Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The time I pretended to have coffee with Justin Timberlake

Courtesy of OiMax/Flickr
So I had this dream the other night where by some strange circumstance (do you even need to say that in reference to dreams?) I was offering Justin Timberlake a critique of his recent appearance on "The Tonight Show."

"You're a great artist because you're generous and willing to be vulnerable when you perform," I remember telling him about his performance of "The History of Rap" with Jimmy Fallon. To which he said he really appreciated my feedback and would love to talk more about art over coffee sometime.

"I'm not into you or anything, but I'd be interested in hearing more of what you had to say," he told me. 

I woke up deeply flattered that Justin Timberlake wanted to sit down down and discuss self expression with me. And then I laughed at the fact that even in my wildest dreams, Justin Timberlake really wasn't that into me (was he in that movie? Or, does it just seem like he should've been in it?). This was OK with me though, I reasoned. What with the fact that I'm happily married* with two kids and Justin Timberlake was also married (hopefully happily) to a woman who, I assume, does not dress in an endless combinations of old T-shirts and unintentionally holy kneed jeans (someone around here has to cart the girls around the house as Minimus the flying horse). 

Anyway, the whole concept of sitting down for coffee with Justin Timberlake amused me at length. Enough so that I thought it'd be entertaining (at least for me) to write about how that scene would play out in my home.

So, with apologies to Justin Timberlake …

"Coffee with Justin Timberlake"

(It's around noon. Justin Timberlake, flanked by two cameramen -- Reggie and Jim -- stands on the front porch or a small, brick rancher in a slightly obscure town in south-central Pennsylvania. He rings the doorbell. The curtains in front of the large, bay window flutter and a dog's head pokes through barking wildly -- his paws clicking at the glass. The dog disappears and there's the muffled sound of a woman yelling. The door opens revealing a shortish woman wearing fur-covered blue fleece pajama pants in a stylish star print paired with a blue, bleach-stained hoodie in a different shade of blue. Her hair looks as if it's been styled with a vacuum cleaner and her eyes hold a desperation reserved for a bunny being pursued by a jackal. She has a toddler on one hip and edges out of the storm door halfway, attempting to block the frantic hound from tackling the visitors.)

Susan: Hi there (Looks back at dog) Snacks! Get down! Stop barking!!!

(The dog continues to leap and bark at increasing volumes behind her)

Justin Timberlake: (With a big, warm smile) Hi! Are you Susan? 

Susan: Yes … what can I do for you?

JT: (Looking a little confused, but still congenial) Hi! I'm .. uh … I'm Justin Timberlake … I saw the Tweet you posted the other day about having coffee with me … (he trails off watching as she continues to struggle with the dog and doesn't seem to be paying full attention)

Susan: (She has hold of the dog's collar with her free hand, the toddler is being jostled as the dog continues rearing. Her face transitions from confusion to shock as she frantically flips through her memory. After the realization hits she's still speechless for a tick) OH. Hi Justin Timberlake. Do you want to come in? He's harmless really, he just can't handle visitors.

JT: (Taking a tentative step to hold the storm door) Are you sure? Have I caught you at a bad time?

Susan: No! No! Come on in. I promise he'll come down. I'm sorry. He's just a complete spazz whenever anybody comes to the door.

JT: (Walks into the house with Jim and Reggie following behind. He bends down to pet the dog who alternates between licking him in the mouth and jabbing his nose in his crotch) It's OK, don't worry about it. I like dogs. 

(The dog jumps at Reggie who is less than pleased and Jim who squats down to cuddle him. After they greet the dog they start filming)

Jim: What's his name?

Susan: Snacks. He's really obnoxious … but he'll calm down.

Jim: Great name. What is he? A Beagle? 

Susan: Yeah. Half beagle. The other half is Satan's spawn. God. I'm so sorry for the mess. This is really embarrassing.

