Losing a friend.

Where to begin?

First, I had a 3-day training class from hell last week, complete with an impossible test at the end that I am pretty sure I failed.

Second, my best friend since 7th grade had a heart attack. (Thankfully, full recovery expected.)

Third, Our cat JD died, and as a result, our house has been filled with sadness. He was a special kitty, and a beautiful boy. He was my wife's best friend and my faithful writing companion. He slept in the crook of my arm almost every night, and his unconditional love and his trusting personality made him better than most people.

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to tell you a little bit about him. This post is probably more for me than for you, so there won't be any funny this time around. If you are here for a laugh, check back later, or see this previous post about JD. This was, to put it mildly, a bitch of a week.

About eight years ago, we were driving home on a back country road during a rainstorm, when my wife said, "What was that? I think I saw kittens! Stop!" so I reluctantly pulled over, having seen nothing myself. It turned out she was right -- she did see kittens. They were lost, abandoned and scared, but when my wife got out of the car and called to them, they came running. She scooped them up and tossed them in the back seat, and suddenly we were the owners of two kittens who smelled like cow crap and looked like drowned rats. When we got them home, we put them in my shop, gave them some food and water, and turned on the heat so they'd dry off. They ate like they hadn't had a meal in three days, which may have been the case.

I hope there's a special place in Hell for people who abandon their pets on the side of the road.

The next morning, we went out to see what we had found and clean them up, but they had apparently spent the entire night cleaning each other because they were dry and totally clean. I got a friend to adopt one, we adopted the other, named him JD, and our adventure began. We took him to the vet, had him checked for worms and feline leukemia, got him his shots, and had his little man-bits removed.

We already had two other cats. I didn't really feel like we needed another one, but there was something about him. I'm not sure if it was his bright blue eyes, or the fact that he acted more like a dog than a cat, but he quickly wormed his way into our hearts. Our other cats are nice enough, but they're not the same. I don't know how to explain why he was different, or why we became so fond of him so quickly, but we did. Maybe it was because we rescued him from an almost certain death, and he acted as if knew that. Or maybe it was because he bonded to us both so completely. I'm not sure.

He never begged and never made a pain the ass of himself, which is rare for a cat. He'd sit and wait patiently for his food while the other two zig-zagged between my wife's legs and pawed at the counter and meowed like they never ate before. He'd follow my wife around the house, and he always wanted to be a part of whatever she was doing. He came running when she called his name, and he'd search the house for her when he noticed she was missing. He developed routines; we developed routines -- and he trained us well. To be honest, we spoiled the hell out of him.

He loved the summer and the warm weather, and would look forward to keeping my wife company as she gardened, or as she sat on the porch with her latest crocheting or knitting project. All winter -- on the sunny days especially -- he would run to the front door and wait to be let on to the porch, expecting it to be warm. It was always such a disappointment to him when it wasn't, and he'd turn around and march back into the house like it was somehow our fault.

After about 4 years, he started getting sick. We thought it was hairballs, or maybe he was eating too fast. To be on the safe side, we took him to the vet, and the vet gave us some sad news: An ultrasound confirmed that JD had small, malformed kidneys, and as a result they were only functioning at roughly 20%. He also had some stomach problems, and she suspected pancreatitis. Toxins were building up in his bloodstream, and that's why he wasn't eating. The treatment for this was to inject 150ml of saline solution under his skin every three days, to ease the strain on his kidneys, which I learned to do. She gave us two other drugs, one to help with his appetite when his stomach was off and he didn't feel like eating, the other to help with his stomach ulcer issues. This seemed to stabilize him, and he remained a happy cat for quite a few years, although he would go in cycles where he'd have a stretch of a few good weeks, then a bad week, then a few more good weeks, etc.

Every few nights, he'd sit on my wife's lap and patiently allow me to stab him with an IV needle, and he never complained other than a low-pitched moan here or there. He never scratched or tried to bite. He trusted us, and even though what we were doing to him must have hurt, he forgave us each and every time. He'd run away and hide, and in twenty minutes he'd be back to see what we were doing.

