I Hate New York.

I had a professor in college whose job it seemed was to make every one of his students as stressed out and angry as possible. The night I was accepted into the Graphic Design program I got a phone call from one of the seniors. He said, “Congratulations! You will cry. You know that, right? He makes grown men cry.”

Our professor worked hard at making our lives absolutely miserable. We lost sleep. We worked through days and nights. We had nose bleeds from darkroom chemicals, spray adhesive, fixative. It was like boot camp only without all the potential death and war. (Ok, maybe a little war.)

Naturally, we hated him. Everyone bitched and moaned about how difficult he was and how he was going to kill us all. We collectively hated him. And we collectively talked about it.

And then one day, right before I graduated, I realized something.

There were 23 in my graduating class. We spent countless hours together, sometimes not bathing for days at a time. Sometimes we went 48-hours without brushing our teeth or washing our underarms. We all did this in a studio together, sometimes working over top of one another in the darkroom or the computer lab. Yet, we rarely fought.

Under most circumstances, 23 people living that closely and for that long would have fought. But we spent almost all of commiserating about how much we hated our professor (who was a very smart man and an even better teacher). Did he do it on purpose? Was he merely acting as the tyrannical drill sergeant? Was he getting the best work out of his students by having us direct all of our stress at him instead of at one another?

The idea blew my mind because (even if he didn’t mean to do it) it worked.

I complain a lot about living in New York. I complain on here, to friends and to family. My friends and family (I think) know that I’m just blowing off steam most of the time. But there are some who probably just think I’m a resentful, hateful, cranky bitch.

And I am all those things sometimes, but not most of the time. I am only just now realizing that I may not have painted a very accurate portrait of myself. And judging by the email I receive and some of the comments I get, I know that many people have it very wrong.

So. Here goes nothing.

I’ve given some people the impression that I don’t have any friends who are mothers. That’s untrue. I have actually met several local mothers whom I really like. We try and hang out regularly although nap schedules, partners’ schedules, and overall exhaustion tends to get in our way. But whenever we do find time, we hit the park and gab as our little ones run around for an hour or two. I really enjoy their company and if our living conditions were slightly easier, I think we’d get to spend even more time together. I’m going to miss them so much whenever we leave here, so very much.

I don’t write about them for a number of reasons. The main reason is that I try and respect their privacy. I also don’t have very much time anymore to write coherent essays (or essays at all).

I realize how annoying it can be—trying to fill in the blanks. I get annoyed that people even try. There are far too many blanks to fill in! On here, lately, I paint the smallest portion of a picture representing my life. That may change soon and I hope that it does, but for now, I just don’t have the time. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’m a bad mother. I don’t think everything is falling apart around me. I am not suffering from self-hatred most of the time. I just tend to bitch a lot on here I guess.

I know that one thing is for certain, I simply need to illustrate somehow that I have a lot of joy in my life. Most urgent, however, since we’ll be leaving New York soon, I must, for the sake of history, illustrate just how much I’m going to miss this place. (I am wiping a tear from my eye as I write this.)

It occurred to me recently that Greenpoint, Brooklyn is the one place that I have lived the longest. (When you add in the time I spent living here before I met Tobyjoe). I love this place. After all, I think (hope?) that it’s pretty safe to say that this is the only place I’ll ever live where I’ll be able to watch a hobo take a dump in my backyard and then wipe his ass.

What’s not to love about that? I mean, as sick as it may be, it’s temporary and slightly hilarious, so I might as well file it under the “Things I Tolerated And Even Laughed About When I Was Younger” category. Also in this category is my difficult and absurd parking fiascos, the half naked man I watched snort heroin at 1 PM at the local public track, and the crack bag I intercepted from my son on the children’s playground. I tolerate the smell of the human waste facility not too far from here and the fact that it wafts up from our sewers at least twice a week making morning walks downright third world. I deal with the loud construction taking place out back now that the hobos are gone. (Is it wrong of me to miss them?) I tolerate the toxic waste dump in our backyard as well as the water bugs (American Cockroaches, you ain’t foolin’ no one, New York) the size of small cats. I even tolerated the crack head that ripped my antenna off of my car so he could smoke up. I even tolerate the insanely high rents and even higher mortgages.

