Friday, August 6, 2010

Friendship




There’s cat in my neighborhood, kitten-sized and hairless, one of a tribe called Canadian Sphynx. She wanders in the open fields, with a little bell on her neck. Jingle-jingle, I hear up the hill. Jingle-jingle, I hear down the street. When I hear the jingle-jingle near my front yard, I put out a bowl of cream and whatever meat is left in the fridge. She eats it all, as though she hasn’t eaten for days. Hobo cats don’t last long around here; we see coyotes trot down the road with 20-pound Toms in their mouth, and we have hawks and owls. But this little girl, with her thin skin and no apparent weapons, has survived for years. After eating and drinking her fill, she curls up on my front step. Always, when I check back later, she’s gone.


Shortly after R left, to be more accurate, shortly after R left me, I moved in with Cathy and we both dropped out of college. We lived on the second floor of a creaky old house; we sent our rent check to Chicago because our landlord was serving time as a slumlord. I probably don’t have to tell you how great it is to be that age and have no one bother you about your noise, your dogs, the constant stream of guests. Plus, this place had the best front porch. We’d set up our Panasonic speakers and blast Tom Waits and Springsteen.

(Years later, Cathy and I chatted by email. “The neighbors must have hated us!” she wrote. This was a revelation -- We had neighbors?)

We lived on peanut m&ms, dinner dates, and whatever anybody else brought around. Cathy was the resourceful one. She knew how to cook. I remember my sense of awe the first time she fried up some bacon.

We had much in common. Cathy was a good poet, though didn’t write that much; I was a very bad poet, and prolific. We had lots of boyfriends. Her ex-boyfriends remained friends; mine lit candles and pushed pins in little blond dolls.

Cathy got stuck working as an aide at a nursing home. Because I had no skills, I got a good-paying job working for Tom, a millionaire. It was a general/limited partnership, some sort of tax dodge for his wealthy clients, and Pam, the office manager, spent half her time dealing with the feds and lawsuits. I just xeroxed and typed address labels.

Tom would have me out to the club to play tennis with his family – a wife, and a son my age. The first time, I showed up in black tights and daisy dukes. After that, his wife bought me several tennis outfits. Tom and his wife were ancient, mid-forties, I think.

One time Tom’s wife came to the office, sat on the edge of my desk and said to the window, “People think when you reach middle age, the love dies. My husband and I are more in love than ever.” Then she turned and looked straight in my eyes. I wanted to tell her not to worry on my account, but then, I couldn’t. She was telling me she didn’t like me.

I took my dog Bru to work, because Tom was usually traveling the country raising capital and Pam never chastised me for anything, unless I didn’t show up and neglected to call. (“Don’t ever do that,” Pam said once. “I called hospitals. I thought you were dead.”)

But sometimes Tom would pop in unexpectedly, and I’d shove Bru under my desk.

“Karin, did you bring that dog in here?”

Thwack, Thwack, went Bru’s tail, against the side of my desk.

“Karin, this is a business office. You can’t bring a dog.”

“Sure, Tom. I won’t do it again.”

And the next time, “Karin, I thought I made myself clear…”

Thwack, thwack.

I was no use around the office, but Tom didn’t care; he just dumped more work on Pam. He wanted to take me to Las Vegas, New York, London. He even brought brochures. “Actually, I’m still involved with someone, Tom.”

Thwack, thwack.

At one point Cathy had a boyfriend, a guy on parole. (Drugs? Theft? I think it was theft. Whatever. Cathy didn’t believe in judging people. ) She wanted to take him to Chicago to see a concert for his birthday. Cathy was my best friend and I was right to go the extra mile. Lots of guys have fed me, but for years and years, not one other girlfriend ever cooked me dinner.

Tom was out of town, but I called him and said, “I have to borrow your car, but I can’t tell you why.” I hate to lie, but don’t mind getting by on a technicality. He arranged that I pick up the keys and the car at his son’s house.

