Gulags and Kitty Cats

Just sitting here digging life.

I’m trying not to get into pacing and hand-wringing mode, but one of my cats, Bugsy, has been gone for a day and a half.  I’m worried that he’s gotten into a fight or been killed by a car.  Big tough guy scared about his kitty cat.  God, if people knew.  They must never know.  I hate this shit.  It’s my karma for what I did to my folks.  I just have to trust his little kitty higher power is looking out, and distract myself as best as I can.

I’m on-line with Dave, and we’re talking about Mikhail Dyomin’s book, The Day is Born of Darkness.  We both get a kick out of thinking about life in the Soviet Prison system.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because it was so brutal, that it makes our regular shitty days seem down right paradisaical.  Not like we need to look in books for examples of brutal living.  We both can draw on our own past experiences.  Dave a lot more than me.  Fucker was not just some dilettante dabbling in brutal, like me, but a clock-punching, licensed journeyman worker at it, most of his whole life.

Anyway, the minute he messaged me something about the book, I was on Amazon getting a collector’s quality copy.  Are you kidding?  Dudes that make playing cards out of pressed bread that they paint with soot and drops of blood.  Oh yeah.  If you’re a connoisseur of misery like Dave and I, you know you can’t beat the Russians.  They are masters of melancholy.  The average Russian store clerk lives a life sadder and more tragic than anything in Bronte, or Celebrity Rehab.  However, throw one them into a Siberian prison, and see what kind of gloom oozes out.  A high-grade, pharmacological-quality depressant.

I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich, when I was a kid.  I loved transporting myself into a distant Siberian labor camp, and really imagining how awful it must have been.  I used to do that so that when it came time to go to school, I could trudge with the fatal resolve of a Soviet prisoner.  Perhaps stopping by the window to wonder, “How long will the desolation of the endless tundra haunt my dreams?  How long before a fire or friend?  Mocked by the raven, hunted by the wolves, my heart hangs freeze-dried on the barbed wire of 6th grade.”

I get up from the computer and walk outside to see if Bugsy is around.  I don’t go out there and yell “Bugsy! Bugsy! Bugsy!”  It seems too desperate.  I make my girlfriend do that.  Instead, I send telepathic messages that he should get his furry little ass home for some dinner and a nap.  Then I pray to St. Francis to protect him.  Why does he do this to me?  Is he so self-absorbed in Tom-catting around the town, that he can’t even check in and let us know he’s alright?

A bigger cat moved into the neighborhood recently.  A big blonde beast.  I call him Boris.  Boris the Beast.  Bugs and him have gone at it a couple of times now, and once he came home with a tuft of fur missing and a big cut across his nose.  Bugsy is all street cat.  He loves it out there.  I don’t blame him.  That’s where the action is.

Except for a family of raccoons, he’s had the run of the ‘hood all to himself.  Now this cat moves in, and I get the feeling that Bugsy is just looking for trouble with this bigger cat, to prove something.  Prove something to Boris, and prove something to himself.

I don’t know why I think that.

“Do you think he’s okay?” I ask Lori.

“He’s fine,” she says.  I scrutinize the timber in her voice for any hidden anxiety.  She seems confident.  I’ll hang on to that.

I go back on-line, Dave has cut and pasted the lyrics to No River To Take Me Home, by Neurosis.

Digging a hole so I can rest
No tears from no river to take me home
The stones in my way, roots to the core
Of a rising sun falling through
the wind to the soil

As my body leaves me
I cling to a tree in a dream
I’m screaming to you
Whatever comes through me I will be.

Well… that’s kind of downer, I think.  But, I don’t diss a good downer. It’s a good song to sing on the transport train north to the General Dispersion Center, where you get processed, and then sent to your separate time-share gulag resort.  A sad little ditty to croak while the other convicts gnaw on dried crusts of bread, and long for the wheat fields of the Ukraine, their bitter tears turning into frozen stones that roll off their dirty cheeks.

