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.

Hmm.

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.

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