a good thing.

We were living in New Jersey at the time. Just outside of New York City. We were my wife and I, newly married, chasing down careers in New York but not catching prey enough to afford to live in town. Add to that we were both suburban kids and the idea of an apartment, no car and being stuck on an island just didn’t set with us. To be fair, she had lived in Brooklyn for a number of years until I dragged her out to the ‘burbs. But she came willingly after the morning when she led with a crowbar in trying to pry the hood of a ’78 Cutlass open and get to the battery that killed the car alarm that had been going off for the last three hours. Enough was enough. After that symphony, even Jersey looked good.

So she moved out and we married and rented a big expensive place in Montclair that we filled with our parent’s hand-me-downs, a few pieces of art and a couple of cats. We had rented an apartment that allowed cats but no dogs so we immediately went down to the pound to pick us up a couple of furrballs. Two tabbies, named Crittur and Mumble. We loved the hell out of them and they provided us with more funny stories than our first driving lesson. There was a little outbuilding behind the apartment. It was a six by twelve shack with windows that the landlord used to store spare parts for the main house. Nobody ever went in there so it was pretty safe for the family of stray cats that eventually moved in. We had a perfect view into the shack from our bedroom window and used to watch as the mother cat would attend to her litter. There were six or eight of them as I recall. Little feral cats that nobody could get close to. They would hide whenever anyone walked by the shack. They were deathly afraid of humans.

So naturally my new bride thought they would make the perfect pets.

From the bedroom window, she picked out a little red kitten. She named it “Ruby” and began to plan to catch her once she was weaned. She and I would watch Ruby out the window and talk about the day that Ruby would join our happy little family, two of whom were re-converting the Danish modern in the living room into its core elements of yarn and raw wood.

Ruby was never to be. For a number of reasons. For starters, those of you who know anything about cats know that red cats, or marmalade or whatever, are all males. Toms, I believe the correct nomenclature is. For another thing, there’s a reason that they call feral cats feral. It distinguishes them from domestics who tend to stick around. We woke up one Saturday and noticed that there were no cats to be seen in the shed. We kept looking all weekend and into the next week only to figure out that Elvis had left the building. Whatever had happened, weaning or otherwise, all the kittens had absconded.

My wife was disappointed but would get over it. After all, we still had two lovely cats of our own. That is, until I got involved and managed to screw that all up.

As I said, there was restlessness. We had been in New York for the better part of eight years. It was getting old. I didn’t like it and kept looking for a way out. My job was in an industry that was pretty much anchored in New York, as was hers. I tried branching out into other businesses but kept getting dragged back into town. Didn’t matter where I went, invariably someone would offer me a spot “ideally fit to you. It’s in our New York office.” Right. Thanks anyway.

So I figured I’d flesh out my background a little. Go back to school. Get a new skill set. After a brush with disaster at the LSAT’s, I settled on B-school. The GMAT was relatively painless, unlike the LSAT where I scored in the bottom ten percent for deviousness and would never make it into law school with those ethics.

Off to a fine New England college for me, a little rented house for us and all would be fine and dandy. Ayuh.

Except for the part about the cats. In a flash of practicality, we packed Mumble and Crittur off to our parent’s houses and asked that they look after them for about three weeks until we could complete our move. They did and we immediately noticed their absence. Like I said, we had a flash of practicality. We wouldn’t have another one until, oh, probably ninety seven or so. We missed the cats so much that one Saturday, after packing most of the house, we headed down to the local animal shelter quote:”Just to look around.”This of course is akin to and as convincing as the addict who’s “just going to take a quick walk.”

We looked.

And looked.

And looked.

And then we found.

A red cat.