Because we had to give him so much daily medication, it was difficult to leave him behind when we went camping or visited friends for the weekend. We'd have to board him at the vet's office, and that wasn't inexpensive, or very pleasant for either of us. That's when we started taking him with us when we went places. He got used to a harness fairly quickly, and he loved going on canoe trips and camping in the Adirondacks, and having him there with us was actually pretty fun. I know our canoe trips this year won't be the same without him.

During one of his visits to the vet last year, we got some more bad news -- our vet heard a pretty significant heart murmur, and she suggested we take him to a cardiologist. Yes, believe it or not, cats have their own cardiologists. The cardiologist did another ultrasound, and it turned out that JD had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure, most likely as side effects of his failing kidneys. We agreed that we'd treat him as long as he didn't realize he was sick, and that's what we did. His life became a routine of pill-popping morning and night -- two types of beta blockers, plus antacids -- interspersed with squirts of liquid medicine down his throat, in addition to the subcutaneous fluids every couple of days. Still, he was spunky and happy, and other than a bad few days here and there, he was still loving life and being with us. His blood pressure was down, his enlarged heart started shrinking back to normal, and we thought the worst was behind us, at least for a while. His murmur seemed to have improved slightly as well.

Sometimes when you're lucky enough to find a good pet -- one of those animals that transcends the ordinary owner/pet relationship and seems to know more about your feelings than you do -- there is a kind of wistful sadness built into every interaction. I think it's because on some level, you know your time together is short, and even with a healthy pet, you realize the day is coming when you will have done all you could for them -- when there's really nothing left to do except to let them go, and hope they know they were loved.

For us, that day came early last week. On Saturday, JD and I sat together on the porch, soaking up the sun and waiting for my wife to get home from work. When she pulled up, he ran down the stairs and greeted her half way. That night, everything was normal -- he sauntered up the stairs, jumped on the bed and poked at me until I pulled my arm out from under the covers. I knew if I didn't, he'd walk around and start sniffing my eyebrows until I did. Then he curled up under my arm and I fell asleep to his big purrs and the small ball of warmth at my side. The next morning, everything seemed fine, and my wife and I both had the day off. We were looking forward to just hanging out in the sunshine and enjoying the day.

After breakfast, my wife noticed that JD was breathing a little funny, and looked like he couldn't get comfortable. He was moving a little slowly, and we thought maybe he just had one of his routine stomach aches, since he had suddenly stopped eating earlier. He walked over to me, gave my leg a little head butt, then plopped down on the floor. I petted him for a few seconds, and then he got up and went upstairs to find my wife.

As soon as she saw him, she knew it was something besides his normal stomach issues, so we immediately jumped in the car to bring him to the emergency vet. It was 30 minutes away, and I drove like a maniac. My wife was holding him in a blanket and about half-way there, his breathing became extremely labored, and he started crying and trying to breathe through his mouth.

He kept reaching one paw over and touching my arm as if he was asking me to fix what was hurting him. It was heartwrenching, and I could barely keep my eyes on the road. We finally got to the vet's office and they quickly put him in an oxygen tent, but it didn't do much good. The vet said they were going to give him a sedative and take a chest X-ray to see if they could determine what the problem was. We waited.

When the vet finally came to the waiting room a half-hour later, I could tell by her face the news wasn't good. She told us the prognosis was poor -- heart failure and pleural edema. She told us that that even if they could treat him and he made it through the night, the treatment would be extremely rough on his kidneys, and he would probably go back to being sick and uncomfortable all the time, and the chances were that the same thing would happen again.

