Black Cats May Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health.

Please ignore the date of this post, the actual events described happened sometime after midnight on August 12th, 2016, the night of the peak of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. The story will be clearer if you know that we live on the edge of the South Jersey Pine Barrens, well away from city lights and it gets dark here. We also have, from the backyard, an unobstructed view to the NNW, which is ideal for viewing the Perseids.

Despite a dodgy leg and some cloud cover, I hobbled down the kitchen stairs, across the back yard and out onto the patio to see if I might spot any meteors. Brought an acoustic guitar to fend off any boredom. Also a cold adult beverage. Turned off all the outdoor lights and got seated. The previously cloudy sky began to clear. Saw one reasonably impressive meteor within about five minutes. Then, nothing but flashes of heat lightning. For half an hour.

Learned a few things:

You can’t make meteors show up just because the Interwebs say so no matter how dark it is where you live or how intently you stare at the sky.

We have several species of mosquito that plague our area and they all work different shifts, meaning there is never a time when one may assume it is too late or too early to be bitten by the South Jersey Air Force. I learned that my guitar playing makes an effective mosquito repellent. Usually works on people, too. If that fails, I sing.

Bringing out a beer was a capital idea because it’s still so steamy that sitting out there was like being inside an Easy Wilt Oven (American women who wanted “cooking toys” when they were little will get the reference). Finished the beer and succumbed to boredom, heat and humidity and headed back to the house.

Then, the moment the entire evening was building up to, finding, in the dark, our diabetic black cat, who had wandered outside earlier and was overdue for his insulin shot.

Those of you who lack outside stairs or a black cat or sufficient darkness may think that this last part is more difficult than it really is. All you need do is to approach the stairs. The cat will immediately present himself right where you can find him. With your bad leg. On the stairs. Under your foot. On his tail. While you have an acoustic guitar slung about your neck.

He will howl like a Bean Sidhe. Then, he will attempt to ascend your body, using only his claws, in a way reminiscent of things you’ve seen only in cartoons. Once he’s topside you’ll wind up with a ventilated scalp, always a thrill.

I cursed in languages that are as yet unclassified. My swearing alone probably violated half a dozen state laws and most likely killed all the grass between the house and the driveway. I definitely know that I scared off all the deer in my neighbor Mike’s yard.

Regrettably, the cat survived. Thankfully, so did my guitar. Surprisingly, I did also. I have seldom enjoyed using a syringe on a cat quite so much as I did tonight. Correct that, I have never enjoyed it so much. I had visions of the syringe being the size of a harpoon. The only thing that spoiled it was that the cat likes being punctured by tiny syringes with three drops of insulin in them. I mean, he actually looks forward to getting his shot. I suppose I’ll have to take out my harpoon fantasies on people instead. I have several in mind. Sean Hannity, I think that you should know that you are on the “short list”.

Air Conditioner

Air Conditioner

Had the central air conditioning unit go out on us a while back, luckily just before the weather became insanely hot and humid. I’m fortunate in that I have a good friend who knows all about AC units because he used to install and maintain them. So, I figure I’ll call Mike and see what he can make of things. But, before I call, maybe I’ll just take a quick look around and see if I can determine where the exact problem is. I don’t want to bother Mike if it’s something I can fix by myself.

I can hear the compressor running (This is one part I definitely know, because it’s the one that causes my electric bill to look like the National Debt.). I view this as a good thing since I know that replacement cost for a compressor is higher than the price of a new Bentley.

Right away, I see that the fan, which is part of the condenser, or maybe it’s part of the flobingable or some such thing, is not turning. To me, this means that either there is no power to the fan or that the fan motor is kaput. One of the few things I know about AC units is that if the fan doesn’t spin, you ain’t gonna have any cool air. Luckily, the fan is at the top of the framistat or whatever it’s called so I simply (Remember that word.) undid a few bolts, removed the safety mesh and then undid the bolts holding the fan in place.

I can already hear someone saying “Did you kill the power first?.” Don’t be an idiot. I simply (There’s that word again.) turned the thermostat to “Off.” Piece of cake. I then made sure that the fan motor hadn’t seized (No.) and then turned my attention to figuring out how to get the fan and motor out of the unit. I know a place that fixes electric motors and if that’s our trouble, I’m home free. Or at least cheaply. And I won’t have to bother Mike.