I have tolerated all of this and I continue to do so. And I do think it’ll end up being hilarious one day (assuming that none of us get leukemia from the benzine leak in our backyard).

You simply must tolerate the good, the worse, and the vile if you wish to live in New York. (Switch the city, however, and people might call you insane for putting up with such nonsense.)

But this is New York! New York gets away with being the drunk aunt at the wedding party, the rich 90-year-old with the 24-year-old wife, the strange 7-year-old boy who touches himself too much in public, the gassy grandfather at the dinner table. You shrug it off as expected, maybe joke about it to a few people and get on with your day.

I’m going to miss it. I am going to miss all the weirdness and grime. I am going to miss the fodder for stories to tell people whenever I see them. I am going to miss the defecating hobos, the laughing hipsters with stupid haircuts, the Polish kids who collect sticks.

New York is tolerated because it’s New York and it has a stigma attached to it, whether you agree with it or not. And New Yorkers get to bitch about New York and blame everything bad going on in their lives on the city, like it’s a living thing (or a graphic design professor). At the end of the day New Yorkers all have one thing in common: we get to collectively bitch about how much we hate the city we love.

Photographs are from this series.

Edited to add: I have gotten a lot of email asking where we’re moving and when. We don’t know yet and we don’t know yet. But we know we have to leave here. I’m sorry I have been so vague. It’s not intentional. I am vague because I don’t know the answers yet myself.

Tuesdays With Murray (Chapter 63)

When we lived in Washington, DC. I took pottery classes at a studio in Adam’s Morgan. I studied with Jill Hinckley and threw pottery like this, this and this. I wasn’t great at it, but I loved doing it and while there I met some of the greatest people.

One of the people I met was an organic farmer named Mike. He was a sweetheart. I adored this man. He and I became close friends. He had a great big heart. I loved spending time with him.

Right before we moved to San Francisco, Mike gave us the most spectacular going away gift. It was a small vase he threw at Hinckely. It was fired out back during one of our Raku sessions. If I remember correctly, he used horse hair (taken from a local farmer) to create the most intriguing affect on its smooth sides. The piece was amazing—all of his pieces were amazing—but this one was particularly special, I think.

It was probably one of the nicest items we owned. I was so proud of that vase, whenever we moved cross-country, I wrapped it up and took it with us in the car instead of packing it away with everything else. I showed it off at home. It was always on display, albeit, at higher heights for all reasons feline.

(Trying to guess where this story ends is probably a no brainer.)

On Sunday, Murray simply had to get to the very top of the bookshelf like Tucker had. In doing so, his fat ass knocked the vase to the floor, shattering it into a million pieces. I was in the shower and heard the smash occur.

“WHAT WAS THAT!?” I yelled.

Tobyjoe came in to tell me what had happened. We were a little heartbroken.

I don’t like to get attached to non-living things because of this very reason. With cats around, you’re kind of a fool to. And now that we have a toddler, that notion became twofold. It’s better to just assume everything intangible will eventually die. It’s just a matter of when and how that end should occur.

But saying goodbye to this item stung. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

I did not raise a hand at Murray (I don’t do that to any of my cats), nor did I yell at him (I do yell at them sometimes). He knows nothing of his mistake. And I think the noise it made was punishment enough for a creature with such intense hearing.

But I’m sharing this with you today (on Murray’s day of all days) because as I watched Tobyjoe sweep the remaining pieces into the trash can, something became very clear to me: I must really love this cat because I was unbelievably attached to that vase.

I didn’t even yell at him.

(And Mike, should you ever read this, I am so very sorry. Both Toby and I have actually mourned the loss of your gift. I thought about glueing it back together, I even thought about trying to make a mosaic out of it, but to no avail. We miss it, Mike. And would love to buy a replacement.)

Tuesdays With Murray (Chapter 62)

Murray is fat. And for the longest time we’ve tried to ignore the fact that we may have had anything to do with It. I’ve suggested that he’s overweight because he steals food from us. I’ve blamed the baby for sneaking food to him. I’ve even suggested that Murray is overweight because of being bottle-fed.