We always said that we'd treat him to the best of our ability for as long as he maintained his quality of life. The walk to the clinic's operating room was surreal, and I felt like I was watching it through someone else's eyes. JD was lying on a soft, folded towel placed on an operating table, with the vet's assistant holding an oxygen mask to his face. The vet unwrapped a syringe, and placed it on the table next to him. We petted him and talked to him and told him how much he meant to both of us, and how sorry we were. The vet picked up the syringe, and I almost told her to stop. But then JD looked at me, and I knew it was the right thing to do. We couldn't put him through any more. Putting him down was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It wasn't the first time I've had to do this, but it was the first time I've had to do it to a pet that I truly loved.

I'm alternately sad and angry, and I know that such a sweet cat deserved more than the life that was handed to him. Most of all, I wish we could have given him one last summer.

I'm so glad we got to be with him for 8 years, and I'll never regret the lengths we went to in order to treat his illnesses. I hope he knew, on some cat-level, how important a part of our lives he was.

Rest in peace, buddy. We'll never forget you.

Adirondack Canoe Trip - Autumn, 2008

My favorite picture of him.


And the winner is....

Not Diesel. And not that guy in the picture, because he's wearing speedos with a little bow and probably has paper cuts on his junk.

First off, thanks for voting for my buddy Brennin, and if you get the chance to vote again, please do so. It'll be a kick to see him on TV. I don't know about you, but every time he snaps that old permed-up picture of Ellen and does that sideways head-bob thing, I laugh out loud. You may say I'm easily amused, and you'd be right of course, but that's ok.

As for the prize drawing, I thought better of drawing names from my underwear (although there's plenty of extra room in there) and instead just used....my hat. Yes, original, I know. But to be fair, it's the hat I don't wear out in public. It's the hat I only wear when nobody is home and I can run up and down the stairs pretending to be Indiana Jones. This hat:

Really, this is just to prove to you all the painstaking effort I put into this endeavor. I typed all your names into notepad because trying to paste html into excel was pissing me off. Then, THEN, I printed them out and cut them into strips.

And do you know why I went to all this effort and took all this time? You are correct. It's because I really should be working on my taxes and I will literally use any excuse to avoid doing that until I absolutely have to.

Here's the fruit of my labor:

Since my wife is working and not able to don her tiara and sparkling onesie in order to draw a name from the hat, I had to do it myself. Since Brennin said he's sending me some CDs, I am going to draw 6 names from the hat instead of just one, and the first five people will get a copy of Brennin's first CD. Drum roll please......

6th place: Anhara (please, please, please don't be in the far east)

5th place: Deanna

4th place: Christina

3rd place: Tricialynn

2nd place: Melodie

And the grand prize winner of the JV Box 'O Junk is: Tracey

Jeez, that list reads like the Tuesday night line-up at the Bada Bing club. Congrats everyone!

Drop me an e-mail (see my profile) with your mailing addresses and please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. Not really, but that gives me some time to do my taxes. (I'll let you know after the IRS has their way with me if I'll need to collect postage. Just kidding. Probably.)

And if you curious about what wonderful assortment of junk is in the box, here it is:

A copy of Brennin's 2007 self-titled debut CD.

A FULL-SCREEN DVD of Ghost Rider starring Nicholas Cage. Yeah. My Dad doesn't know the difference. I mean, FULL sounds better than WIDE, doesn't it? Who doesn't want their screen FULL?

An opened and played once copy of the debut CD by Glasvegas, given to me by my buddy dUgE of Kasim Sulton and Isle of Q fame. They're supposed to be the Next Big Thing. They are not going to be the next big thing for me, because I don't like singers who sound like Bono.

The candy pooping Santa Claus from this post.

A new copy of Good Charlotte's "Greatest Remixes" CD. I am not a fan of rap, even when it's dressed up in punk pop clothing. A rap remix of a song is like saying "Here, let me pour some shit on that for you." It might not be that bad, but I didn't want to chance it, so it's still in the cellophane.

A graphic novel of the Family Guy episode "Peter the Great"

A sunglasses-wearing Coke can from 1991 that dances to music. Batteries not included. Well, they were included but they were dead, so I figured I would take them out to save on shipping.