At least, Louie is hanging around close by.  He’s had a big week.  Killed two bats, and two mice in a 72 hour period.  Dave called it a serial-killing spree.  He really got his predator on.  It surprises me, because Louie doesn’t look like a killer.  While Bugsy is scarred, sleek and lean, Louis is puffy and fancy.  He has a tail like one of those feathers in a Musketeer’s cap.  His fur foofs around his neck, giving him a fancy collar like Sir Walter Raleigh.  I always worry that he’ll get picked on by the other cats for looking like a little dandy.  I’m pretty sure this little outburst of violence is him compensating for the fact that he looks like a sissy.

I don’t know why I think that.

I get a Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale and sit back down at the monitor.  Lori is watching some reality thing about a bunch of Amish kids that leave the rez and head out to New York City.  Hoo boy.  That town tore me a new one, and I was a native New Yorker, and slightly more streetwise then a wide-eyed Amish bumpkin.  I can’t believe the producers are doing this.  Real life Hunger Games.  We have become the modern Romans, enjoying the spectacle of throwing Christians to the lions.  It’s absurd.

“Did you know there are Amish prison gangs?” I ask her.

She just nods.  She thinks I’m fucking with her.

“I’m serious.  Dave said when he was doing time in Pennsylvania, there was Amish dudes there who had been busted for cooking meth.  He says all lot of them started out cultivating weed, but later set up labs because they were more lucrative.  Of course some are going to get busted and go to prison.  Dave said they all hang out together in the joint, and whah-lah!  There’s your Amish prison gang.  Neat huh?”

“Amish.  Were growing pot and making meth.  Isn’t that against their beliefs?”

“Who knows?  Maybe if they don’t use electricity for like grow lights and stuff.  And I’m sure you could set up a meth lab without using demon electricity. You know, cook the dope down on hibachis and shit.”

She shakes her head.  I can tell she doesn’t want to believe it.  She’s got this idealized, cozy-comfy version of Amish people she wants to hang on to.  Doesn’t want to believe they can get fucked up like the rest of us.  Well, I can’t let this go.  Time to riff.

“Oh, what a quaint little store you have here!   What a beautiful hand-carved wooden rocking horse.   Heavens, such a lovely kerosene lamp, and look at these baskets!  The workmanship.  Can I take a look at that butter churner?  Oh, while you’re at it, we’d also like a 1/4 of Purple Buddha Sky and an 8-Ball of White Line Fever.”

She tries not to smile, but I saw.  I turn back to the monitor and don the headphones satisfied.  The Pod shuffles out some Billy Childish.  The Day I Beat My Father Up.

Dave has messaged.  He tells me he’s finished his latest post and want me to check it out.  I click over to WordPress.  I dig his work.  He’s got a lot of gnarly tales.  His blog is called The Sun Burns Cold.  He writes about a lot of stuff, but I especially enjoy the street stories, his adventures in the shooting dens, crash pads, rehabs, insane asylums, squat flops, jails, prisons, and half-way houses he’s gotten to visit.  You know, all the little stops along the happy journey of life.  He’s interspersed that life with seeing some of the most amazing live music, during a truly seminal era.

Dave chronicles that era well.  Boots on the ground reportage.  Intrepid war correspondent, in the middle of the shit.  His matter-of-fact style gives his stories an elegant sadness.  He’s a maniac, but a talented, intelligent, and insightful one.  He may also be a weensy world-weary.

From homeless gutter punk in Seattle to doing an eight year bit for robbery, Dave’s had a rough ride.  The needle and the drink insured he got his share of action and adventure.  Today he’s staying clean and sober, washing dishes in a restaurant, and writing.  Dave can write.  He’s a machine.  He’s up until dawn hammering it out.  It doesn’t matter what kind of bullshit sandwich his day has served him, he writes.  He used to put out a punk rock ‘zine while behind bars.

That tells me something.  Aside from having the talent, it tells me he’s got the disciple to become great.

