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Hairballs and Hamlet

“To sleep, perchance to dream — Ay, there’s the rub.”

Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)

This is what Shakespeare said through the pensive Dane in one of The Bard’s most famous plays. I’m guessing Shakespeare may have had a cat. The “rub” he’s talking about is the very witching time of night when the cat wakes up and rubs his forehead against your face, just because he can.

With a cat, there’s little sleeping and lots of rubbing.

Our cat, Fala (named for Franklin Roosevelt’s dog), is 16 and is suffering the slings and arrows of aging. He is cranky, bossy and whiny.

Among his ailments are some digestive issues, including hairballs.  We awaken unhappily from precious REM sleep and by then the nocturnal nausea is mostly over, except for a few laboring hacks. We sleep again, and the wretched retching is forgotten until morning when the bare foot encounters the warm, furry remnants on the cold, oak floor. Something, indeed, is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Fala pretends to have no knowledge of his fe-line-onious nighttime ailments.

We use an over-the-counter remedy, a sticky malt-flavored (so says the label) gel in a tube. Here are the directions: “To help eliminate hairballs, feed adult cats and rabbits a one-inch ribbon daily until symptoms disappear. Give between meals either by placing on your finger or on the front paw where it can be licked off.”

The label also notes “Satisfaction guaranteed.” (My question is “whose satisfaction? Mine? The cat? The rabbit? How did rabbits get involved in this?)

Anyone who has ever lived with a cat (note I did not say “owned” a cat) knows that cats won’t do anything you want them to do. Fala easily surmised if I approached him in a certain way, I was going to put sticky brown goo all over his paw. Though this be madness, there is method in it.

He obviously did not read the directions or the marketing commentary because he ran in the other direction.

I must be cruel, only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.

I’m trying to outsmart him with what is good for him. I squeeze an inch-long ribbon from the tube and put it on my right hand, and casually sit near Fala on the couch. I rest my hand near him. I unobtrusively move it closer and closer until under his nose. Fala smells the fragrant malt flavor and licks it off.

Fala thought it was his idea, so it worked several times.

Last night while attempting to seduce Fala into my little melodrama, the phone rang, and it was for me.

Do I “ungoo” and waste a batch?

Or do I sit at my desk and talk on the phone with this glob of gunk smeared all over my hand?

When I find myself in one of my self-imposed “I Love Lucy” situations, I must say, “Look at yourself, woman. You are a grown-up, and you are trying to entice a dumb animal to take his medication. Just grab him and shove it down his throat.”

Alas, anyone who has been owned by a cat knows this is easier said than done.

— Amy McVay Abbott

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer who deeply apologizes to scholars of William Shakespeare.  She likes to hear from readers at amy@amyabbottwrites.com.  She is the author of two books, A Piece of Her Mind and The Luxury of Daydreams, both available in print and ebooks on Amazon.

Date night. This isn’t how I remember it

Recently, I was reading an article called “10 Ways to Bring Back the Romance in Your Marriage.” I immediately showed it to Kenny and asked him, smiling, “What do you think? Should we try some of these?” He instantly got that panicked looked he reserves for conversations of this nature, undoubtedly imagining the 101 things he doesn‘t want to do to put the spice back in a marriage he thinks is fine just the way it is.

Let’s start with #3, I suggested. It’s simple. Make a Date Night, like we did when we were, well…dating. You know, get dressed up, go out to a romantic restaurant, gaze into each other’s eyes like besotted fools, spend several hours reassuring each other of our mutual, eternal love, then go home and make passionate love all night long, finally curling up together like a human corkscrew, falling asleep in a state of Phase 1 bliss. Kenny looked over and surprised me with “Sure. Why not?”

Well, hot damn. Mama’s going on a date.

First task: Pick a night. Saturday? Nope, kids are coming for the weekend. Okay. The next one? Can’t do it. Working all weekend. Fine. The one after that? Uh-uh. That’s your annual golf trip. For heaven’s sake. The one after that?? It’ll work?? Great.