Certainly he’s fat because he was bottle-fed.

A couple of months ago, someone suggested that Murray is fat due to genetics. I mentioned this to Toby.

“You should ask the woman who adopted Murray’s sister if her cat is fat too.”

I thought about this. But how would Kate feel if some strange and potentially crazy cat lady emailed her about her cat?

Dear Kate,

Hey there. My name is Michele. I know we don’t know each other very well and we’ve never actually met in person, but I adopted Eleanor’s brother, Murray. How are you? How is Eleanor? Is she fat?

yours,

Michele

How would she respond? Would she immediately write back saying, “OMG! YES! ELEANOR IS HUGE! Let’s schedule a play date!” Would she suggest I get a life? I just didn’t feel right about bugging her about the weight of her feline. Plus, I think I secretly wanted to blame Murray’s expanding gut on genetics. Basically, if I never knew the truth, I could forever blissfully assume that Murray was fat because of his mother and father and not because of what I had or hadn’t done.

On Saturday I went to the Empty Cages Collective adoption event at Muddy Paws. While there, I finally met Kate, Eleanor’s mum.

“Kate! It’s so nice to meet you! How is Eleanor?” I asked.

She explained that Eleanor is equally as insane and strange and amazing and awesome and hilarious as Murray. We swapped stories about their eccentric nature. We joked about whether or not they would recognize one another. The more we spoke, the more I realized that our cats, separated very early on, were still oddly similar.

Perhaps they are so genetically similar that Eleanor is fat too?

And so I asked. “Kate, is Eleanor fat?”

She immediately shook her head. “Oh, no, not at all. Eleanor is not fat at all. The opposite actually. She’s actually quite skinny. I think it’s because she never stops moving!”

I nodded. Murray moves around a lot as well but sleeps as much. I wanted to ask her if Eleanor eats Entenmann’s, banana nut muffins, pancakes, corn, broccoli, waffles, and scrambled eggs. I wanted to ask her if Eleanor steels food whenever she isn’t paying attention. I wanted to ask her if Eleanor licks sticks of butter, oiled pans, and muffin holders.

But Eleanor is fit. Murray’s sister is svelte. Murray isn’t fat because he was bottle fed—Eleanor was bottle fed as well. Murray isn’t fat because our son likes to give him tiny bits of waffles. And genetics apparently have nothing to do with Murray’s expanding waistline.

I fear I have run out of excuses.

I’m the mother of the fat kid and the only thing I have left to blame it on is me.

Empty Cages Collective

It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote about Empty Cages Collective. Since then quite a bit has changed. Thanks to many of the people who graciously visit this Web site, ECC received a great number of donations. Lisa has had her arms full with kittens, cats and adoption events, but she expressed to me several times how grateful they are.

Thank you so much.

They also got some press! I’m hoping that’s just the beginning. The more people in New York City who hear about what they’re trying to do, the better life will be for all of us, fuzzy or human.

Last but not least, ECC held an adoption event at The Beehive recently and 7 cats were adopted! Seven. That’s outstanding! They still have a lot more and there are many other colonies out there breeding and breeding, but that’s pretty remarkable for a one-day event.

Anyway, ECC is holding another adoption event this Saturday at Muddy Paws here in Greenpoint. Stop by if you are in the area. We’ll be there as well!

Tuesdays With Murray (Chapter 61)

We purchased a new toy for Em. It’s this crazy ball-shooting machine that plays music every time you press its big red button. It’s nuts. To be honest, I’m a little surprised that he even likes this thing. Had we been in a toy store, it probably would have been one of the last items that would have caught my eye as something he’d like to play with. But then we had a play-date at Caroline’s house. She brought out the ball-shooting machine and BLAMO! he was mesmerized.

The following day I told grandma about his adoration for the toy. A week later he had one of his own. Naturally.

Em still very much enjoys the toy. He has it out constantly. And we find it pretty hilarious that he uses one tiny finger (instead of his entire palm) to push the button. Sometimes, it takes him several tries to get that thing to sing and pop but he manages.

