May, 1999

I know that when somebody is in a position of power, other folks are always trying to pull them off to the side to give them advice. I do not normally do this, myself, but the more I watch this mess in Kosovo, I want to pull Bill Clinton over and tell him about my old tomcat.

 

Tom could have been the poster-child for stray cats, which is what he was when he found himself adopted into my little family back in Mississippi.

 

After he settled in, he cleaned himself up pretty well, working at his armor-plating of mats until his long fur looked fairly presentable. He was chunky, and looked a little like a mohair cork.

 

Tom was a lot to contend with, about 20 pounds of bad attitude with claws. He as a warlike old cuss who would actually take off across the yard toward any dog he saw coming into his territory.

 

As far as I know, the only thing on this earth he was afraid of was Minsky.

 

Minsky was our little female cat. She was tiny, about half Tom’s size, and excessively cute, with long brindled black and orange fur, and a little three-inch stub of a tail, the result of a close call with a large neighborhood dog.

 

That stub is an important player in our story. It was sharp, and Minsky was in the habit of holding it straight up in the air when she was happy or in heat, which for Minsky usually meant one and the same thing.

 

In an effort to be delicate, let me just say that Minsky suffered from an excess of, er, romance when it came to cats of the opposite sex. In fact, when she went into heat, which seemed to happen every 20 minutes, she became so flirtatious she even embarrassed me.

 

In fact, it was Minsky’s affectionate nature that was Tom’s downfall.

 

One rainy winter night, my wife and I sat reading in bed, enjoying the heat and glow of the industrial-sized open gas heater, which stood against the wall opposite the foot of our brass bed. Minsky, the hussy, was lolling around all over the floor, making odd little cooing noises, and casting steamy glances across the room at Tom.

 

Tom, poor boy, was totally smitten. A passionate creature by nature, he approached matters of the heart with the same verve he used in attacking dogs and small children. Used much of the same technique, too, as I recall.

 

Tensely, he watched Minsky from where he curled on the new bedspread. I watched them both. Minsky was giving an Oscar-grade performance. She lolled. She mewed. She made suggestive remarks.

 

Tom grew more and more…interested.

 

Finally, he dropped to the floor, and crouched into a coiled stance, like a coiled spring ready to let go.

 

A few seconds later, after Minsky uttered one more invitation, that spring exploded into life. Tom launched himself across the little room, to land with all his weight and speed right on top of…that cruel, sharp, rigid little spike of a tail.

 

It was not the sensation he had been expecting.

 

Giving something between a grunt and a yowl, he catapulted himself backwards through the air, performing a lovely parabola from point A, (that would be Minsky,) to point B, (which would be the big gas heater,) which promptly set him on fire.

 

Now a ball of flaming fur, Tom launched himself in the other direction, landing on top of the bed, burning merrily.

 

My wife screamed. I screamed. None of us screamed as much as Tom.

 

Thinking I ought to do something immediately, even if it was wrong, I threw the new bedspread over Tom and wrapped him tight, extinguishing the flames. Tom, not happy with being smothered, proceeded to yowl and shred his way out of the bedspread.

 

My wife, not happy with what was happening to her new bedspread, started to yowl and beat on me with her Bible. Yowling a little myself, I took the whole sorry bundle out the back door and dumped Tom on the ground. He took off, still smoking, into the garden.

 

Minsky, meanwhile, was still looking for companionship. I picked her up and, resisting the urge to drop-kick her, set her down on the ground. She took off after Tom, whose smoke trail was easy to follow, even in the rain.

 

After a few days, things were back to what passed for normal in our household. There was yet another new bedspread on the brass bed. Minsky was calm and, we learned later, pregnant, papa unknown. Tom, however, was a changed cat.

 

Even after his fur grew back out, his lion-like bearing fell away whenever he came into the house. If Minsky came anywhere near him, he slinked around the edges of the room and went to go hide under the couch.

 

This is the cautionary tale I would tell Bill Clinton if I were to advise him about the situation in Kosovo No matter how small and tempting your target, remember there may be sharp and unpleasant surprises lurking in what looked like an easy victory.

 

Now, if he wanted to apply that advice to any other aspect of his life, that is his business.

Jesus

November 8, 2015

It had been an unusually bitter argument.

 

I don’t remember the topic, it was so long ago. We had been drifting apart for years, and we were almost to the end of that process.

 

We were polar opposites, and not in the way that made us more interesting to one another. I was a blue-collar hippy, she was a military officer’s kid. I took any kind of job I could get, she always managed to avoid working anywhere. She had become deeply religious suspiciously quickly after we got together, I wavered between the occult, agnosticism, and downright atheism. She wanted kids. I did not.

 

Post argument, I was lying on my belly on the brass double bed, fuming and staring at the chipped plaster wall.

 

She sat upright, pillows piled behind her, reading her Bible.

 

As I lay there mired in that acidic anger, she suddenly gasped out loud.

 

I switched immediately to protective mode. It just works that way.

 

“What is it, what’s wrong?” I asked.

 

It’s him, she said.

 

“Him who?” I asked, honestly puzzled.

 

“Jesus,” she said, in an ecstatic voice.

 

I lay silent for a while. Then:

 

“Where?”

 

He is standing at the foot of the bed, she explained.

 

By now, I am studying the pale blue walls with great attention. As I saw it, there were only two possible options.

 

One: There was nothing at the foot of the bed but air, and my significant other was nuts.

 

Two: Jesus was standing at the foot of my brass bed and I was in deep doo-doo.

 

It was quite the quandary.

 

I didn’t want to know the answer, to be honest.

 

Understand, that when I am nervous I have a tendency to say the first wisecrack that comes to mind. My knee-jerk reaction is to defuse the situation and get everybody to relax.

 

It really never works, but I do it anyway.

 

Being an atheist who has just been told that the Son of God is standing at the foot of the bed is probably the very definition of a nervous situation.

 

So, I said what could have been the worst possible thing ever.

 

DO YOU TWO WANT TO BE ALONE?

 

I have to remark that her command of the saltier parts of the English vocabulary was stellar for a churchy girl.

 

She excoriated me with little grace but a whole lot of enthusiasm. I mean back seven generations and all the way out to my 3rd cousins, whoever they are.

 

And, for the record, Jesus was not standing at the foot of the bed. But I slept on the couch that night anyway.