(The three men laugh a little and survey the living room they're standing in. The white-turned-gray carpet is covered in a who's who of stains, puzzle pieces, the stuffing of a recently disemboweled dog toy, plastic Disney princesses and children's shoes. The curtains is dotted with paw prints, the end table is covered in dried bits of Play-Doh and breakfast cereal.)

JT: Don't worry about it. I'm so sorry to drop in unannounced like this … one of my assistants saw your Tweet yesterday about that dream you had about having coffee with me … and we thought it'd be fun to come up and surprise a fan. 

Susan: Well… I don't even know what to say. This is really unexpected. I'm definitely surprised! Justin Timberlake is standing in my crap-covered house … if I had known I would've worn my good pajamas!

JT: You can call me Justin. And who's this? (He waves at the toddler, who quickly buries her head in Susan's shoulder before peeking one eye back out.)

Susan: This is Jovie. She's going through a little bit of a shy phase. Jovie, can you say hi to Mr. Justin? 

Jovie: No. I not. (She plants her face back into Susan's shoulder and kicks her leg)

Susan: She just needs a minute to warm up. So… do you want to … sit down? I'm not really sure what you wanted to do …

JT: I'd love to! This is Jim and Reggie … they came along to, you know, capture the moment. If you don't mind. 

Susan: The moment? Oh … like … this is a thing you do? That's right! You've done this before. On that commercial for … what was it? Google? 

JT: Mastercard. Yeah. It's a thing I've been doing, trying to meet fans face to face. Let them know how much I appreciate their support. Usually we go through this whole process of finding fans to surprise … but I saw your Tweet about that dream you had and I thought it'd be fun to wing it for once. Just show up and really surprise someone. I had a show in Washington last night and am headed to New York … so this was on the way…

Susan: Wow. You know. You don't really think that the things you post on the internet ever, you know, connect to reality. Especially, when you post something about a celebrity. And now they're just hanging out in your crust-covered living room while your dog attempts to castrate them with his nose. 

(3-year-old Lily waddles into the living room and sticks her head between Susan's legs.) 

Hey honey, this is Mr. Justin. He's a singer. Can you say hi? 

(Lily shakes her head no, wraps her arms around Susan's legs which sending her off balance. She repeats this over and over). Can you tell Mr. Justin your name?

JT: (crouching down) Hi there, I'm Justin. Who are you?

(Lily growls at Justin and continues to hide behind her mom.) 

Susan: She's a bit antisocial. So … can I get you something to drink? I just made coffee. It's Folgers. Nothing but the best … or … you know … the most affordable.

JT: Coffee would be great! Just like you dreamed, right?

Susan: (Laughing uncomfortably) Ah yes. When I envisioned coffee with a world-renowned pop star/actor it was in my living room wearing my fourth-best pajamas as my dog licks his privates and my kids pretend as if they've never had any social contact with other human beings. This is the dream!

JT: I'm sorry again about the timing. We have to squeeze these things in … I'm on tour right now and that really makes the schedule tight.

Susan: No worries. I'll just get the coffee. Do you take anything in it? Jim, Reggie? 

JT: Black's fine.

Jim: No thanks

Reggie: I'm good

(Susan leaves and comes back with two cups of coffee, balanced precariously as she's still holding Jovie. Lily has been trailing her the whole time.)

JT: Oh, I'm sorry. I should've helped. let me get that. 

(He grabs one of the cups. Coffee sloshes out onto his pants). 


Susan: Crap. Let me get a towel for you. 

(She plops her cup on the table, splashing more coffee)

JT: It's OK. No big deal. It was my fault.

(Susan comes back and hands him a towel to clean himself up. He dabs his pants. He sits down on the couch. Shifting uncomfortably and pulling out a small car and a My Little Pony from under his butt. Susan sets Jovie down on the loveseat and sits down next to her)

Susan: I'm so sorry for the mess. I would say it's not usually like this, but that would be a complete lie. Do you have kids?