An unopened tin of Ironport mints from a trade show that says "Mints made in USA or China." I supposed that means if you're a gambler, you will either get an enjoyable mint or your USDA recommended daily allowance of melamine.

A weird, suction-cupped stick-on digital clock from IBM/Lotus that gives me nightmares because I'm convinced it walks around at night. Just look at it. You know I'm right.

A $20 gift card from the store that shall not be named.

A home-made wooden prototype of a rubber band pistol. It never made it into production, although I did make a really nice cherry and maple "executive edition" for my father before he retired. Don't shoot your eye out, kid.

And last but not least, a BRAND NEW pair of Toasti-Toes foot warmers!

Thanks for playing along. You guys are the best.

As for me, I'm going to go make a fresh pot of coffee and get out of this tiara and onesie.


Brennin Hunt and "The Ellen Show" Update.

You guys asked me to keep you posted, so I am.

I guess they pick the winner next week. If you get a chance, go here and click on Brennin's video.

I'll tell you what -- If you vote and leave a comment below, I will randomly pick a voter from a hat (or some other random article of clothing) and award a prize box of my choice. It will most likely be worth almost nothing, make you shake your head in disappointment and wonder, "WTF was he thinking when he bought this stuff?" Or it could be something cool and actually worth something.

I'm like Monty Hall.

The last prize I sent out went to the first person who told me what needle ice was, and I sent him a book of Rolling Stones interviews and stuffed Brian and Stewie dolls. So that's the equivalent of winning a donkey behind door number three, I think. Hey, it's what I had handy.

I'll be more original this time. Or not.


Curry and Death.

I spent most of yesterday shoveling ice and slush -- from the inside of my garage. The entire thing flooded, despite a 2-foot-deep trench I dug in front of the garage doors. The trench just filled up with water and then overflowed. I must have taken about 20 five-gallon buckets of half-frozen water out of that trench yesterday afternoon. Needless to say, it sucked ass. The first thing I am going to do when the snow is gone is hire someone to regrade my driveway so it's no longer higher than the garage floor. I don't care if they have to dig it down so deep I end up needing fucking stairs to get from the driveway to the lawn -- this is the last year I will have an ice-skating rink (and then a pond) inside my garage.

As I was trying to get my lawnmower unstuck from the ice-encrusted garage floor, I was pondering what to write about. Not a lot of funny stuff has happened to me lately, and I've been slacking off in the blogging department because I've been sick for the last week and a half with the worst headache of my entire life. It was so bad I thought I blew a tube in my brain but it turned out to be my first-ever sinus infection. What the hell, sinuses. After all this time you decide to screw with me? Tonight is the first night I'm able to think in complete sentences, so what am I doing? I'm entertaining you, that's what. Why? Because I care. Anyway, yanking the shit out of my frozen lawnmower reminded me of a time when I was still living home and my parents got new "across the street" neighbors, and I think it's a tale worth telling. Or maybe it's not and that's just my inflamed sinuses talking. I guess we'll see. It's a little gross, so be prepared.

When I was a teenager, the house across the street went up for sale. It wasn't for sale for very long because this was the 80's and aside from parachute pants and mullets, things were swell. We lived in a pretty middle-class, tighty-whitey neighborhood, so it was sort of a surprise when an Indian couple moved in. I think I found out later he was a doctor, and I don't think his wife worked, since she was home all day. I don't remember her name, but for the sake of this story, I'll call her Ahladita, because I just looked it up and it means "in a happy mood" and she was always smiling and waving.

She spoke very little English, but she seemed friendly enough. She would periodically bring over dishes of indian food that my mother couldn't stand the smell of. To her credit, she actually tried it the first time, but it was so spicy she couldn't eat it. So from that point on, she would politely accept it, and then when Ahladita left, she'd immediately bury it in the backyard. No, not really. She just double bagged it and put it with the outside trash. Basically, it got the same treatment as the used cat litter. We were an Irish-Italian meat and potatoes family. We didn't know what curry was, and we didn't want to know.