Next, pick a restaurant. “How about the Mexican restaurant?” “Not a chance,” Kenny replied, “The last time I ate there, it took me 3 days to digest the giant cheeseball stuck in my intestines.” (Yeah, no romance needed here.) “Okay, then. How about Thai food?” “Don’t know what that is,” he stated, “And if I don’t recognize it, I’m not eating it.” “Fine. We like that one downtown with the deck and the great view. How about that?” “Isn’t that the place that serves those complimentary crab thingies? I threw up all night, remember?” Could’ve done without that visual, but okay, crab cakes are out. “Let’s just settle for the historic hotel, with dinner out on the patio. Deal?” Done.

Now what to wear?

As I perused by closet, it become clear that my clothing choices had become less about “dancing til they shut this party down” and more about “can I wash this after my baby granddaughter pees on it?” I ransacked my wardrobe, trying on everything I thought might work, but it became rapidly clear that over the years, as my boobs got longer and my butt got wider, my necklines went up and my skirt lengths went down, until I was starting to resemble my great-Aunt Agnes from Idaho, only without the weird under-eye mole and hair snood.

“Where are you going?” Kenny asked, as I grabbed my purse and headed out the door. “Shopping,” I said, “I have nothing to wear for Date Night.” “I knew it,” I heard him mumble to himself, “We haven’t even left yet, and it’s already costing us a ton of money.”

A trip to my favorite boutique quickly unearthed a fabulous (albeit widely overpriced) black jumpsuit, with sexy, slightly-off-the-shoulder sleeves and elegant wide-leg pants. Trying to ignore the tiny voice in my head that said this was actually just a grown-up onesie, I plunked down our credit card with barely enough time for the salesclerk to ask, brightly, “So, what shoes will you be wearing?” Oh crap.

Mentally reviewing my current shoe wardrobe, I knew that I had nothing that would work. Over the years, stilettos had been summarily tossed out to make room for low platforms and sneakers, neither of which scream “Come get me, Big Guy.” Date Night required heels. The kind even he knows you can’t walk in for more than three steps. And let’s get real here. Those shoes weren’t actually made for walking. They’re for showing off in the bedroom.

The problem was that a) I hadn’t worn heels for years, and they require practice to prevent humiliating and decidedly unsexy faceplants or sprained ankles, and b) the sight of me strutting my middle-age stuff in nothing but high heels in the bedroom would undoubtedly send Hubs into gales of unrestrained laughter or screaming for an eye-wash station. I finally compromised with a pair of strappy silver sandals with a high wedge. Not exactly stilettos, but compared to my three-year-old Payless sneakers, he’ll love them.

Then finally, the big night arrived.

Sitting at the restaurant, looking over the wine list, Kenny looked up and said, “Have you seen these prices?? Who the hell pays $100 for a bottle of wine??” “I agree,” I said, “That’s not us. Check out the entree prices.” “You know,” he said, “For the price of this dinner, we could get the shelving for the pantry.” “That’s true,” I replied, “And the kids called today. They need to borrow some money.” “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked. “Yep,” I said, “Let’s ditch this place and go get chips and a pitcher of margaritas at our favorite taco stand.”

Four hours later, faces hurting from laughing and non-stop talking over too many margaritas and three bowls of guacamole, we stumbled out of the cab and into the house, heading down the hall to the bedroom.

“Tonight was so much fun,” I said, “But I’m really tired. Would you mind if we didn’t…” “Oh thank God,” he replied, “I’m exhausted. Can we schedule that for next weekend?”

It was a perfect evening. And I still have the shoes.

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in “Life Well Blogged, Parenting Gag Reels, Hilarious Writes and Wrongs,” sold through Amazon.com.

The pursuit of happiness (scooters optional)

A week, in this place, and I have lost all sense of time. It stands still, moves back, lurches forward. I am forced to constantly find my bearings.