JT: No. No kids. My wife and I want them though. 

Susan: Well, get ready for disaster. Here ... (she hands him a plate with a crumbling mass of something brown and unidentifiable) I made some banana bread over the weekend. It always falls apart out of the oven. I can't figure out what the problem is.

JT: (Attempting to pick up a bite of the bread, he eats a few crumbs as the rest of the piece dissolves in his fingers) No! It's fine. It's tasty.

(While he's talking the dog grabs the rest of the bread and licks up the crumbs off the plate, which is balanced on JT's lap.)

Oh no! He's fast.

Susan: (Grabs the dog by the collar and yanks him away) SNACKS!! That was bad. I'm so sorry. Can I get you another piece?

JT: Don't worry about it.

(Lily crawls into the living room and tugs at Susan's pants)

Lily: Mom. MOM! I'm hungry.

Susan: Lil, I'm talking to Mr. Justin right now. Can you give me a minute?

Lily: No! I'm just really, really huuuungry. 

Susan: Lily, I'll get you something after I'm done talking to Mr. Justin. 

Jovie: I hungry, too Mama! 

Lily: I'm HUNGRY! I just want a snack!

Susan: (Sighing) OK. I'll get you a snack. I'm so sorry Justin. 

JT: It's OK

(Susan leaves again. From the living room you hear the sounds of her negotiating with the girls about what the Snack is. Susan returns after another minute)

Susan: OK. That should keep them occupied for the next 30 seconds. So where were we?

JT: You said in your dream that you were going to talk about art with me? 

Susan: Yeah. It was really random. I think it was because I'd just seen you do that performance on Jimmy Fallon. The rapping thing? I think in the dream I was critiquing that. Which, now that I'm saying that out loud sounds really silly. Especially because, no offense, you're not someone I'd count as someone, I'm super into. But dreams are weird like that. Such a random cast of characters. Last night had this dream about composting. This guy was telling me about how amazing composting was and I woke up thinking about what a beautiful process it was -- turning garbage into this super-rich soil that you can use to grow new things. It made me really think I should do more composting…

JT: OK. Compost. So… umm… would you say you're fan then?

Susan: I think you're great! I mean, I wouldn't say I'm like a Google-commercial worthy super fan or anything. I saw that movie you were in with Natalie Portman … what was it? "No Strings Attached"? and you were amazing at the VMAs. 

JT: OH yeah. Umm was it "Friends with Benefits" with Mila Kunis? 

Susan: Yes! I'm sorry. Yes. That was cute. I feel like I've seen something else you were in …I can't remember

JT: "Runner Runner"? "Trouble with the Curve"? "The Social Network"?

Susan: Yes! It was the Facebook movie. I forgot you were in that. 

JT: Yeah. I played Sean Parker … the guy who founded Napster. 

Susan: Right! Now I remember. I went to high school with that guy! 

JT: Who? Sean Parker? 

Susan: Yeah. I didn't know him or anything. But he's in one of my yearbooks

JT: Yeah… that's cool.

(A scream comes from the kitchen followed by crying.) 

Susan: Excuse me.

(She leaves. From the living room you hear her discipling Lily for poking Jovie in the eye. Then you hear her offering to turn on cartoons. She comes back.)

I'm sorry. They don't like each other very much right now. I bribed them with "Sofia the First." Where were we?

JT: You were talking about high school ...

Susan: Oh yeah. You know, my best friend was obsessed with this guy who lip synched do an *NSYNC song at this talent show. She dragged me along to watch this dude and his asshole jock friends do "Bye Bye Bye." So, I guess I've been following your career for years.

JT: (Laughs and shakes his head). Did they wear color coordinated outfits?

Susan: Of course. One of them  might have even bleached his hair for the occasion!

JT: Ah that hair. I'll never live it down. It sounds like you know more about my career than you originally let on.

Susan: It was bad hair. If I'm going to offer you any artistic advice, it would be to stay away from the blonde jerry curls. 