Long haired. Male. That wasn’t going to work but we didn’t care. We didn’t care about a lot of things. We didn’t have a house to move into. We had an apartment filled with half filled boxes. We didn’t have jobs. But we did have twenty five dollars and the name of a vet and that’s all it took to get the little red cat home where we could debate naming him. I thought “Jack” would be a fine name for a cat. She was still mourning the ferals and wanted to name him “Ruby.” The cat didn’t much care. He was running around the living room, sniffing in corners and around moving boxes until he found one he liked and jumped atop it. Then he meowed at the top of his little lungs and voided all over it.

Number two.

Lovely. Re pack that one. But at least the cat had a name. A full name that we both agreed on. She shouted it out first, but it stuck.

Ruby! No!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Historical Reflections of Absolutely Nothing

You may well know that compromise is one of the cornerstones of our nation. We pride ourselves as being a people who can reach a solution through give and take, sealing it with a gentleman's handshake if throwing an opponent down a well is not a viable option.

Perhaps most notable is the agreement to split representation between House and Senate. The Great Compromise, it was called. As it was set, over quaffs of ale and allegations of leprosy in a Philadelphia publick house, the House of Representatives would be staffed based on a state's population size while the senate was agreed to be a safe harbor for the alcoholic first sons of wealthy colonial slaveholders.

Now it should be noted that a publick house in the 1770's was another name for a gathering place in a town or small city. There events of the day were discussed, political treatises were scribbled on rough table tops and enough alcohol was served that the idea of giving the right of self determination to a bunch of pig farmers who knew little else over the business end of a sow seemed to have merit. At the time of course. When you sobered up, things like the Whisky Rebellion ensued. That was the name of the attempted reversion of rights to the ruling class when the corn mash of the previous night wore off. It was of course, unsuccessful, the best thing they could get back being the college of electors.

The Missouri Compromise was another hallmark that held off our civil war for at least three years. You will recall that 3/5's of the people agreed to pronounce it Missour-EEE and the remainder Missour-AAH and they all promised to beat up a couple of damned abolitionists in KANSAS.

Our modern history is filled with compromises. The Cuban missile crisis was defused when JFK secretly pledged to allow Gromyko to drive in Helsinki instead of his own brother Ted. And can we forget President Richard Nixon in 1971 graciously allowing his vice president Spiro Agnew to be the horse's head while he took the other half at Tricia's birthday party?

We've compromised internationally. We made our peace with Canada and drew a line at the forty ninth parallel except for a section that was to become northern Maine we demanded in 1854 when the prospect of mosquito farming still had economic promise. The United States has attempted to return this plot of land several times only to be rebuked by Ottawa with the claim that "Quebec is already a big enough pain in the ass, thanks."

Somehow lately, we've forgotten how to compromise. We either live in red or blue states, drink Coke or Pepsi, are cat or dog people and only turn left or right. This leaves a nation spinning in circles. No kidding. A ride to the grocery store now goes through Iowa and that's starting in New Jersey. After pantsing the Democrats, the Republicans have received their own drubbing. This is their own fault. Just look at the old campaign slogans "Republicans '04. Set it and forget it." I worry about the future too. "Democrats '06: Now its OUR turn to fall all over ourselves"

Can we ever return to our former glory? If we were drafting the Constitution today, could we inject it with the brilliance of proportional representation or would it fall victim to a ten year environmental impact study wherein the snail darter's habitat would be affected by the promotion of general welfare?

Try this. Charity begins at home. When your son asks for a half hour of television before doing his homework; compromise. Let him, so long as there's a fresh cord of firewood cut by sunup. If a man asks you for your coat, give him your cloak as well. Just be sure to get his pants in return. Otherwise he'll surely abscond with both. In little ways, here and there, we can all do little things that add up to absolutely nothing.

On the other hand, it could be worse. We could be Europe.

Bunny on, alors.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Barista Diaries

Day Seventeen

We have gone into hiding in the jungle. Government soldiers came to the village following the scent of our espresso maker. Maria told them it was for steaming laundry and the fools believed her. Carlos and I hid near an ant’s nest, brewing what was left of the chicory. Maria later joined us. We are guerillas now.