Chautauqua, N.Y., is like no other place I have ever been. I am in the place that gave birth to a movement of traveling tent shows that moved across America in the early 20th century; its purpose to bring culture and ideas, spirituality and enlightenment. Today is no different.

Except, I am here.

I keep thinking if I close my eyes tightly enough, when I open them I’ll be awash in crinoline, my $4 latte replaced by a .25 cent milkshake. That is the effect it has on me as I walk down the brick walkways, past the gingerbread cottages lined with Brown Eyed Susans and hydrangeas. People sitting on wrap-around porches at all hours of the day and night. Unlocked doors and unattended children. How many yesterdays is that? I don’t want to count that high.

We have come here, my friends and I, to reconnect — with each other, with ourselves, with something lost we are hoping to find. We are on a holiday of the spirit. And, I’m not sure any of us are entirely prepared.

“Those things really disturb me,” my one friend says. She motions toward a motorized scooter with an octogenarian in tow. They are everywhere, scooters and octogenarians alike.

Clearly, we are not the prime demographic attending the daily lectures at Chautauqua. Then, again, I prefer to be in bed by 9 p.m. and within walking distance of a serviceable bathroom at all times. Old is a relative term.

Meanwhile, I have my own anxieties. While it’s all very ecumenical here, spirituality made institutional leaves me bereft. I have never been one to go to church. But, walking within the grounds of the institution I’m confronted by one denominational house after another. Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Catholics, they’re all here. From a distance, they remind me of fraternity houses on a college campus until I see the cross near the front door and realize there’s probably not a keg in the basement. The thought leaves me the tiniest bit queasy in the way that taxi cabs that smell of curry or bouts of cognitive dissonance do.

The Pursuit of Happiness: that is the theme this week — officially by way of the speaker series and unofficially as far as we are concerned. We listen to a Supreme Court justice, a classics professor, social scientists who have advised presidents, a neurobiologist and a smattering of religious scholars. Each tackles the issue from a different vantage point, every one seems to come to the same conclusion.

Happiness is not pleasure. It is not a sudden burst of dopamine after winning the lottery or tucking into a piece of chocolate cake. Defining happiness is far more complex and achieving it these days seemingly far more elusive.

It requires intention. Engaging in something bigger than ourselves. Getting out of our own heads. Entertaining the notion that connection cannot only be by series of texts, emails, pings and blips on a screen.

We reap what we sow.

I watch the people stream into the amphitheater to listen to another speaker, so many frail of body but strong of spirit. And, I am struck by the fact that I am the one who needs buttressing. For, I feel time moving inside of me —  generations past and generations to come. My knees buckle at the weight. At the end of this week, I know two things: that I am not nearly as strong or as weak as I think I am, and that I am part of something more.

Something more.

— Jen Havice

Jen Havice is a blogger, writer and social media consultant. When not helping small businesses  navigate the social networking jungle at Make Mention Media, she writes social commentary and humor on her website, When Pigs Fly. She and her husband along with two big dogs and an even larger horse call Minneapolis home.

17-syllable catharsis

Suburban Haiku

In the suburbs, highly educated and ambitious parents funnel their professional training and personal desires into managing every aspect of their lives — and their children’s — with zeal. At first, Peyton Price was shocked and appalled. But now, her indoctrination is complete. In Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind the Picket Fence, Price reveals that, try as she might, she has succumbed to the reality of having an SUV, a stint as PTA president, kids on the honor roll and thousands of dollars in travel team fees. As it turns out, in the ticky tacky world of the suburbs, resistance is futile.

Facebook: Staring, sharing and caring

Much has been written and lamented about Facebook.  And rightly so, I tell myself, as I slog through a report on a recent, yummy breakfast, excruciating details of a trip or weekend, boasts about junior’s GPA and multitudinous photos of Little League.