JT: Noted. 

(Jovie wanders into the living room. Her face and hands are covered in yogurt. She reaches for Susan).

Jovie: Hands! 

Susan: Oh, you're a mess. OK. Let's get you cleaned up. So sorry Justin.

JT: Don't even worry about it.

(Susan leaves with Jovie. Returns with the baby a minute later)

JT: So, are you an artist? Or do you play anything? 

Susan: What? An artist? No. I mean I fingerprint periodically (she motions to the mantle covered with kid's paintings) but I'm not an artist. I played piano when I was a kid. I played guitar for a while … but never got good or anything. 

JT: (looks disappointed) Oh. It's just in your dream you mentioned talking about art?

Susan: Well. You know. It was a dream. I think I dream about talking about art with someone who enjoys art. But in reality, I spend most of my time talking about Ariel or Elsa from "Frozen" … Lily's obsessed with princesses right now.

(Lily wanders in from the kitchen)

Lily: Mom. What are you talking about?

JT: We were talking about princesses! So you like Elsa? (He starts singing the chorus "Let it Go" from "Frozen". Reggie zeroes in on Justin as he sings, Jim focuses on the girls)

Lily: (Screams in anger) NO!!! NO SINGING!! YOU CAN'T SING!!

Jovie: (Joining in and pointing at Justin) No singing!!

Susan: (horrified) Lily and Jovie! What's the rule in our house? Everyone can sing. Justin I'm so sorry, they hate it when I sing, so we've been trying to work on being open to more self-expression. 

JT: It's OK. I don't have to sing. I should probably rest my voice anyway.

Susan: I'm so so sorry. (She leans down and starts sniffing Jovie's bottom). Jovie, did you poop?

Jovie: No. I no poop.

Susan: I think you did. We need to change you. I'm sorry, nobody should have to smell this. I need to change her. I'll be right back.

(Susan leaves again. Justin stands up and conferences with Reggie and Jim. They decide to go. Susan returns)

I'm back. So sorry.

JT: It's OK. Listen, we apologize. We feel like we caught you at a bad time. We need to be up in New York for a soundcheck soon, so I think we're going to head out.

(Reggie walks over to Susan and hands her a piece of paper)

Reggie: This is just release form that gives us permission to use whatever we filmed here today … I'm guessing we won't be using much so this will be really more of a formality.

Susan: (Frowning) Oh. OK. I understand. Sure I can sign that. I'm sorry to waste your time.

JT: Oh! No. No. We dropped in on you unannounced. It's totally fine. I'm glad we had a chance to talk about … composting. Would you like me to sign anything for you?

Susan: Oh. Sure. My friend burned a copy of your "SexyBack" CD. I'll go grab that!

(A pair of screams come from the back of the house. Lily races in the room crying and bleeding from her head)

Lily: MAMAMAMAMA!! Jovie pushed me!!!

Susan: OH goodness! What happened?! come here, let me look at you.

(Susan tends to Lily, hugging her and examining her head. She takes Lily to the kitchen)

JT: It's OK. We can just see ourselves out.

Susan: (shouting from the kitchen) I'm sorry! It was nice meeting you. Just make sure you don't let the dog out!

(The three let themselves out.)

The End

* I think Brad now believes that I have a big crush on Justin Timberlake and that I'm just shamelessly pandering for attention. But he should already know my list of celebrity crushes (hellooooo they'll be guests on my celebrity cruise!) and JT, while awesome in many ways, isn't on the shortlist! Anyway, this whole exercise was to try out writing a scene for a play or a movie cuz I've not done that before. Dude. That was hard.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Storytelling as magic and magic as storytelling

When I was little I read a lot of fantasy. I loved when an author could build an entire world and then whisk me away to it in a way that felt so tangible, for a while I thought any closet in my house had the potential to lead me to Narnia. And I was devastated when the doors only ever yielded scratchy wool coats, boxes of musty cookbooks and moth balls. 