It was – I don’t know – a two hour drive each way? That sounds right. We enjoyed the concert. There were four of us – the boyfriend brought his friend, some guy in prison who had weekend or weekday furloughs, I forget which. To be honest, I thought this dating convicts thing was totally crazy. But Cathy was way crazier than I was – a good poet and a lapsed Catholic. Anyway, for me, it wasn’t a date, I did nothing more than kiss him on the cheek at the end of the night. Or I guess, it was early morning, by then. He was very sweet, and no older than I was.

I took the car back to Tom’s son’s place, the gas tank dead empty. Then I walked home.

A few hours later, around 8 in the morning, Tom’s son called. “Karin, the car reeks. Get some Glade and bring it over here now. Otherwise Dad will blame me.”

See, Tom’s son was an entrepreneur in his own right, and ran a successful, albeit illegal, business on the side.

So we sprayed the interior with two cans of Forest Mint, permanently killing all odors, including the Cadillac’s new car smell.

In any case, I had planned to quit my job that week. I needed to take some time to think about the future. Cathy was moving back home. I moved in with my boyfriend, D. My parents weren’t speaking to me at the time, but D’s family practically adopted me. Other people’s parents were always doing that.

Six months later, I moved to the west coast. I still didn’t have much of a plan, but I had a ticket. And I bought another one for Bru.

song

55 comments:

  1. I couldn't put it down! Great story. I love the connections you make.

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  2. I hope that dear little girl survives those odds for years and years more. And I love this story and song, KB. Looking forward to more. Thwack, thwack.

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  3. what do you want for dinner?

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  4. I love that a Cathy, not a streetwise Crystal or a sophisticated Bianca or an exotic Sophia, was in love with a parolee and led you down the garden path. And equally interesting is that Tom got his wife to pay more attention to him by keeping you around.

    Nice song, I didn't know Tom Cat could create such a great mood.

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  5. When do we get to the part 'bout the mid-life crisis?
    I can relate...had me a few...builds character...
    I always liked you 'cause you liked animals. I still do.
    Another mornin'...'s gonna rain today.

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  6. Your as mysterious as a hairless cat conceived in Canada.

    I adore this story A-D-O-R-E

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  7. You're really something. I loved this story too.

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  8. Had a similar diet back in the day--Hershey bars and Coke. I love your storytelling.

    "Tom and his wife were ancient, mid-forties I think." That got a huge laugh-out-loud reaction.

    Glad Bru had a plane ticket too. :)

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  9. Terrible to know you must make a final plunge into adulthood.

    JJ

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  10. Loved this story. I had no idea you were such a rebel. *smile* I think it was very wise of you to maintain your allegiance to Bru.

    Keep feeding the naked kitty. She's bringing you good karma.

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  11. Any essay that references Tom Waits and Canada gets two thumbs up from me.

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  12. Screw the office, take the dog to work anyway. I did. That's what self employment is for, and small business, too. We also had an office cat for a decade. And no mice.

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  13. At least I got beyond 500 words, didn't I? (Thanks, guys.)

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. Wildcat! I’ll take my sorry, safe, small town tales home and hide under the kitchen table, where it’s safe, where there are scraps. Wish there were time and space to discuss the whole nature of rebellion in our teens and twenties. You’ve made a fantastic post and story.

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  16. P.S. Here are the highlights for me. If I’ve included too much, please cut as necessary:

    “Cathy was a good poet, though didn’t write that much; I was a very bad poet, and prolific.

    “ancient, mid-forties, I think.

    “I wanted to tell her not to worry on my account, but then, I couldn’t. She was telling me she didn’t like me.

    “At one point Cathy had a boyfriend, a guy on parole. (Drugs? Theft? I think it was theft. Whatever. Cathy didn’t believe in judging people. )

    “I thought this dating convicts thing was totally crazy. But Cathy was way crazier than I was – a good poet and a lapsed Catholic.