But I have to say that there is something especially off-putting about those one-size-fits-all FB greetings.  Examples:  “Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms I know,”  “Wishing everyone a happy new year,”  “My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by [fill in disaster]” and “Happy [fill in religious holiday] to all my friends who celebrate.”  Those who post these no doubt well-intentioned sentiments aren’t actually directing their sentiments to anyone in particular, but to everyone in general.  Everyone on Planet Facebook anyway.

I would add the generalized “thank-you” to these digital pet peeves.  I’ve seen pages thanking everyone who liked the page.  Now that’s personal!

Welcome to the anti-social media.

The real dangers to my lunch staying down are those treacly posts about how much we love our husband/wife/son/daughter/puppy, typically accompanied by images of flowers and rainbows. Like this one, spread onto a deep red, heart-shaped background, “Share this if you love your son with all your heart.”  Now, if I don’t share it — oh, maybe because it’s vapid and meaningless — does that mean I don’t love my son?  Or at least not with all my heart?  Maybe I’m half-hearted about it.  Never mind the fact that my son would be appalled if I did.

For those who have trouble expressing themselves, the “I’m Proud of My Kids” page offers such gems as “I love my kids more than words can describe.”  So if you post/share/like it, this makes you what….superparent? the bestest mom on earth?  The IPOMK page also provides, “The weekend with the kids is priceless,” which sounds like a joint custody greeting. For St. Patrick’s Day you can post, “I [shamrock] my kids.”  I’m not sure what that’s about — did you run them out of Ireland with the snakes? Another classic, “It’s the little moments that make every day amazing,” framed by concentric hearts.  I’ll leave for another day my rant on the overuse of the word “amazing.”

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but why does one have to trumpet these illustrated emotions to every outpost in the Facebook universe? OK, you love your kid!  Do you want a cookie?

And I’m urged to “like and share.”  How about “barf and snicker?”  Or shall I just say, “Ick.”

And let’s work on the definition of “share.”  If I send along the written equivalent of an emoticon, what is it I’m sharing?  The fact that someone found a saccharine way to announce to the world that I love my kids?  Sometimes I’m asked to “like” and “share” if I’m against cancer or for mental health.  Does my not sharing make me some kind of ghoul?  It’s like they’re trying to induce the same guilt you’re supposed to feel when you break a chain letter.

Here are some helpful tips on how not to nauseate your Facebook friends.  Posts should pass the Eye Roll Test.  Before you “share” something with the world, ask yourself, if I saw this coming from someone else, would my eyes roll up in my head?  Soul-search a bit more:  Why are you posting this?  Do you think if your kid sees this he or she would really, truly, honest-to-God know you care?  Are you just bored?  Why are you borrowing words from someone else?  Is IPOMK’s “Having my kids taught me that the greatest gifts in life do not come from the outside but from within ourselves” better than anything you can come up with?

Not that I’m above connecting with FB pages that others doubtless think ridiculous.  I’m friends with such luminaries as Grumpy Cat and Henri, Le Chat Noir.  (Detect a pattern here?)  But I don’t inflict this stuff on other people, with the exception of fellow feline fanatics.

So, if you love your kids (with all your heart, like life itself, to the ends of the earth), just tell them.  And leave me out of it.

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, tutor and self-described “crazy cat lady.” She gives a popular talk, “Religion and Humor: The Historical and the Hysterical,” to community groups in the Boston area.

Spinning webs

I’ll admit I’m not much of a housekeeper. My myopic vision doesn’t seem to notice piles of newspapers or cobwebs in the corners. But I’d let things go so long that the spider’s web in the bathroom sported a little bronze plaque. I had to get a magnifying glass to read it. It said that the web is now on the arachnids’ historic register.

Of course, I couldn’t destroy it after that.

I was brushing my teeth and heard a tiny “Ding!” I looked up and saw the spider opening a tiny microwave and taking out a burrito.