This is no exaggeration. 

When I wasn't reading C.S. Lewis it was Lois Lowry's "The Giver" and Monica Furlong's "Juniper" and Elizabeth Winthrop's "The Castle in the Attic," Norman Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth" and Madeleine L'engle's "A Wrinkle in Time." I'd get lost in these universes, take them back to the library and the check them out again -- my return ticket. Even now, 20 years later, I can still feel that childhood longing for a magical, other-world adventure.

As an adult, I still read a lot of fiction. Although most of it is based in some version of our world, past or present. Other then "Harry Potter," my literary life has been devoid of the magic I craved as a kid. 

Until recently.

I just finished reading "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgernstern. I stayed up too late the other night to reach the end and was immediately sad that it was over. Like waking up from a wonderful dream. 

I building the world of a circus designed by magicians, Morgernstern transported me back to the stories of my childhood. One where reality is re-imagined, the colors are saturated (well, you know, except for in "The Giver") and the feeling that anything is possible. 

Quick summary: The story focuses on Le Cirque des Rêves, a circus that arrives without warning and is only open at … wait for it … night. The circus serves as the venue for a match between two magicians -- Celia and Marco -- who were raised for the sole purpose of competing in a game of their respective teachers' philosophies on magic (yeah … so … don't get too caught up in the details here … I think it's a battle between book smarts and inborn talent … but I'm not the smartest bruise on the knee, so don't quote me on that). Anyway, our two magicians fall in love with each other just in time to realize the whole terrible fate of the game they've been fated to play since they were children.

I just read some reviews of the book, which came out in 2011. The New York Times was not as charmed as I was, nor were plenty of reviewers on Good Reads, but oh well. Perhaps it is too focused on spectacle and not enough on the question "Can children love who were never loved?" and maybe the central contest doesn't ever gain full steam. I don't really care, I was too awe of Morgernstern's imagination to feel the need to poke holes in her plotting. I could see her ship made of books floating on a sea of ink, the menagerie filled with paper animals and the garden made of ice. I could smell the bonfire, caramel and each of the scents in that tent full of containers. 

The writer is a painter:
"Inside the train is opulent, gilded and warm. Most of the passenger cars are lined with thick patterned carpets, upholstered in velvets in burgundies and violets and creams, as though they have been dipped in a sunset hovering at twilight and holding on to the colors before they fade to midnight and stars."
And for the child in me, that is enough.

Morgernstern is self-conscious of the power of written word. Storytelling itself is the circus, and for someone who's not soon going to venture through a wardrobe or into the black and white striped tents that populate Le Cirque de Reves, it's a gift.
"I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I really it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words that they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless of time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will. When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn't it," one character muses. 
Because this sort of other worldly storytelling was such a huge part of my childhood, I was so pleased when, on a recent trip to the library, Lily pointed at the Caldecott Medal-winning "Flotsam" by David Wiesner and asked to bring it home. Again.

"Look mom! It's the aquarium book! I want to get that one."

"Flotsam" is the illustrated tale of a boy who finds a mysterious camera washed up on the beach he's been exploring. When he develops the film in the camera, he uncovers an entire underwater world unknown to the rest of us who know better. There are no words in the book, which is great for Lily, who turns the pages and narrates her own story. The illustrations are rich and gorgeous, begging to be studied. 

Of course I love that Lily and Jovie both love books. But to see Lily engaged in a book that challenges reality and introduces a sense of possibility and re-imagination of the world that we know, for a mother raised in other worlds, it's magic.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

One last salute to Bart and all our furry friends

A portrait from my sister
and flowers from my parents.
It's been a week since I kissed the top of Bart's head for the last time. I'm not the sobbing mess I was for the three days after saying goodbye, but the tears still catch me off guard. 

