Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Saturday, October 25, 2003

My pal Ray (Slice & Dice) Cutter came calling yesterday.

“I met this boy, this teen-ager type, who is organizing a club for his high school,” Ray reported. “It’s a writing club, for kids who want to be writers. Know what he’s calling it? Writers Anonymous.

“Is that great, or what? This kid has his head on straight. He knows writing is an addiction and it needs to be treated like one, same as with alcoholics. ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot write, the courage to write the things I can (grocery lists, school excuse notes etc.), and the wisdom to know the difference.’

“It’s like you, Jordan. You’re addicted. Otherwise, how can you explain all these years of writing and so little reward? A couple poems in a Louisiana lit rag, a story in a kids’ magazine out of Indiana, no recognition, no big bucks. Yet on you write. It’s addiction! It’s pathetic!

“Look at you! You could be a newspaper management bigshot. You could be the deputy assistant to the obituary editor of the Pocatello Picayune-Tribune. Instead of a bum, which is what you are. Wait, that was Marlon Brando. But you get the idea.”

“The pot calls the kettle black, Slice & Dice,” I replied. “Look at YOU! Living hand to mouth. Sneaking onto your ex-wife’s computer to post screeds on the internet. Publishing unpaid movie reviews in Street Roots. Did you ever finish that novel based on the life of River Phoenix?”

“I’m on page 1,002,” Ray said. “I figure I’m three-fifths of the way done.”

“And you’ve been working on it what, four years? If that’s not addiction, I don’t know what is.”

Ray drew himself up. “Okay, so we’re both addicted. What should we do about it?”

“Start our own chapter of Writers Anonymous?” I offered. “Maybe we could meet in the basement of the building where Rain City Review had its office before it went bankrupt.”

“Nah,” Slice & Dice fired back, “I say we meet at the Bread & Ink Cafe. We could steel ourselves for giving up writing by eating the bread and ignoring the ink.”

“How’s this as the program for the first meeting?” I said. “Everybody brings ten rejection slips and reads them aloud. Bring the really nasty ones, the ones where the editor questions your intelligence if not your sanity. ‘This is not poetry. You should be horse-whipped for inflicting it on me.’ That sort of thing.”

“Yeah, if you had ten people each read ten of those babies, that ought to be effective aversion therapy for at least a few poor souls.”

“And we could give testimonials,” I said. “Motivational speeches. Hi, my name is Peoria Dave and I’m a writer. I started writing when I was 14 and won a schoolwide essay contest on The Importance of Good Sportsmanship at Basketball Games. I wrote for years. My wife tried to get me to quit, but I hid my typewriter in the garage and wrote while pretending to work on the carburetor of our Volvo. Finally I hit rock bottom. My wife left me for a plumber. My son and daughter refused to learn to read. I was doing scripts for a reality TV show, ‘American Fear Survivor,’ when I realized it was quit writing or die. I’ve been off the typewriter for 19 months, 27 days and 35 minutes. God willing, I’ll make it to 20 months.”

“This could be big,” Ray said, his eyes aglow. “We could make money. Charge a small admission fee for meetings, sell a membership pin, peddle some pamphlets -- the French deconstructionists on the unimportance of the writer in literature might be good.”

“What about that kid you met, though?” I responded. “He’s already got the name Writers Anonymous staked out. He’d probably expect a cut of the profits.”

“Hmmmm,” said Slice & Dice, stroking his chin. “Do you think anybody has claimed Writewatchers?”

Friday, October 24, 2003

"Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence."

--H. L. Mencken

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Here’s a song about my cat, to be sung to the tune of “Have Gun, Will Travel”:

Fat Phoebe, fat Phoebe,
where do you roam?
Fat Phoebe, fat Phoebe,
where do you roam?
Your fat gut for hire,
you’re the calling wind.
A soldier of fortune
is the cat named Phoebe-kins.

I actually made this song up years ago, but recently it has become even more appropriate. Phoebe Caulfield has been kicked out of the house for Conduct Unbecoming. Now she is an outdoor cat, which makes her a soldier of fortune who roams the neighborhood instead of dozing in the sun on the dining room table.

It’s a tragic and complex tale that had its beginnings almost two years ago.

We’ve owned Phoebe forever, it seems, since my son Joe named her after Holden Caulfield’s little sister when he was a sophomore in high school, and he is now into his second year of college-grad slackerness. She is a big, grayish-tannish tabby with a queenly disposition. She does not suffer fools gladly, and tolerates petting only at rare moments when she is in the mood to allow commoners to approach the throne. She’s either fat or heavily furred, depending on the eye of the beholder. I opt for fat.

A couple of years ago, my wife, Cookie Jean, disrupted Phoebe’s household reign by taking in a tiny black kitten some neighbor girls were forced to give away because their mother was allergic to cats (how convenient!). Cookie Jean named the newcomer Miss Kitty, after the saloon hostess on the old “Gunsmoke” TV show. The girls had pampered her, so Miss Kitty was a lap cat to the Nth degree. Her favorite activity since she joined us has been licking Cookie Jean’s fingers while sprawled on her belly.