However, a week doesn’t go by that he doesn’t suddenly decide to quit writing altogether.  Hell, me too.  I think that comes with the turf.  Nothing we write will make a difference.  Nobody is really reading it.  We suck.  Who are we trying to kid?  With everything we’ve revealed about ourselves, we’ll never be able to run for public office or be hired by a successful corporation.

At least that’s something good that’s come out of it.  We take turns talking each other down from the ledge like that.  Two alcoholics talking.

I know he can’t quit writing.  I mean he can quit, but he’s powerless to stay quit.  He’s a writer, regardless of his protests and denials to the contrary.  He actually writes me these missives on all the reasons why he’s not a writer.  Long, eloquent, well-formed treatises why.  They’re very convincing.  And really good writing.  I, on the other hand, can quit anytime I want to.  I just don’t want to… right now.

Okay, I kind of do now.  Seriously.  It just hit me.  Fuck, I’m the middle of this piece.  Okay, as soon as I’m done dealing with this shit, I’ll hang it up.  For good.  It really isn’t worth it.

Anyway, it’s good to have made a bro in Dave.  A fellow escapee from the mutant zoo.  I always look forward from hearing from him.  It doesn’t matter what kind of mood he’s in, because whatever it is, he communicates it well, and we always wind up sharing a laugh.  I enjoy that.  I can cut people all kinds of slack for their moods.  I’ve been known to get moody now and then.  Once or twice.  So I think I understand a little about the human condition.

Not from being one, mind you, but from reading about it in books.

If you are pissed off, I figure you’re going to be pissed off no matter what, at least for a while.  If I run in with pep squad outfit on and start clapping and fist-pumping a cheer to rally you, I’m just going to add myself to that list of things you’re pissed off at.  Fuck that.  I’ll hang outside the blast zone until the rocks and shrapnel pitter pat to a stop.  Then if you need help picking through the rubble for any valuables, I’m around, dig?

Too many people can’t stand to be around somebody that’s feeling bad.  They hurry and try to fix it, and when that doesn’t work, both people just wind up getting pissed at each other.  You have to be able to sit with someone’s misery, hurt, or pain.  Just be there with them.  As much as you might want to squirm out, you sit there and share it with them.  Let it run it’s course.  If you allow them to fully express what’s bothering them, and offer no resistance, or get defensive, they wind up coming up with answers on their own.

The fact that you didn’t run off when things got un-fun speaks volumes for your commitment to the friendship.  Then everybody can cheer.

I hear a scratching at the door.  Oh, you little fucker!  If I wasn’t so happy to see him, I would kill him.  Louie’s happy to see Bugs, too.  He is burying his nose in Bugsy’s ass.   I don’t know what I think about that.  Bugsy heads to the kitchen.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know.  Chow time.

I have to go through this whole big ritualistic production to feed him.  First, I have to get him a clean bowl.  He doesn’t like it when there’s old dry cat food still in the bowl.  It has to be in a clean bowl.  I also have to make a big deal about shaking the bag, and loudly sprinkling the new dry food.  That gets him figure-eighting between my legs.  They I have to open a new can of wet food, making a big deal about popping the lid.  I have to fork the wet food into the dry and mix it, but just a little.  He doesn’t like it too mashed up.  Seriously.

If I leave out any of those steps, or say, just spoon out some wet onto some old dry, he’ll just look at it, then look up at me, and keep looking.  The look says it all.  “So that’s it?  Just shovel out some shit and throw it down?  Like I’m some kind of animal?”  He’ll wind up eating it, but with that neck-rolling, shoulder-shrugging attitude.  Major guilt trip.

Tonight I don’t mind putting a towel over one arm, using the china, the silver, letting him smell the cork.  I’m just happy he’s back.  I watch him and Louie tuck into their bowls with the satisfaction of an indulgent Jewish mother.  He has a new scratch, but he’s okay otherwise.  I feel a big weight lift.  Thanks St. Francis.  Good looking out.

After they eat, I go back to the computer.  I could hear them rough-housing upstairs.  Big fucking racket.  It sounds like they’re dragging a couch down the hall.  Now they’re building shelves.  Big crash.  I think that was the vacuum cleaner coming down the stairs.  Yeah, it was.