“Oooch! Hot! Hot! Ow!” the spider said as it tossed the burrito in three or four hands. It settled into a little recliner and used a fifth hand to point a remote at a TV that, proportionately, was bigger than mine. A flat screen. Maybe plasma. Where does a spider get that kind of cash?

“Whatcha watchin’?” I asked.

“CNN. MSNBC, sometimes FOX,” the spider said. “I’m totally hooked on news channels.”

“Don’t spiders have their own networks?”

“There are only so many shows on weaving techniques, insect lures, and how to coordinate eight shades of eye shadow that I can stomach. And if that team shows up and remodels MY web while I’m out, I’ll dessicate their soft little bodies and eat them whole. Besides, your issues are much more entertaining.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Relationship drama, for instance. You guys complicate things so much. You mate; you devour your mate. It’s clean. It’s simple. And you never have to change the locks.”

“Well, you have a point, but I don’t think your method will catch on around here.”

“I guess not. But how about this whole gasoline thing? Two legs aren’t good enough for you? And this ‘going to work’ business — explain that to me. You need food, go snare some. You need shelter, build something. All this other business is stuff you made up to worry about. Am I right?”

“More than you know.”

“And these wars over territory. Just move on and spin a new web. It’s not worth fighting over. Either everything belongs to everyone or nothing belongs to anyone. Either way, lay off the bombs already.”

“You’re wise. How’d you learn so much?”

“I have cousins all over the world. They keep me clued in. Did you know that pretty much anywhere in the world, you’re only two feet from one of us?”

“I’d heard that.”

“I just heard from a cousin in London who was at those last Olympics. You know, we could decimate humans in track and field. It’s so cute to see you with your two little legs trying to compete. If I’d had good sense, I would have signed my last batch of kids up for gymnastics. I’d be on Easy Street by now. “

I looked around a little nervously. “So, where ARE all of your kids?”

“Oh you know how teenagers are. They have their own ideas and won’t listen to their parents. Most of them went to school for web design, as if their own instincts weren’t enough. I washed most of my hands of them. Shhhhh! Stephanopoulos is starting.”

I backed quietly out of the bathroom. It was clean enough.

—Kerri Albertson

Kerri Albertson teaches composition at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, NC. The very first “real” “grown-up” book she ever read was At Wit’s End when she was eight. She promises to vacuum when the semester is over.

Never leave an empty roll

Here’s the deal: If you finish the toilet paper, replace the toilet paper! Don’t even think that by leaving two sheets of paper on the roll means you’re Scott free (sorry, I couldn’t resist). You’re not.

Two sheets to wipe a #2 is two too few. Also, if you do get a new roll, please replace the roll; don’t just sit it atop the old one. What does this tell your loved one? I love you, but, gee, just not enough for such taxing, physical labor.

However, having a loved one at home when you run out of toilet paper can be a blessing; just yell for toilet paper and ye shall receive toilet paper. Only, there’s a risk involved if the loved one who makes the delivery is your child; your young child who has friends over. Friends who are under the assumption they are filming an action movie and bust open the bathroom door; friends who are not shy looking at you in an uncompromising position. These friends seem shocked when told to “Get Out.” These friends go home and spread rumors to their parents about Crazy Potty Lady.

There are also risks involved to being home alone and running out of paper. You realize too late there is no toilet paper and the tissue box is empty. So, home alone, you rise and with ankles shackled by your underwear shuffle to the spare roll drawer. You open the drawer, you reach in the drawer, you curse the drawer. The drawer is empty.

Now, you try to make a mad dash for the kid’s bathroom, down the hall. Only, with underwear binding your ankles, dashing is hard to do. You feel like your running in a three-legged race. You get to the bathroom and realize it’s void of  toilet paper. Not only is there an empty roll on the spool, there’s a second roll atop of it, also empty.