What we weren’t aware of was how fascinated Murray would be by the toy. Almost every time Em pushes the button, Murray runs out to watch. In fact, I think the only time he’s uninterested is if he’s sleeping or eating—his two absolute favorite pastimes.

Even though Em has decided that trying to insert anything and everything into the opening is much more fun than using the balls it came with, Murray tries hard to play along. My guess is that Murray is thinking, “BALL-SHOOT! YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!”

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1850860&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=01AAEA&fullscreen=1

We’ve had to pull out a coat hanger three times now to remove items Em has crammed into the opening.

In other news, we’ve had quite the crazy morning here. You see, during our walk this morning, we found a lost cockatiel. He’s currently in our bathroom scared half to death and wondering where his mama is. We are trying to figure out how to contact said person by calling every local vet and shelter. I have my work cut out for me today.

We’ve named him Newman temporarily.

How does Murray feel about Newman? Hilarity ensued outside the bathroom door. Commando Kitty all around. And every time Newman squawks or tweets, Murray’s all, “WUZZAT?! IMA GIT THAT BIRD!” Tucker was just curious and then stopped caring immediately. Pookum didn’t care at all.

I get the feeling Newman would win in a fight against any of our absurdly passive cats.

But we’re not taking any chances.

Francisco DeFlaviis – The Lone Juror.

Joseph Petcka, the man arrested for beating a 7-pound cat to death, had his day in court recently. The jury came back hung: 11 to 1. After five days of deliberations eleven people were in favor of convicting Petcka of aggravated animal cruelty. A lone juror by the name of Francisco DeFlaviis did not believe that Joseph Petcka killed the cat on purpose.

Joseph Petcka weighed 205 pounds at the time. He and his girlfriend had just had a fight. The cat, Norman, weighed 7 pounds. Norman was declawed.

Petcka said he kicked the cat to death in self defense.

I could go on about how I feel regarding animal cruelty in this country. I could go on about how unbelievably angry his actions and this mistrial makes me. But I won’t. Instead of stating the obvious, instead of ranting without resolve, I’m hoping that something positive might come out of this.

Please don’t forget to donate to the ASPCA. Help them put an end to animal cruelty. Help them spread the word that beating an animal to death will not be tolerated in this country.

Tuesdays With Murray (Chapter 59)

Words fail me.

Everything was normal. We turned our backs for a minute and discovered that Murray had changed positions. The props may have been added by two thirty something going on 7 year olds.

P.S. Have I ever mentioned before how much I love this cat? I love all of my cats, but Murray represents something extra special. I think it’s because he’s just so damn happy. What’s not to love?

Tuesdays With Murray (Chapter 56)

Murray was orphaned at a very young age. I’m sure many of you know that already. He was so young he had to be bottle-fed by human hands. I talked over Chapter 56 with Murray and he agreed that those human hands are what I need to write about today.

Murray was nurtured by two people: Lisa and PJ. Though PJ doesn’t quite remember Murray (due to the number of cats he’s cared for before, and since) he is responsible for much of Murray’s trust of humans.
When Murray was a few weeks old, Lisa took over. Because Murray is unable to thank them personally, I’m going to try and do it for him.

PJ and Lisa have dedicated themselves to starting a unique animal advocacy group, and I’m attempting to contribute what I can to their effort.

THEIR MISSION

“The Empty Cages Collective (ECC) is a New York-based animal and environmental advocacy organization. ECC aims to cultivate a culture where animals are recognized as fellow sentient beings worthy of respectful and compassionate treatment. Through advocacy, education, hands-on rescue and assistance, the ECC envisions a world free of animal exploitation, abuse, and ecologically destructive behavior.”

WHAT THEY’VE BEEN DOING

They Trap, Neuter and Release animals back into their natural habitats. Here’s where being a realist can actually make a difference. As opposed to someone like me, who can only see the big picture, someone who wants ALL animal abuse to stop, all homeless cats to be adopted, all things to wrap up perfectly. It’s never going to happen that way. Instead of doing something, I get overwhelmed and give up.