My mother worked part-time as a medical transcriptionist, so she worked out of her home office. I found out later that 'home office' was IRS code for what I normally just called 'the dining room table' but that's between my father and the government. It's only relevant to the story because as a result of working part-time from home, the bulk of the weekly yard work fell to her.

My mother would plant flowers, weed the flowerbeds, mow the lawn, rake the leaves, put mulch down, you name it. The first week they moved in, my mother would see Ahladita across the street, doing the same chores, and they would wave to each other, even though they didn't have a common word between them. One day, my mother noticed something. Whenever she would start to do a particular chore, so would Ahladita. If my mother weeded the flower beds, Ahladita would weed the flowerbeds. If my mother decided to trim the shrubs, Ahladita would trim the shubs. It occurred to my mother that Ahladita thought there were proper times to do things, and was trying to fit in by doing the same things my mother did at exactly the same times. You can't fault the logic, really. It was just a little creepy.

The following week, my father came home from Sears with a new self-propelled, walk behind lawnmower for my mother. As she was using it, she noticed Ahladita watching from across the street. After my mother was done mowing, Ahladita came over and took a closer look at at it. The next day, my mother saw Ahladita pushing the same exact lawn mower back and forth across her lawn.

It was about 95 degrees outside, and Ahladita was streaming sweat, and her sari was soaked. She was leaning into the lawnmower like an ox into a yoke. My mother watched for a second, then realized that the lawnmower Ahladita was pushing wasn't making any noise. She was pushing a non-running self-propelled lawnmower back and forth across the lawn. My mother called my father downstairs, and he went over to check it out. Turns out not only was the lawnmower not running, it also didn't have any gas or oil in it. She basically took it out of the box and started pushing it around.

My dad went back to his garage and got some oil and gas and the mower set up, then showed her how to use it. After that, my parents sort of adopted Ahladita and her husband. Any time they had a question, they'd come over and ask.

One day, Ahladita came over and wiggled her fingers and asked my mother something about worms. My mother wasn't sure what the heck she was talking about, and for five minutes she tried to get her to explain. Eventually, she got something out of her that sounded like "carpet worms." My mother told Ahladita to show her, figuring that would be much easier. So Ahladita brought my mother into her house, and my mother knew immediately that something was very wrong. The entire place smelled like curry and carrion. Ahladita brought my mom into the family room, and walked over toward the fireplace. She stopped in front of the hearth, and knelt down and started slapping the rug. As soon as she did it, hundreds of maggots boiled up from the carpet. My mother completely freaked out, grabbed Ahladita and ran outside, where she then tried to explain to her what they were and where they came from, and why it was never good when maggots came out your carpet when you slapped at it. Something horrible was happening with the fireplace and the rug underneath it.

When my father came home from work, my mother told him what happened, and he went over to check it out. He came back, completely grossed out, but grabbed his shop vac and headed back over. After vacuuming up maggots for twenty minutes, he started checking out the fireplace. There was definitely something foul going on up in there, and my father figured a bird had gotten in there and died. When he tried to open the flue, a rain of maggots fell down and the full stench was released into the room. This was no bird. It was something big, heavy, and very, very deceased. No, it wasn't Santa Claus.

This went way beyond what my father had signed up for, so he admitted defeat and called animal control, who referred him to a local pest control company. They came out and took the damper apart. As it turned out, the chimney ledge above the damper was the final resting place for a very large, very dead raccoon that had apparently been in there for weeks. It took a month for the stench to finally dissipate. The pest control guy installed a screen on the top of the chimney so it wouldn't happen again, and that was the end of that. I think everyone in the neighborhood got screens for their chimneys within the space of 2 days. I am pretty sure not having carpet maggots was a big purchase incentive there.