“Hey you two! Fucking cool it up there!”

They love to go at it.  Just for fun.  Just fighting each other for the sheer joy of it.


I start reading Dave’s new piece.  It’s a prison one.  My favorite.  This one’s about when he played bass in a band while he was locked up.   That is so punk rock, I can’t stand it.  Life is good.

We never do anything bad.

19 responses to “Gulags and Kitty Cats

  1. Nice mustache on that cat on the right there….and by the way…my favorite saying from your Mom has always been, “Dont be Ameriiconcas, Marieu.” I have thought of that continuously through the years when I feel like whining and I see that I have been sheltered, and so have my friends, all in all, when compared with many another story, in the hideous world we live in…. however, I had a great and smart friend from Malibu, who simply shot himself in the head dead at age 46, 3 and a half years ago, He had lived a rather productive and comfortable American life from day one, and nothing could save him…

    • Ne buk Amerikonas! Yep, heard that a lot. Especially if she wanted you to try something gnarly to eat. God bless her though, I was exposed to a lot of different foods that I wouldn’t have been if she was a cut-the-crust-off-your-peanutbutter-sandwich type. Kids at school were tossing away jelly sandwiches because the corners somehow got smushed, and I’m trying to get down a blood sausage and butter on pumpernickel thing. I’m glad now. I’m a garbage disposal. I care very little about how food tastes. It’s all just plug.
      Now, Shab, it’s time for us to enlighten everyone about the joys of Scrapple. “It’s very filling!” heh-heh.

  2. That Dave guy is a Nigerian email scammer. He told me for forty grand he was going to mail me ten vertically challenged Romanian women. Instead all I got was a box full of Mott The Hoople 8 tracks.

  3. So glad your cat came home! I had a big beast called Flea. Pure white with the biggest paws and tail on a domestic I’d ever seen. Trouble was with Flea, he got too big for his boots (paws) and started to boss-cat the other gardens over yonder.To do that he had to cross the main road. A bus squashed his head flat.
    It took us days, weeks even, to get over that loss.

    He now resides in our hearts and the pet cemetery we call a garden.

    • Man, that sucks serious sad. Poor Flea. Can’t blame him for wanting to expand his empire though. At least he went trying. God bless him.
      We had to put down two cats over here. Really awful. Animals are just so cool, it really hurts when you make a connection with one and then have to let them go. I suck at that shit. Thanks for dropping by, M.F. Cheers.

  4. Once again, a highly entertaining read. I especially liked the paragraph about not adding yourself to the list of what someone’s pissed about. I frequently find myself trying to be “peacemaker” between people, whether at work or [less often] in my social circle… not an enviable place to be, and just like trying to be a “cheerleader”, it’s usually best to just try to work through it without getting any on you.

    Glad the cat came back. Pets really do become members of the family, somehow. I know I’m concerned if I can’t get my boy inside within the first couple attempts at calling him before bed. Every once in a while, you just have to know that, well, little fucker knows where he gets fed, and if he’s out all night and is hungry when he gets back, maybe he’ll come in when he’s called next time… and try to spend the night not agonizing over whether he got in a tangle with anything bigger than he can handle.

    Also, you may want to discuss your addiction with a professional counselor. As much as you’ve been able to get yourself through to this point, I’d hate to see this blog cut short by an accidental writing overdose….

    … sorry to ramble. I’ll just go and see what Dave has to say then, yeah?

    • Thanks for stopping by, but I have to tell you, you interrupted a serious Saturday night laundry-folding session. Thank fuck for that. Sorry to hear you could relate. That impulse to jump in and be the peacemaker was okay when I was a bouncer since that’s what they paid you $10 an hour to do, but in the regular world of work politics or family dysfunction it can get you clobbered.
      And yeah, the critters do capture hearts, don’t they? They are both outside right now, but on the neighbor’s front step. I like that. You can kill anything you want from right there. Just don’t bring that shit into the house. Jesus, dude, I can’t tell you how much it freaks me out when they bring in the victim, and it isn’t quite dead yet, because they have to fuck with it some more. I’m on a stool flapping at them with my apron. “For Christ’s sake, get that thing out of here! You sick sadists!”
      Okay, I better get back to sorting through an entire pile of single no-match socks. By the way, always feel free to, in the immortal words of Zep, “Ramble On.” We’re all friends here.