PJ isn’t like that. Neither is Lisa. Sure, they want all of those things as well, but they’re a bit more level-headed about it. They take it day by day. They’re hoping that with every cat they trap and neuter, a dozen less will be born next season. They’re hoping that we city-dwellers can one day coexist with our city-dwelling friends. They’re hoping to teach people that animals living within the city aren’t a nuisance and that it’s not necessary to kill every stray or feral or wild animal you come across.

There’s room for all of us. Hell, they were probably here first anyway.

The problems they’re facing is that they’ve found so many adoptable kittens during their trapping efforts that they’re running out of room and resources to continue with their TNR efforts. To put it bluntly, they need some help.

HOW WE CAN HELP

When I asked PJ what they needed the most, he gave me the following list: donate, volunteer, and adopt. He reiterated twice to me that donate and volunteer are head-to-head in urgency. Granted, if they can get the cats they have in-house adopted soon, they might have more money to use for TNR. Obviously, adoption is important as well.

I’m writing this today on behalf of Murray and all the critters out there that are needlessly killed. Can you help Lisa and PJ and their cause? Do you have a dollar to spare? Do you have some time to donate? Do you have a Web site you can use to help get the word out? Can you write them some kind words? Anything will help, any amount, any number of hands or hours, any advertisement—big or small.

If you have some extra paypal cash and/or an Amazon gift card you’re not using, visit this link and send some stuff their way. (Some of the items on that list run as low as 4 bucks.)

If you’re interested in adopting a cat, here are the animals they have up for adoption. I’m going to put up some pictures as well.

And if you got some old balled up dollar bills you washed in that pair of jeans from last winter, they’ll take monetary donations as well.

For those of you who have some cash but don’t have a lot of time and just want to click a button and be done with it, here’s a link to their paypal account.

To read more about what they’ve been doing click here.

From here on out, I’m going to be donating as much as I can out of the money I make from advertising on this Web site. It’s not much, but it’s something. I purchased 90 pounds of cat litter for them yesterday. Like I said, every little thing matters right now. It doesn’t have to be a huge sum—or cash at all.

At some point in the near future, I plan on designing some banners for them so that other bloggers can add them to their site. I hope that you will join me getting the word out for them. I realize that they’re Brooklyn based right now, but if this works out—this model—it could become a nationwide advocacy group.

If you have a dime or or some time to spare, do it for Murray. He wouldn’t be here had it not been for these two people and their great big hearts.

Tuesdays With Murray (Chapter 53)

The other day I was thinking about Schmitty. Schmitty was our 15-year-old cat who got cancer and died in a very short amount of time. Schmitty was chubby, loyal, beautiful and probably one of the sweetest creatures alive. We used to say that if there’s such thing as an 8-fold path, he was most certainly at the finish line. When he was put to sleep on April 21st, 2007, he entered nirvana—enlightenment. He would have left this tangible world forever.

I used to brag about Schmitty. You see, he was directly responsible for turing at least three people into cat people. In fact, they liked him so much, they too adopted cats. The surprising thing about these three people is that they didn’t particularly like cats before they met Schmitty. I took great pride in knowing that cats were adopted directly because of Schmitty. (I still take great pride in that.)

Schmitty was always spreading compassion.

We had to say goodbye to Schmitty. But we still think about him all the time. He comes to me in dreams sometimes, which is always bittersweet because I wake up aching to see him again—like, actually aching. But it’s nice to see him at all.

We miss him. That’s about all I can really say about that because if I continue writing about him, I’ll cry and I don’t want to cry this afternoon.

And so.

Murray.

We adopted Murray a month or so after we said goodbye to Schmitty. We got Murray because I needed to laugh. And Murray is a hoot. I don’t have to convince you of that. If you’re reading this, chances are you already know and love Murray—goofy as he may be.

Well, Murray and Em get along wonderfully. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more baby-friendly pet. When Murray plays with Em, he’s surprisingly gentle, like he knows he needs to be. And they actually play together. Murray makes Em laugh almost as much as he makes us laugh, which is pretty remarkable if you ask me.

I swear if I were a less cynical person, I’d guess he’s doing this intentionally.