Could not, for the life of me, figure out how the wires went into the motor. Kinda looked as if they had just grown right into the motor when they were born. By this time I had convinced myself that the fan motor was indeed the problem and that in order to have it repaired, I’d have to take the fan out.

Since I couldn’t figure out how to get the wires to detach from the fan, I decided to cut them, label them by color and position and then, after the motor was rebuilt, splice everything back together with wire nuts and electrical tape. SIMPLE.

Four wires. Green, the ground wire. One gray, one black and one red. I cut the green, then the gray, then the black. Then, I waited for sensation to return to my body, picked my simple ass up off the ground and set off to look for my wire cutters which turned up about fifteen feet away. While everybody is busy snickering, I’ll pause here to give the technical details.

It seems that turning the thermostat off does not, in point of fact, cut off the power to the AC unit. In fact, if I’d shown the sense that God gave asparagus, I’d have realized that there were TWO separate breakers for the AC unit and that I was dealing not with 110 power but 220. If I had cut the black and red wires simultaneously, I’d have gone up in a puff of smoke not unlike the way Barbara Eden vanishes in reruns of “I Dream of Jeannie” but not as stylishly.

Never let it be said that I am a man who cannot take a hint. After about ten minutes of fairly inventive swearing, I called Mike. I told him what had happened. He didn’t sound too surprised, except for the fact that I was still alive and then he asked if I had fooled with the capacitor. I told him that although I knew what a capacitor was, I had never seen one and wouldn’t be able to differentiate one from a bull moose. He said “Do NOT touch anything else until I get there except for the breakers. Kill the breakers.” An hour later and Mike is on scene. He expresses some minor disbelief in my continuing existence and vast disbelief that anyone could be that stupid and, of course, comments that he thought I’d given up smoking years ago. I tell him that I’m just glad I’m not actively on fire. He double-checks to be certain the breakers are off and also locates another breaker box, previously unknown to me, located outside the house near the AC unit. He kills that also.

Then, ignoring my theory that the fan motor is faulty, he begins disassembly of the control panel, behind which is, to my everlasting surprise, a capacitor. For those of you who, like me, are imperfectly savvy about electricity, a capacitor is (generally) a small device, usually smaller than the palm of one’s hand. What it does is it stores electricity, in a way not too dissimilar to a battery but when it releases the stored electricity, it does so all at once, unlike a battery which discharges slowly. I know that capacitors are dangerous because they can maintain a charge even after whatever they’re part of is unplugged. They were not uncommonly found in TV sets and more than one person has gotten permanent backstage passes to The Hereafter by fooling around with the guts of an old, unplugged TV set and angering a capacitor.

Mike looks at the capacitor and says “THIS is what a bad capacitor looks like.” It was a cylinder about three inches across and about six inches high. There was a noticeable bulge at the top which is what made Mike believe it was shot. Just to be safe, however, he VERY carefully, using a heavily insulated screwdriver, touched the varying posts on top of the cap in order to discharge any remaining power. Then he removed it from the unit and said “Call around and find somebody who’ll sell you one then call me back and we’ll fix this thing.”

Three days later and it’s sweltering hot BUT I have a new cap in hand. Mike comes over, puts in the new cap, puts the fan in without testing it (Odd. He doesn’t think I know what I’m doing!), turns all the breakers on, hits the ”ON” button on the thermostat and, as if by Wizardry, we have cold air. I am of course grateful beyond words that Mike has gone to all this trouble. I ask “How can I repay you?”

He says “Let me know next time you decide to do electrical work.” I inquire why. He says “I’ll enjoy watching the flames.”

Drive, He Said

Answer the following as truthfully as possible. Read how to score the test after filling in all the answers.

1. I never ride in the left lane of a multi-lane highway unless I am passing another vehicle- True or false?

2. I always use my turn signals when changing lanes- True or false?

3. I have never texted while driving- True or false?

4. I ignore my cell phone if it rings while I’m behind the wheel- True or false?

5. I realize that trucks need longer distances to stop or turn than cars and so I give them plenty of room- True or false?

6. When I’m on a multi-lane, limited-access highway (like an Interstate) and I see a vehicle merging onto the highway, I always move over or adjust my speed to let that vehicle merge safely- True or false?