Today I went downstairs to feed our two other cats, Peanut Butter and Delaney, and found they both still had food left in their dishes, which is usually the case for these two. They don't have the voracious appetite nor the vigilant demand for food that Bart did. It was that moment: Not having a cat to feed that brought the waterworks. 

And a few days ago when I was driving and big, fat snowflakes fell on my window and I thought of Bart's downy fur. When I came home I found this comment on my last post: 
"I can't imagine life without my black cat, Curlin, named after a famous race horse, who I found on the street. I'm sure the white fluffy snow falling as I write this is in honor of your white fluffy Bart!"
Or, I'll look around the house at the spots he always was -- The box with a pillow I set up for him in the basement when it became hard for him to jump, the cushion on the right side of the couch, the kitchen floor next to the water bowls or the hallway he'd skulk around in each morning, waiting for someone to wake up -- I'll glance at these spots where he was and think about how he's not there and won't ever be there again and ... tears.

I wrote this to my sister Laura:
"He's just nowhere. And he's been there for 12 years. Now it's so obvious. Snacks has been extra clingy the past few days, so I think he knows things are amiss. And, inevitably I look at him, my equally obnoxious hound and can't fathom the thought of having to do it all over again. Or beyond that -- that life is just going to be like this. Losses big and small until it's my turn."  
Don't worry, it is not lost on me how ridiculous it is that this cat, who (lest we forget!) was a revenge pooper, could incite such melodramatic, existentialist thinking.

But that's the thing with these animals. They bring out our humanity.

I was so, so touched by the outpouring of support that came after I shared the news of Bart's passing. Family, friends, acquaintances, and even a stranger or two understood the weight of his loss either because they knew how fond I was of him or they'd grieved for their own pets at one time or another. 

It deserved a closeup.
My mom sent flowers. My sister Sarah drew an amazing portrait. Friends sent sympathy cards and offered hugs at the grocery store.  

Our vet, Shiloh Veterinary Hospital in York, went above and beyond the day I had to bring him in. The receptionist quickly ushered me into the reserved exam room as soon as I walked in the door so chocked up I could barely tell her his name. There were candles glowing, a prayer for animals hung on the wall, cat treats for Bart, and a soft lambskin blanket for him to lie on. The veterinary technician was compassionate and sympathetic -- she reassured me that I'd made the right decision and was patient with me as I asked for just a little more time to say goodbye. "It's hard for us, too," she told me, her own eyes welling up.

They gave me an imprint of his paw and a lock of his hair (I almost laughed when they handed this to me. I know we'll be finding Bart hair for years to come in our house). 

And while Bart would have felt deserving of a lengthy obituary in the A section of the Sunday paper, I was surprised when one of my editors called asking if they could run my blog post and photos. It seems his esteem loomed larger than even I realized.

Others started chiming in with their own impressions of his excellence, all which made me smile: 
"Whenever I had the honor of feeding Bart (and PB), I always knew I was in the Presence of a Most Prestigious Being, whose gratitude was my reward. B. was a great cat, and he will be missed," my friend Farmer Jim (and sometimes cat-sitter) wrote. 
"Farewell Bart. By now I'm sure you nestled on God's chest while he's lying down on the couch, blocking his view of the NFL playoffs. Maybe pointing your butt at God's face for good measure," said my old roommate. "It's funny imagining God - the almighty and infinitely powerful deity - sighing and weakly pleading for Bart to move." 
"I'll never forget the day I met Bart. It was at the farm. I was early for what would be one of the best parties ever in that lazy, hectic time after college graduation and before we were real adults. We were in your downstairs kitchen and he was there, too, demanding food. The next morning, after the bonfire, boat rides and beer, he woke me up with his yowls. It was hard to be mad at a cat that looked like a marshmallow. I have always loved cats. A few years later I moved to York to take a job there. And I got to keep up with him through jokes at work and Facebook. I thought he was awesome," wrote another friend.
Equally as sweet were those who shared stories about their own pets.
"I feel like Tippy and Bart were spiritual brothers (maybe with less pooping outside the litter box for Tippy). It was heartbreaking to lose him, but after several very sad weeks I'm beginning to appreciate that my time with him was shorter than I would have liked, but it was an awesome time," wrote a former coworker.
It seems people who love animals as family have this fraternity -- one where it's not silly or strange to be so sad and where it's expected that our four-legged friends are honored for all those tangible and intangible things they do for us. Even if it's just curling up next to you on a cold winter night.