Phoebe found thus immature behavior terribly inappropriate, but for the most part she just sniffed and walked away. Then, about eighteen months ago, we moved to a new house.

Phoebe and Miss Kitty acted a bit confused at first, but they soon seemed to settle into our new surroundings. They had separate food bowls and separate cat boxes in the basement. They passed coming and going in doorways and exchanged the occasional hiss when one or the other got food first, but otherwise they appeared to ignore each other as before.

A few months after moving, Cookie Jean and I launched a remodeling project. It involved demolishing the top floor of the house and most of the basement. Apparently, it freaked out the cats.

The first sign came when I found a pile of cat manure mixed into sawdust on the floor of what was to become the basement shower. “What the hell?” I thought, but I figured the remodeling mess must have somehow rendered the cat boxes inaccessible. I cleaned up and relocated the boxes.

As the remodeling dragged on -- it took six months instead of the projected four, which is about par for the course, in my experience -- we saw other occasional signs of cat discombobulation. One peed in my suitcase while it was lying unzipped on the basement floor. One peed on the bathmat in the master bathroom. Phoebe got locked in the garage and peed on a box of books stored there. Irritating, but sort of understandable, considering all the hubbub.

The remodeling finished in June. All the clatter and bang ended, the dust and debris disappeared, the workmen went away. Back to normal, Cookie Jean and I thought.

Not so! One morning, as I brushed my teeth, I watched through the open bathroom door as Phoebe strolled up to a bedroom curtain and peed on it. I shouted and she sprinted off, but the curtain had to be cleaned. A few evenings later, as I straightened up the kitchen after dinner, I tugged a full trash can from under the sink and left it sitting on the floor, planning to take it outside and dump it as soon as I finished wiping the counters. From the corner of my eye, I saw Miss Kitty saunter over and pee on the trash can. I chased her away and mopped up with paper towels.

I thought this behavior was passingly weird, but over several weeks it grew weirder. Cookie Jean and I encountered more and more evidence, usually after the fact, that Phoebe and Miss Kitty were using our whole house as a toilet. (Getting up in the morning after the cats roamed the house unobserved all night became a particular challenge. As Dorothy Parker used to say, “What fresh hell is this?”) They peed on the living room carpet, on the dining room wall, on bath mats in two more bathrooms. One of them crapped on the yellow linoleum of the newly created laundry room in the basement, staining it permanently. One peed on the door of my new attic office, wrecking the finish on the new hardwood floor installed beneath the door.

“This has to stop,” Cookie Jean said.

She took both cats to a local veterinarian and begged: “Help us!”

The vet kept Phoebe and Miss Kitty a couple of days to run tests on them. Nothing wrong physically, he decided.

“What you’ve got here,” he told Cookie Jean, “is a turf war. In the old house, Phoebe had established dominance long before Miss Kitty arrived. The whole house smelled of Phoebe, in cat terms, so Miss Kitty accepted a role as second class citizen.

“When you moved, though, the new house didn’t smell like either one of them. They probably started ‘marking’ territory to lay claim to it then, even if you didn’t notice. Then the remodeling compounded things by creating an uproar that upset both cats and constructed yet more new, unclaimed turf. One defecated in the basement shower, so the other urinated on the bath mat upstairs. Things escalated.”

“But what can we DO?” Cookie Jean demanded.

The doctor suggested medication. Cat Prozac, to be exact. Feeding Phoebe and Miss Kitty a pill a day would calm them down, he said. Cookie Jean brought the cats home and told me.

“Cat Prozac?” I said. “Have you ever tried putting a pill down a cat’s throat? It’s dang nigh impossible, and doing it every day to two cats? You can be in charge of that.”

“We have to do something,” Cookie Jean said.

“There’s always the burlap bag off the Sellwood Bridge,” I said. “A time-honored method of dealing with cat problems.”

“We can’t do that,” Cookie Jean replied. “Miss Kitty is my friend. And Joe would have a cow if we got rid of Phoebe.”

We left a decision hanging.

A couple of days later, though, came the final outrage. Cookie Jean discovered fresh cat pee on the sideboard she inherited from her late mother. She cleaned desperately, but one corner of the marble-topped oak cabinet was permanently discolored.

Now, this piece of furniture is one of my wife’s prized possessions. Not only did it once belong to her mother, but it dates back to the Nineteenth Century and family legend holds that it arrived on the West Coast in a covered wagon driven by one of the surviving members of the Donner Party, of winter-trapped cannibalism fame. I have always referred to it as “the boneholder,” in memory of those hungry pioneers. I envision Uncle Larry’s thighbone and Cousin Maude’s shinbone having been stored in it after Sunday dinner, to await burial at spring thaw.