7. When I see that the road will narrow by one or more lanes (due to construction, etc.), I would never consider staying in a lane that’s ending and waiting ’til the last second before cutting into a different lane because that is the best way to recognize a complete asshole- True or false?

8. I realize that any cell-phone (including “hands-free”) use while driving is thoughtless and irresponsible- True or false?

9. I check my rear-view mirror at frequent intervals- True or false?

10. If I realize that there are vehicles behind me wanting to pass, I move over as soon as it is safe- True or false?

11. Only a complete fool would drive while under the influence- True or false?

12. If I should become too old or infirm to operate a vehicle at least as well as most of the idiots around me, I will immediately forfeit my “right” to drive- True or false?

13. ALL people should be required to demonstrate high levels of competence behind the wheel BEFORE being granted a license (unlike the way it is in the U.S.A.)- True or false?

14. ALL drivers need to be retested periodically to be sure their skills have not deteriorated. This is especially true of older drivers- True or false?

15. If I drive like a typical New Yorker, I will always refrain from driving in South Jersey- True or false?

16. Regarding traffic signals, “Green means ‘Proceed’, Yellow means ‘Proceed faster’, Red means ‘Proceed while gesturing’.” This will ONLY apply in North Jersey, New York City and other such lamentable places- True or false?

17. “Road rage” is simply the entirely reasonable attitude caused when amazingly skilled drivers like the author of this test have to continually endure the utterly wretched driving of others- True or false?

18. If I am a Senior Citizen, I will try to remember that it is NOT necessary to activate a turn signal upon starting the car and leave it on for the duration of the trip- True or false?

19. I will ALWAYS remember, on PAIN OF DEATH, to NEVER, EVER drive below the speed limit, especially while in front of the author of this test- True or false?

20. If I am driving in South Jersey, I am fully aware of the difference between “Parkway deer” and all other deer- True or false?

21. I really DO understand that a flashing yellow light and a flashing red light do NOT mean the same thing- True or false?

22. If I pull off the highway into a parking lot or driveway, I WILL check my mirror and be certain that there is no one behind me who is also trying to get into the same parking lot or driveway and if there is I will NOT dawdle- True or false?

23. I will NOT dawdle at ANY OTHER time either- True or false?

24. If I insist on playing stupid music (Defined as “Any music that the author of this test hates and that covers a lot of ground.”) on my car radio, I will not shame myself by playing it loudly- True or false?

25. If I am startled by an emergency vehicle suddenly passing me with it’s emergency lights and/or siren activated, this will cause me to realize that I’ve been an imbecile for not checking my rear-view mirror more often- True or false?

26. School buses are a royal pain in the butt to get stuck behind- True or false?

27. But not as bad as SUV drivers, all of whom seem to think that they own the goddamn road- True or false?

28. When driving in a snowstorm, it is both heartening and highly enjoyable to realize that every single one of the vehicles that has slid off the road and is now in a ditch, on its side or upside down is an SUV being piloted by a complete moron- True or false?

29. When I have to pay a toll, I will ALWAYS have my money ready well in advance of the toll and will position my vehicle in the correct lane well before I get to the toll or else I am being a fool- True or false?

30. Whoever wrote this test is sure one hell of a driver and I should try to be more like him- True or false?
Scoring: Obviously, the correct answer to each question is “True”. Give yourself one point for each answer of “False”. If your score totals one or more, your driving skills warrant improvement. If your score is two or more, stay the hell away from me. If your score is even higher than that, then you are a typical driver and you annoy the living shit out of me and everybody else.

Geriatric Cattitude

Aloysius.

We have a cat named Aloysius. I was gonna say that we own a cat named Aloysius but nobody really owns a cat. To be a bit more precise, it appears that cats own us.

Particularly Aloysius. He’s old now, sixteen years old and rapidly approaching his “sell by” date and he couldn’t possibly care any less. He’s probably looking forward to dying so that he can kick Satan out of Hell and take over. I’m tempted to say that he exhibits signs of dementia but that’s not exactly a news flash. I mean he’s acted like he was demented since he was a kitten. He was the only survivor of a litter born to a feral cat in our old neighborhood. The local kids used to torment the hell out of him and his Mom. We were able to trap him and bring him home but his Mom was too smart to be caught.