While you question the intelligence level of family members, you plan for the trip to the downstairs bathroom. The safest way to make this trip with underwear at the ankles is to slide down the steps, on your belly. It’s risky, but drastic times call for drastic measures. At the bottom of the steps you let out a symphony of curse words because you now have third-degree burns.

In the third bathroom you hit the jackpot, your search is over.

With all the risks, it’s imperative for the toilet paper to keep flowing. Going to the bathroom should not be a crap shoot.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento is the author of Deal with Life’s Stress With a Little Humor. Her award-winning columns and essays have appeared in numerous newspapers and in two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Click here for her blog.

Mindless meditation

I just read an article on mindfulness meditation. The idea is to spend time to oneself focusing only on the moment and one single thing, like breathing.  The author described how the she spent five days in this state by not talking to anyone, including her family. It was an inner revival, an opportunity “to gain clarity, wisdom, and freedom…” by paying attention to “moment experiences.”

I thought about this. Could I do this? Me? And then I thought about it again. And again. Could I do this for five days?  An entire week?  Not likely. That’s a long time for me to keep my mouth shut.  And as for mindless??  For me it would be mindless alright.  Because I would probably lose my mind or what’s left of it. Then I’d have to spend another seven days looking for it.

I can see it now.  I’m scrounging around  the house, rummaging through everything I  see.  My husband, Howard, just stands there, watching it all. And then he says:

“What are you looking for?”

“I’m mindless and I can’t find my mind,” I reply.

“It wouldn’t be the first time. … Try looking under the couch.”

As for paying attention to moment experiences? Ha! I do pay attention to momentous experiences, the big events that grab your attention by the tail. The cat just threw up on the dining room table? I won’t forget that for awhile.  The additional momentous experience of clean up would also grab my rapt attention as my intestines galloped up and down  my esophagus.

Mindfulness?? I don’t think so. Maybe mindless. Senseless would be a better word for it. Not speaking to anyone would clear my mind. But if I didn’t speak to Howard for that long a time, I’d get to do it just once — and it would be over. There would be no second time.  Howard would repay the week of silence with three months of silent sulking. I would complain:

“Why aren’t you speaking to me?”

Hours later he still isn’t talking. I hear only silence and indignation.

“Is this because I spent last week mindfully meditating?”

He ignores me. The silence burrows through my eardrums.

“Well, I wasn’t being spiteful.”

“Sure you were,” he replies.

“I was meditating.  I wasn’t oblivious to you.”

“You should have thought of that in the first place.”

And so it would go. An exchange of acrimony and inner  peace. As for our daughter,  Jennifer,  If I didn’t speak to her, she would cry for two days straight.

Even If I was single, I wouldn’t do it. No sense talking to just me.  I know.  Lots of people talk to themselves. They make verbal conversations inside and outside their heads, no listeners in sight. Sometimes we call that disturbed.   And as for keeping my mind on one thing?? No way. Because that’s when the mental cockroaches — worries — come out.  I call worries cockroaches. They scurry and skitter through my subconscious all day and come out at night. It’s a Florida thing. Florida has big cockroaches and I have big worries. And they are very busy at night.

When Howard doesn’t speak, it’s not because he is meditating. It means he is real mad, angry. Some thing, maybe something I have done, has made him unhappy. When he gets into this kind of “meditation,” he can “meditate” for a long time.  And while he’s doing that, I’ll meditate myself into a good case of hives. On the other hand, I should maybe meditate on how better to avoid him when he’s “meditating.”

Not speaking could have real repercussions around this household, especially since I don’t cook.  It probably wouldn’t result in a divorce, but I could end up eating hot dogs for a week.

— Maggie Millus

A published writer of several science textbooks, Maggie Millus writes humor and blogs at Barmy Bottom Hollow.  “My humor is a hyperextension of my reality.  I hate housework, heat and humidity.  But I cope, anyway, thanks to friends and family who think I’m normal — some of the time,” says the South Florida writer.

Reflections of Erma