Day Thirty Two

The soldiers use helicopters to seek us out but we are not found. We make Café Americanos to spite them and hope that our Yanqui friends come to our aid. Juan has come to join what can now only be called a small troupe of barista revolutionaries. At night, Maria and I lie beneath the stars, dreaming of days when we sipped mocha lattes on the sidewalks of the capital. It is all so far away now. Each day we hear stories of weak, percolated coffee being served without excuse to our poor, oppressed people. We talk of bringing change. Then Carlos becomes jittery as he has drank three cups already and the sun is not yet over the tips of the trees.

Day Sixty Seven

The bastards! They scald milk and dare to pour it into weak, watery brew that they call coffee! There are no thermometers, they steam until the froth slops over their pitchers it dirty, lazy waves. They do not wipe their steaming nozzles. They are pigs, these so called government baristas. Our people are docile, tired and quiet. There is no caffeine.
Estevan has joined what can only be called a brigade now. We still hide in the jungle but the people of the villages smuggle beans out to us. We are stocking. We build caves and tunnels in which we hide our tools of rebellion. Burr grinders, run only during the rains to hide the sound. Grounds that we pack with cocaine so that the dogs do not smell them. Maria and I talk of one day going back to the capital, brewing in full view of the presidential palace. Maybe some day. Maybe.

Day One Hundred Ninety Nine

The cursed Yanquis have betrayed us! We have news from the capital of a siete-once that sells what they call coffee but is just hot water shown a picture of a bean. This is an outrage! We prayed so many nights that the Americanos would come to liberate us, pour this government swill into the river as they once did. Now we are betrayed. We can no longer look to el norte for favor. We must take the fight into our own hands. We must become revolutionaries!

Day Two Hundred Twelve

We have moved deeper into the jungle. We are training now. Carlos can force a single shot in eighteen seconds and reload in three. He tamps ground beans nightly, turns them out of the filters and tamps them again. He tells me that he hopes to draw a double under fire and still offer a single flavor shot, no matter how thick the air is with lead and touristas seeking an afternoon cappuccino. Maria steals our milk. You must steam until your hands are blistered, she tells us. Our people demand lattes worthy of their toils. The government expects them to work in the fields, the factories, the shipyards and come home to espresso without even lemon for zest. The revolution (the word is first on her lips but none of us denies it) will bring back their dignity, their pride and their coffee. Long live the revolution. A Bolivian Marxist has joined our band. Che hopes one day to have a soccer arena named after him. Che Stadium, named after the famed Bolivian revolutionary: Che Stadium, he tells us over and over and over again until Maria hits him with a brew pot. This renders him unconscious and gives us momentary peace.

Day Four Hundred

There is discontent in the streets. The Americanos have opened a Starbucks and now they fight amongst each other. There are cracks in their wall through which we may now crawl. If we can get the airtight containers of Arabica through. Soldiers are everywhere…

Day Six Hundred Twelve

Dr. Santiago, who found that our water was three grains too hard for optimal oil release at two hundred five degrees and carbon filtered the stream for optimum brew strength has been arrested. He was in the capital and soldiers took him away. We think he is in the central prison. Maria prays nightly that his fate is not the same as the thousands of young men and women of our country. The ones who’s mothers dance daily for them in the market square. They are called “Los Decaffeinistas” We weep for them. This revolution must come and soon.

Day Nine Hundred Forty

We approach the capital. There is disarray and anarchy everywhere. The government soldiers are retreating, falling back. There is talk that, as we approach, they shed their uniforms and claim they have always been tea merchants. They can no longer assure biscotti as we disrupt their supplies each day. We have emerged from the jungle and brew in the market squares of villages in the provinces without fear of attack. Victory is ours! The revolution is here and Maria and I lie in empty governor’s mansions nightly planning for our first steaming cup in the presidential palace. Our people will know justice, honor, and an appropriately blended Café Mocha. Viva El Caffeinistas! Bunny On!

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