I remember that we got him during winter. He immediately displayed his gratitude by refusing to bond with us or the other pets we had, rewarding a scratch under his chin with a piercing yowl and a slashing bite and he completely refused to huddle around the wood stove, the way the rest of our pets did. By the third day he’d managed to sneak back outside and it was a day or two before he bothered to show up again. He yowled at the front door, we let him in, tried to pet him and immediately wound up reaching for paper towels, Band-Aids and iodine. He loaded up on cat food, grabbed a few licks of water and sat in front of the door yowling continuously to be let back out into the cold. Against our better judgment, we did.

That’s been the Aloysius Way ever since. He comes in when he wants to but prefers to stay outdoors under all but the most obscene weather conditions. I’m writing this during a rainstorm and Aloysius is sleeping on the steps outside our kitchen door, happy as a clam. He might decide to come in out of the rain tonight but I wouldn’t make book on it. If he does, he’ll probably either :

  1. Curl up on the couch and sleep, making certain to get the cushions good and wet.
    OR
  2. Climb onto the keyboard shelf for the computer and “help” me type. And drip water into the keyboard.

Once, he “helped” me type so well that I spent nearly an hour trying to get the computer back into the state it was in before he “helped”. I eventually wound up calling AppleCare where I spent a highly unusual ninety minutes speaking to a tech guru before he finally figured out exactly what it was Aloysius did to the computer. Just for those of you who might be curious about this, Aloysius had managed to make the type so large that it just totally freaked out the computer. The entire screen was just a tiny fragment of a single letter. Thankfully, the tech guru was a guy who was owned by a cat and he was pretty understanding as well as mightily amused by the whole thing. I, on the other hand, was out fifty bucks because my warranty coverage had expired and I wasn’t quite so entertained.

Over the years, Aloysius has mellowed a bit but ONLY a bit. It seems that I have become, to my intense regret, his “person” which means that when he deigns to come indoors, he expects me to pet him. Without letup. Forever. Or he’ll bite me. He also lets me know when it is time to cease petting by giving me a good, deep puncture wound. You cannot win with Aloysius. Nor can you break even or quit the game.

He completely refuses to make friends or even non-combatants of our other furred family members regardless of their number or size. He has the personality of a hungover wolverine and all the charm of a rhinoceros with hemorrhoids and a cactus stuck up its ass. He’s orange and white with yellow eyes that glow like Hell’s headlights. To describe him as “cranky” is to contemptuously slight the descriptive properties of the English tongue as well as my own extensive vocabulary of intemperate language.

And of course, there is the matter of his voice. He is an ordinary-looking house cat but he sounds like a mountain lion. Whenever he wants something, which he invariably times to coincide with something important, such as my being asleep, he sets up an unearthly yowl that penetrates walls as though they were tissue paper, vibrates my fillings and, if I’m not quick enough to respond, wakes the neighbors whom, I should add, aren’t all that close by. I, sap that I am, will get up, let him in (or out) or tend to whatever need he is evidencing at that moment. Because you ignore him at your peril.

Most felines are merely furred machines used in the simple process of converting hundred dollar bills into used cat litter (Thank you, Jim Wright!). But not Aloysius. He cares not that there’s a perfectly good litterbox nearby. If he wishes to go outside and we’re not quick enough to the door, he’ll walk into the living room and leave a pile of cat shit on the floor. If he wants to pee and nobody responds fast enough he will, and I swear by the sainted name of Harry Mabs that this is true, squat in the dog’s food bowl, yowl continuously until he makes eye contact and then will deliberately pee, right there in the dog’s bowl all the while looking you straight in the eye as if to say “What’re ya gonna do about it, Mac?”.

If any of this was new behavior, I’d figure that he had finally parted his mooring and haul him off to the vets and have him put to sleep. And I know, when the day comes, I’ll shed some tears even though I’m not a “cat person”. But when it’s been sixteen years without significant change, I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he really just doesn’t give a damn about anything or anybody. So, here’s to you, Aloysius, you cussed old fart.

As long as you don’t help me typZZZZZZZZZZ)**()UO:BBrnQl 1“9-uBXP(&(PJM;