So for all those wonderful friends we've had to say goodbye to -- Meggie, Tubby (err Apollo), Jack, Ginger, Callie, Sammy, Jordan, Fanny, Iberia, Stew, Tippy, Meisha, Bitty, Peachy and Bootsie -- my sister Laura said it best: "God bless the animals that remain solid through our life’s transitions. From the center of our universe to peripheral planets … forever steady on."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Goodbye old buddy

I returned from the veterinarians today with an empty carrier. 

I wrote this last night.


I'm sitting on my couch in the same spot I sit on most nights. And next to me, in the spot he's in most nights is Bart, my cat.

I'm running my fingers through his fur which is as dense like I imagine a polar bear's might be, but so soft, especially around his belly. He purrs off and on. 

Lying here, he looks as he always has -- fluffy, filled out, content. But underneath my fingers are the prominent bones of his back and a hard, marble-sized tumor just above his back leg. One of his front paws is limp, but puffy and hot -- inflamed from arthritis. His eyes are sunken. A growth in his nose makes him sneeze. I used to swear he knew his name, his head would pop up and his ears would twitch whenever I said "Bart." But now, he doesn't hear the click of my keyboard or even the dog barking at the window. 

He's in pain. I can see it in his weeping eyes. And he's 14 -- which is the same as 80 human years.  

I'm sitting on my couch in the same spot I sit most nights. And sitting next to me, in the same spot he's in most nights is Bart. Only tonight is the last night he'll lie next to me. The last night I'll run my fingers through his downy fur and listen to the carmel drip of his purring. 

Tomorrow morning I'm taking him to the vet to be put to sleep. He shouldn't have to spend another day suffering so that I don't have to feel the weight of deciding. 

Bart's impression of a throw pillow.
I adopted Bart from the Fairfax County Animal Shelter 12 years ago. I was a junior in college and depressed -- I thought a cat might cheer me up.

My sister Laura and my niece and nephew came with me to help pick the perfect companion. I was quickly overwhelmed by all the possibilities. But Laura zeroed in on a plump, white 2-year-old with a gray tabby toupee. He was sleeping with his paws over his eyes. He refused to wake up when we talked to him and looked rumpled and annoyed when the shelter volunteer took him out of his cage for a meet and greet. He swatted and hissed at my nephew and received scratches under the chin with an air of expectant haughtiness -- it was clear my petting him was not viewed as a welcome act of affection but demanded by an exacting taskmaster.

I took him home anyway. The shelter employee said he'd been there for a really long time and allowed me to fill in the blank of his future. 

I kept the name Bart because it seemed fitting and I thought it would be confusing to give him a whole new home and identity all at once. I didn't know much about cats.

Bart blossomed in my care. And by blossomed I mean he got a bit paunchy. He made a loud thump each time he jumped down from the couch. Laura renamed him Barge. He stood sentry in the kitchen in the hours leading up to meal times. Meowing loudly anytime I moved in the vicinity of the food bin; scrambling underfoot when at long last the promised hour had arrived. He'd gorge himself, then sit near his bowl for awhile, cleaning his ears as the kibble made it's inevitable journey. 
Jabba the Cat.

Eventually, he'd make his way to his litter box. More often then not he made his solid deposits next to the litter box. If Bart was displeased with something -- either the food wasn't distributed promptly or the boxes weren't immaculate, he'd poop right next to the person who was failing at their duties. 

