Sunday, November 15, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor (seventh increment)

About a year before, I had discovered Tip and Toe living under my neighbor's shed. They were wee black kittens that looked like twins and apparently were on their own. Unfortunately, they were feral and wouldn't let me near them. I began leaving food—the universal sign of friendship—near the shed every day. As they grew older and realized I had not yet attempted to brutalize them, they started getting a tiny bit bolder. As more time passed, the absolutely gorgeous-faced one became my friend. I called them Tip and Toe because the less friendly one—Tip—was all black except for the tip of her tail, which was pure white. Both girls were polydactyl (extra toes). So they were dubbed Tip and Toe, though admittedly the name Toe wasn't the most fitting moniker for a raven beauty.

About a year after I met this dynamic duo, Dean casually mentioned that it was about time to have them spayed before they started proliferating. He made the announcement and then it was entirely up to me to carry it out. First, I had to find a Have-a-Heart trap. Done. Then I had to trap each of them. Finally, done. Then I brought them to a vet to be spayed. Done . . . not so fast. The vet called me a few hours later to report that they were on the table unconscious but both were in an advanced state of pregnancy.

I went to get them. They waited for their kittens' birth in a room in my basement that bears a startling resemblance to a medieval dungeon. Tip gave birth to four kittens the night before we left for a trip to Florida; Toe had five kittens sometime thereafter. So now I had nine kittens, all male save one, to find homes for. A local rescue group helped me place most of them and we ended up keeping two. Poor Luca, I gave away his favorite kitten. It's not that I enjoy being cruel to small children. It's just that he tormented the kitten for the seven or eight weeks we had the little guy. Also, that kitten was the most striking of the lot, with fantastic markings. I knew he would be adopted and he was indeed the first one to go, as predicted. The decision to give away Luca's kitten would come back to bite me (literally) a few years later when I had to make amends.

Tip and Toe were spayed and immunized as soon as the kittens were weaned. I wrestled with the decision as to what to do next. Toe was easily adaptable to life inside; Tip was stubbornly feral. In the end, I released them but figured they'd stay close with their two kittens inside. I figured wrong, as usual.

In the beginning it worked out nicely. We would put Greyboy, one of Toe's babies, on a leash and let him cavort with Ma. Tip would eye their fraternity suspiciously and I came to realize that we probably kept two of Toe's kittens inadvertently and none of Tip's. Polly was the only female and the second kitten we ended up with and she was fast becoming a pain. She wasn't interested in either Tip or Toe, and followed her own bitchy agenda, which eventually included peeing all over the house in surprising places, as in, Surprise, guess who has been here first? Grey and Toe were so adorable together but their time was short. In October, just before Halloween, I spotted a dead black cat on Route 6, a major artery by our house, and as I drove back with shaking hands, I prayed it wasn't one of my girls but I sort of knew it was.

It was Toe and she was almost in pieces. I asked Dean to come home from work so he could pick her up but he couldn't. I asked the Humane Society if they could get her for me so I could bury her but they would not. I am too squeamish to do it—especially since I got a look at one particular horrific injury—so I waited until Dean came home and by then she was gone. Her body fell right by the hotdog truck and the operator called the highway department to pick her up before I had arrived at the scene. They must have gotten her soon after. My inability to do right by her haunted me for months and years to come, especially since Tip kept looking for her sister. I also worried that perhaps she was still alive and I left her there alone and mortally wounded. Intellectually, I know it was not possible but I simply agonize over these types of torments.

Afterward, Grey would continually go to Tip, thinking she was his mother and she would rain paw punches upon his head until they became mortal enemies. Tip thought I had stolen Toe and would sit on our steps meowing for hours. It was heartbreaking and I blamed myself for letting them out again. On September 11th, I had felt so guilty coming back to my home where everything was so normal and unscathed, my two Nubian princesses there waiting for me, quiet peace amid a vibrant blue sky . . . while dark chaos had descended on and enveloped my family, friends and city. Now fate was catching up with me, it seemed.

After a week or so, Tip decided to leave and rejoin her feral cat family, I could only surmise. I was relieved for I didn't know how much more grief I could bear. But about two weeks after Toe died, Dean went out to the garage and saw three pairs of eyes peeping out at him from under some stuff. Those eyes belonged to three tiny kittens who were somehow deposited in the garage and left to fend for themselves. And the cycle started again.

Enough about cats. I had a bunch of burly bikers to deal with. One night I was feeling really ill and I retired early. My bedroom is in the back of our house and was partially shielded from the din of the bar. I was lying in bed, propped up by pillows, reading a book (probably something intellectually stimulating like Crime and Punishment, or War and Peace; certainly not Patricia Cornwall with her grisly forensic descriptions of murder victims). The window was open and a silky breeze slid into the room. It's the little things in life that make it worthwhile. Then a motorcycle started up. It revved and revved. I kept saying to myself, it will stop soon. He'll take off soon; he can't sit there forever. But it didn't stop. It just kept roaring. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes.

That's it! I've had enough of this fucking shit. I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs, and into the porch, my loyal Houston glued to my side every step of the way. Dean just sat in the living room with a "What are you gonna do" look on his face. In Dean's world, you don't go against when it comes to the sacred motorcycle culture. I flung open the porch window and screamed at the offending biker, "Will you take off already or cut off the engine? I'm trying to sleep." Houston accompanied my tirade with loud, angry barking to punctuate our collective anger. Good boy!

The son of a bitch yelled back, "That's what you get when you buy a house next to a bar."

What? What the fuck? (Excuse the blue language but I'm being true to the story.) How dare this little dick say that to me? I was primed and ready to do battle. "I'm calling the police and you can explain to them that I shouldn't have bought the house, okay? We have tried to be good neighbors but this is enough bullshit already!" Long before the police came he took off, the gutless coward.

Back inside Dean told me he recognized the engine on the motorcycle and knew it was the bar's manager. Wait, back up a sec. You recognize the sound of the engine? What is wrong with you, Dean?

Okay, so I knew it was the manager slash bartender. I told the police all about it when they finally arrived. They went over to tell the bar people to keep it down, for all the good it did. In our town the police hold no sway. The two or three officers we have are really just for show. They don't solve crimes—I don't think they even know how to go about it. They don't give tickets for driving infractions, Lord knows. What do they do? Hmmmm. That's a good question.

Now what? What was the best course to pursue? While I was mulling this question over, Steve on the other side of us, decided to sell one of his many cars. Did he list it in the Pennysaver? Uh-uh. On ebay? Guess again. He parked it on the saddle of land that straddles our driveways—it's his property but it looks like it's mine. He stuck a FOR SALE sign on the lawn near my driveway and that was that. The problem was that everyone who was interested in the shitbox thought I was selling it and pulled into my driveway. Grrrrrr. So I asked Steve if he could move the sign closer to his driveway to clear up the confusion. He kindly acquiesced and moved it two inches to the other side. Problem solved.

So, for the foreseeable future I had lots of scary looking people pulling into my driveway and blocking it while they ogled the junk car. Until Steve finally gave up and moved the car, it was an eyesore that gnawed at my soul, but it was our fault. After all, that's what you get when you buy a house next to a bar.

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