Cookie Jean was distraught. “That’s it!” she cried. “I can’t stand it any more!”

“I think there’s a burlap bag in the garage,” I said, heading for the door.

“No,” she said, holding up a restraining hand. “They’ll just be outdoor cats from now on. We’ll feed them on the back porch and they can sleep outside. No more skulking around the house peeing.”

I shrugged. “Well, whatever.”

“We had outdoor cats when I was little,” Cookie Jean said. “We lived in snow country, and they survived. A little rain won’t kill them. I’ll just miss having Miss Kitty sit on my lap.”

So fat Phoebe is now a true soldier of fortune. And so is Miss Kitty. They eat on the back steps. They mostly sleep under the wooden side porch or in little plastic huts with fuzzy beds Cookie Jean bought each of them. Many days and some nights, however, they disappear altogether. Fat Phoebe and Miss Kitty, where do you roam?

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Mr. Black & Blue once again offers advice to the lifelorn.


DEAR MR. BLACK & BLUE: My husband, “Leonard,” was reared by a harsh and critical mother. As a result, he has seen little of her in recent years. Six months ago, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Leonard has tried to let bygones be bygones in order to make her last days more comfortable. He visits her regularly, does her grocery shopping and has even paid a number of her doctor’s bills.

Yesterday, though, his mother told Leonard she is getting married again (Leonard’s dad died 15 years ago). She said she intends to will all of her property and a large investment fund to her boyfriend. Leonard’s father bought that property and created that investment fund with the intention of passing everything along to Leonard. We are shocked!

Leonard doesn’t want to attend the wedding. But he says he would feel guilty if he doesn’t go. What should he do?


DEAR AGITATED: Slap a lawsuit on the old biddy! Hire a good ambulance-chaser and tie that estate up in court. And while you’re at it, maybe you should challenge Ma’s mental competence. Sounds like the boyfriend is moving in for an easy score with a woman who is unstable, to say the least. Tossing her in a loony bin should put a serious crimp in the wedding and save Leonard from having to decide whether to attend.


DEAR MR. BLACK & BLUE: My wife had an affair. She says it ended two years ago and she is no longer interested in the man, but she refuses to tell me his name. I want to forgive her and move on with our marriage, but unless I know who he is, I cannot achieve closure. She contends there is no reason for me to have her lover’s name, but she will follow your advice.


DEAR WONDERING: You want to forgive, eh? You want closure? Are your sure you don’t just want to know if it’s the guy at the next desk in her office because you figure the affair is going to start up again, if it ever really ended? Are you sure you don’t want the guy’s name so you can bust him in the snotlocker? Well, I don’t blame you. Don’t leave your husband wondering, Mrs. Woonsocket. He won’t trust you as far as he can throw you if you keep hiding things. Besides, your boyfriend got the goods, so he needs to pay the price, if your husband feels like collecting.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Since it’s late October and Halloween is almost upon us, I thought I would share with you this poem I wrote a while back, after a momentous meal at a fast food joint in the parking lot of a Salem shopping center.

Halloween Lingerie

A red-lettered sign
across the parking lot
from the burger joint
where I eat lunch


Halloween lingerie! What
a concept! Consider the goods
sold inside the plain gray building
adorned by this bright sign.
Vampira's panties. The bra
of the bride of Frankenstein.
A haunted negligee,
maybe the one Marilyn Monroe
wore the night she died.
A poisonous petticoat,
deadly device of white silk
some murderer might buy
for an unfaithful wife. Or
perhaps the shop sells stuff
to stir a customer's own
frightful memories, like girdles
identical to the one
you tugged off that long-ago girl
on the floor of her family room
just before her dad walked in.
The possibilities are monstrous.
A mummy's chemise, Dracula's
daughter's drawers, a witch's slip,
pantyhose for ghosts, a zombie's
bustier. I must return at midnight,
see who shops here. Perhaps
Frank N. Furter will prance by to try
black lace garter belts for size.

--by David Jordan

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The Sunday Seven slog into sight.

1) What are you wearing?

Off-white sweatshirt with black shoulders, a sort of imitation old-time football jersey; raggedy green jeans; white cotton Adidas socks; rubber fliplops.

2) What are you reading?

“The Art of Burning Bridges,” a biography of writer John O’Hara by Geoffrey Wolff.

3) What’s for dinner?

I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m sick.

4) What’s the best thing that happened this week?

I’m trying to think of something. My wife brought home three brand new, giant-sized boxes of Kleenex? It’s been that kind of week.

5) What’s bugging you?

For three days I have had a miserable cold, which has inflicted upon me a non-stop headache, a runny nose, wheezy lungs, muscle aches and general exhaustion. I feel like death warmed over.

6) Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?

Nutley, New Jersey

7) What’s it all about, Dave?

A healthy mind in a healthy body.

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