Their relationship brings me some bittersweetness as well. You see, watching Em with Murray is great, but there are times where I just wish he had a brother. There are times where I think, “Oh, this boy is entirely too friendly and outgoing to spend all of his time playing with a cat!” And I feel a little sad for him and then I take him for a walk and show him the colorful arrangement of drunk and dying men our neighborhood park has to offer. (Again, sad.)

About two months ago I started to realize that Emory simply couldn’t be an only child. I was surprised by the change of heart. All along, I have said one child, just one. But I think I was even more surprised when I realized who brought the change to light.

A cat. Another freaking cat!

And so I have to spell it out for myself. I simply have to write it down for the sake of history.

Schmitty was responsible for convincing a difficult crowd that cats make awesome pets. At least three people adopted a feline because of him. He passed and we “replaced” him with a fuzzy feller named Murray.

Murray is responsible for showing us—a couple determined to have only one child—that we simply cannot stop at only one. We simply have to give our son a sibling someday.

I guess what I’m saying is perhaps this is what Schmitty wanted all along.

But I have to admit, I’m having a little trouble figuring out a way to tell Em’s eventual sibling that he or she was brought into the world because of a cat.

Confessions From A Mother

I’m amazed at how quickly Em is picking up new things and I constantly wonder where he’s getting these new ideas from. Sometimes I think I get it, and other times he just starts doing something and I’m left scratching my head, wondering if he’s keeping night hours elsewhere.

They’re precise little human recorders, babies. It’s no wonder how they can turn out so graciously sweet or so horrifically angry.

His new thing is all about books. He loves reading books and then rereading books and then re-
re-reading books and, well, you get the picture.

He crawls down off of my lap, walks over to where his books are kept, grabs a new one, walks back over to me, hands me the book and then turns around and waits for me to pick him up and read to him. Now, I can’t believe he does this. I can’t believe he enjoys hearing me yammer on about ducks, curious monkeys and blue horses, green frogs, purple cats and jumping on the bed. One day I read Brown Bear so many times I lost count.

One day, however, each time I finished reading one of his books, I placed it in his basket of toys underneath Huggy Bear. (Not the guy from Starsky and Hutch.) I realize this doesn’t qualify me as a patron saint of motherhood, but I was going cross-eyed and I needed to do some chores around the house. I can’t just not do it, you know?

I’m pretty sure that the fuel used to run a parent consists of few parts guilt.

Anyway, I wonder what the record is for number of times someone’s read a Super Chunky Good For Me! book in one sitting.

Last week I took him to a local “World Music” class a family-oriented café here in Williamsburg called Mamalus. The management is thinking of offering weekly classes. They’ve been offering freebies for the last couple of weeks. Most of the classes seem to be for older children, but we signed up for the two that included his age group. (Incidentally, I have noticed that Em is kind of in a bit of a “no-man’s age group” when it comes to classes. He’s either too old or too young. But we make due.)

So, we arrived early and it was already packed. There was a couple standing at the corner holding several different instruments. They were obviously running the show.

They pulled out drums and rattles and moroccos and bells and then bigger drums—all types of instruments. We went around the great big circle and the Cuban music man sang out each baby’s name to the beat of a drum. When he got to Em, Em was unsure of how to react. I told the man his name and the man beat the drum and sang EMORY! EMORY! EMORY! EMORY! Em just stared up at him, open-mouthed and perplexed—not frightened, but maybe a little unsure. (Or maybe he was just recording it?)

After every child had their moment in the spotlight, the room erupted. Parents and nannies danced; children sang, babies waved their hands in the air. And I’d have declared it a room full of chaos had it not been belted together by song.

Since our visit, Em has begun this adorable sing-songy chant of sorts. At first I wasn’t sure what he was doing, but then I realized that every time I sing, or every time I turn on one of his musical toys he would react. It’s really adorable and strange and I want to dance all over again.

Children are capable of making those normally seduced by shame realize that the only thing shameful about life is feeling shame at all.

So, whenever Em is older and he lets us know how embarrassing we are, I’ll tell him he has only himself to blame. And then I’ll thank him.