After that, my parents kept their distance. I think they decided that a friendly wave from across the street followed immediately by jumping in the car and driving away at high speed was the best course of action going forward. A couple of years later, Ahladita and her husband moved away, and the carpet worm story became one of my mom's favorites.

I only hope that wherever they moved to, Ahladita isn't walking slowly around the yard, waving a leaf blower that isn't turned on.

I'll bet you my paycheck they have a screen on their chimney though.


If you're bored...

So a buddy of mine is trying to get on the Ellen show. Apparently she's been hosting this "bathroom concert series" where people send in videos of themselves singing a song to Ellen from their bathrooms. She picks the best videos and she's been showing them daily, and his got picked.

Now she's turned it into a contest, and the winner gets to come on the show and sing. So if you're bored and you want to do me a small favor and vote for him, it's here. It takes a while to load, but his name is Brennin Hunt, and if you could give him a quick click, I'd appreciate it. His song is called "I'll Make Love to You." When she played it on the show, she did a rebuttal song where she lip-synced "Never Gonna Get It" while holding a picture of him. I've never been an Ellen fan, but she went up a few notches when I saw that.

He's an upcoming singer/songwriter that I think sounds a bit like Edwin McCain. He's also got a myspace page here if you want to check out some of his more original tunes. Thanks!

ps - I promise I'll be back with something funny this weekend. I have a few things cooking.

Update: Brennin is doing really good. He's # 2 on the show's comments board, and #1 on the show's music comment board, by about 200 people. Second only to Pink, which is probably a good thing because I'm pretty sure she could kick his ass.


The Musical Box

When I was nine years old, Peter Gabriel left Genesis. Phil Collins took over as the lead singer, and I was devastated. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration. Truth be told, I was completely oblivious.

That's because I didn't know who Genesis was. Ditto Gentle Giant, Rush, King Crimson, UK and ELP. I was listening to McCartney and Wings singing silly love songs, Wild Cherry playing that funky music (for their one and only hit,) and learning 50 ways to leave your lover from Paul Simon. Sara Smile, Afternoon Delight and Gary Wright were my thing, and Casey Kasem's top 40 didn't have room for a song called "Squonk" or any other song from A Trick of the Tail for that matter. At that point in my life, if it wasn't music from one of my mom's old 45's or on AM radio, I didn't know it existed.

Fast-forward 9 years. A band-mate friend of mine handed me a cassette tape and said, "The first time you listen to this, you'll think it's weird and you probably won't like it. The tenth time you listen to it, you're going to think it's a masterpiece. Promise me you'll listen to it at least ten times."

I promised, and he was right. That cassette was "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" by Genesis, and to this day it remains one of my favorite recordings. By the time I was a full-blown Genesis freak, Duke had come out, and Genesis was on their way to becoming a household name. I was disappointed that I never got to see Genesis with Peter Gabriel, but still, I burrowed deep into their back catalog, and within no time I owned all the Genesis there was. I then expanded into other areas of prog music, and became a huge fan of Marillion, Spock's Beard, ELP and Rush.

Which brings me to this past weekend. Yort, my wife and I went and saw this show:

It was fantastic, and I highly recommend it. Two years ago, I saw the same band play the entire Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Album. I think they do a better job with that line up, but the Phil version isn't shabby at all, especially if you like the Trick of the Tail CD. For that show, we sat far enough away to preserve the illusion, and it was truly like going back in time. They use the same lighting, the same stage props, same slides, same equipment, you name it. And they are top-notch musicians to boot. I guess they'd have to be in order to pull off album-perfect renditions of Genesis tunes.

If you want to feel really old, have a conversation with your friend's 16-year old about the concert you're going to see.

"They're a Genesis tribute band."


"Genesis. You know who Genesis is, right?"

"Uh, no."

"Phil Collins? You HAVE to know who Phil Collins is."

"I think I maybe heard of him."

At that point, since he was clearly lying through his teeth, we just laughed and gave up.

Fame is fleeting, I guess.

I'm going to bed. Old people need their rest.