Poor Brad was often on the receiving end of this fecal retaliation.

After we had children he made mornings especially tricky. Starting at 4:30 or 5 he'd stand outside our bedroom door meowing at increasing volumes for breakfast, which would often wake one or both of the kids.

And he never did warm to children. My nieces and nephews learned to avoid him. He'd bite my girls when he felt threatened, which was often as my girls love four-legged creatures. He'd been declawed before I adopted him and biting was his primary mode of self-defense. Last year I asked around half-heartedly trying to find him a new home where he could live out his golden years free of the obsessive attention of toddlers. I think his well-documented litter box aversion prevented anybody from offering him a new home. I joked about shipping him to Laura or sending visitors home with cats (we have three). We never do get much company.

So Bart stayed. We kept him in the basement to avoid any run-ins with the kids, opening the baby gate at night for him to come up and socialize. 

It seems like he went downhill really fast, but in reality I'm sure he was just overlooked in the bustle of life with two young children and freelancing and attempting to maintain order in the house and keep everyone fed. 

One day last fall I picked him up, shocked at how light he was and how bony and delicate he felt. He limped when he walked, and seldom meowed -- when he did talk it was soft -- not like the tremendous yowls of his famished youth. 

He still loitered around his bowl as breakfast and dinner neared. Still came upstairs to sleep on the couch next to Brad and me. Still engaged in games of finger-paw with his good front paw (the game is you put one finger on his paw and he put his paw on top of your finger and then you put your finger back on his paw and he put his paw back on your finger -- his show of dominance was always both subtle and lazy). Still intimidated the dog who, if Bart were already on the couch, would only come up if Brad or I were there to serve as a barrier. This meant every night we'd all have to reconfigure the seating arrangement to accommodate the wimpy beagle and alpha cat.

He was still Bart. But only half-hearted. 

I got Bart because I wanted company and I was feeling down. He did a lot of things that drove me crazy. In fact, he was kind of a pain in the ass a lot of the time. 

But when you're down, you need to be around things that are demanding. That are in-your-face and bossy. Bart would sleep right next to my head each night and rouse me early in the morning. He'd crawl on my lap and glare at me when I stopped petting him. 

"What the hell is your problem?" he seemed to say with this glowering peridot eyes. "I'm here. Doesn't that make everything better?"

God's gift to humankind.

He was fodder for ongoing jokes among family, friends and coworkers. Anyone familiar with Bart knew all they had to do was mention his weight and I'd offer a loud and impassioned speeches defending him -- saying admittedly ridiculous things like that white was an unflattering color and made him look larger than he actually was or that he was just big boneded (which was, in fact, confirmed by at least one of his vets). I proudly displayed a weight chart that showed a dramatic loss when he was 7 or 8. It was short-lived. When I left my job two of my colleagues created a book in his honor as a going away gift.

Well played work.

Even Brad, who so often had to deal with Bart's horrid bathroom habits, liked having him around. For awhile he was convinced of the cat's abilities to turn around a football or baseball game in favor of the Eagles or Phillies just by sitting next to him. If Bart wasn't nearby, Brad would carry him to the couch for insurance. 

And Bart was the frequent champion in the March Madness pool at work, a source of pride and no small amount of smugness on Brad's part. 

Here's one of the many times Bart made it rain.
"He's a buddy," Brad sometimes says. And he is. Or was. 

We're all only granted a brief stay on this little spinning sphere -- and on the scale of the all that ever was and all that ever will be, it's the same for cats and people -- so I'm not embarrassed to compare the two. Bart was a force in my minuscule neighborhood of the universe and he will be missed. 

I'm always trying to assign meaning to things. And so what I take away from my once-fat cat is that no matter how much of a pain in the ass you might be in life -- no matter how many floors you shit on and babies you wake up and people you attempt to smother in their sleep, when you're not here anymore there's at least one person who will wish you were still there to keep them company.

Today that person is me.