      • Yeah, the whole “look what the cat dragged in” syndrome always makes me feel a little uncomfortably divided. On the one hand, I think, “Aw, poor little bird/rabbit/whatever.” On the other, though? I’m cheering for my diminutive predator, “Way to GO, son! You fucked that thing UP!”… and then I have to find a way to dispose of it without him being upset that I threw away his present to me….

        The only live thing they’ve ever brought in was a dove, which eventually got away [but I had to nudge out the open front door with a broom before it left… maybe it was just in shock, but maybe it would have done the dove community good to get the stupid one out of the gene pool before it bred] and a very large cicada, which I didn’t mind them playing with, ‘cept for the fact that those things are loud enough outside….

      • I hear you on the mixed feelings. I have to tell you about the time I came downstairs to a dead bird Bugsy brought in. When I looked down at it, I saw that he had place it in a little tray he improvised out of an upside-down ink stamp pad. What makes it extra crazy is that those were upstairs in the studio den, so he must have dragged it down. Regardless, it made for a creepy little display. Again I was torn. I was proud of his artistic aesthetic , but also worried we might have a real kitty psycho on our hands. I’m going to look for the picture, and if I find it, I’ll e-mail it to you. I took it two phones ago, so you know how that goes. Glad the dove lived, but that’s just my secret hippy. Shhhhh….

  5. Not much time, HOWEVER: So very, very glad that Mr. Kittty made it back safe and sound!!! (And I LOVE how the other is fluffy and fancy!!!)That’s most important! And, I agree, Mott the Hoople is fuckin rockin. Write more later, ta ta!!!

  6. Marius–your post was rad. (Sorry, too burnt from grading papers to write much more ’bout that, but know this…”rad” can, and in this case, does, mean quite a lot…) Earlier I had to make it extra-brief because I was not in a place where I could tear up and start sniffling whilst pretending to be working. But to all of you who have experienced the wrenching, horrendous heart-break of losing a non-human member of the family—I relate, and if the joy and love and silliness and warm-tumminess and individual personality, etc., of that family member weren’t even greater than the terrible ache of loss, I wouldn’t keep bringing them along for the ride. But, I do. And I dig all of you who do, as well. Marius, I just know that you don’t write your posts in fake realtime just to bring the happy ending–no way, Jose. But I gotta say, in addition to everything else in the post that I loved to read, the scratch on the door, and the ensuing Jewish mother-behavior you engaged in, and the kitty shenaningans they engaged in, well…excuse me, I’m getting verklempt. The Moral Majority is neither. Discuss amongst youselves.

    • Thanks Mort. I see somebody likes kitty cats. Who’d a thunk? By the way, I would fake a time-line. You would be shocked to hear what I’ve faked. Faked it until I pretended to make it. I remember my dear old mother, needle-pointing a sampler with “Shake it, bake it, and even break it, but please don’t fake it.” But, I never listened to messages on pillows, unless they served my will at the time. Messages On Pillows. My first book. So intriguing. “What kind of messages?” a reader would ask while reaching for a discounted copy. Get some sleep, buddy. I’ll take over watch.

  7. I have a girlfriend who turns out the most awesome, often vulgar, always entertaining needlepoint pillows ever. Interested? I’ll hook you up. Anyway, yeah, you fucking faker. Takes one to know one, or something? Thanks for carrying on, dear chap. Nighty night…meow. (By the way, I picked up, and purchased, a Bob Woodward—as in Woodward and Bernstein–book at the 99 Cent Store. Happens to some of the best…)

  8. It’s difficult to find knowledgeable people for this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re
    talking about! Thanks

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