    “My parents weren’t speaking to me at the time, but D’s family practically adopted me. Other people’s parents were always doing that.”

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  17. I loved so much in this but I laughed out loud at the thought of your Ex boyfriends sticking pins into blonde dolls. And the thwack thwack thwack.
    What came first in the evolution of apes? The loss of a tail or the invention of lying? Because it's hard to keep secrets when betrayed by a tail.Dogs have to be honest, that tail's not controlled by the brain.
    Not sure why you gave up the good life with Tom, though.

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  18. Awww KB,
    I love whatever you write, no matter what , but I really love this since you've done stuff I would have never had the nerve or even the idea to do. Sigh.
    V

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  19. And that cat would scare the hell out of me. I"m sorry , I"m weird about cats.
    V

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  20. Banjo, as if I'd edit that. Thank you.

    Bellis, I hope you're not implying there was any life, good or bad, with Tom.

    Virg, I love this cat. Besides, I treat all my metaphors gently.

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  21. I wonder why they call it "sordid youth"? We were just braver, we trusted more, we "got" why people ended up in jail. And stuff.

    You inspire me to tell my stories, now that I can look back on them with a bit of distance. Jingle-jingle, thwack-thwack.

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  22. I wonder how the little cat got the bell.

    I wonder if the bell actually prevents her from being a target in some way by scaring away predators, even though logic might suggest the opposite.

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  23. I thought I came up with Daisy Dukes and black tights?

    My roommate Dana and I used to take big purses and ziplock bags to those tacky, upscale happy hour bars where agents and wannabe actresses hung out. You know, the bars with big buffet tables of free food that the anorexics wouldn't touch? It's amazing how much pasta salad you can fit in a big purse for the price of one watered-down seabreeze.

    I told you your memoir would be better than any novel. I was right. :-)

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  24. Yes! this is better than any novel! And the memories you bring back - the wife's stare - oh my. That floods my brain for a nanosecond. Close that gate, fast!

    Without a single description of you, I can picture you. You describe the others so well - and it those words, you describe yourself.

    Lovely, Karin. EXCELLENT, too!

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  25. Gee whiz, Earl, I think the little cat's bell was to warn her potential prey: you know, song birds and lil' bunnies, and stuff.
    Don't know 'bout them coyotes, though...
    Regrettably, I'm allergic to cats. I think me and that little hairless fella could get along real good.

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  26. Brenda, you made me laugh.

    Laurie, the romantic time of absolute freedom.

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  27. Pffffsttttttttt! Ancient 40's....now you know. I know you and I've never met you, excellent, most excellent!

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  28. Pffffsttttttttt! Ancient 40's....now you know. I know you and I've never met you, excellent, most excellent!

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  29. Daisy dukes are perfectly suitable for tennis.

    LOVE this story. Caps intentional.

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  30. What is a Daily Duke? What is a pant? What is a short?

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  31. I read this yesterday and didn't want to respond until I had the chance to read it again. The words and images came back to me throughout the day. What an amazing slice of your history, so beautifully told. I hope you really are working on a memoir (as Brenda's Arizona mentions) or a novel thinly disguised as fiction. I hope to one day flip through the pages of one or the other.

    Hairless cats make me sad. I'm glad that you're so kind to her. Amazing and mysterious that she manages to survive.

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  32. Memoir? What, I invented penicillin? Or daisy dukes?

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  33. Waits could hang the moon:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb0jsseh9J8

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  34. (Laurie started that rumor.)

    No, just a collection of stories, Susan, for which I will plunder my past.

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  35. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEhB17FMWK4

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  36. The Alabama chapter of the REd Cross just left town headed for the Denas with a butt load of winter coats for you weenies.
    V

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  37. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks and please keep writing!

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  38. I will cook you dinner whenever you want.

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  39. V: Is the Alabama Red Cross the outfit that keeps burning things on my lawn?

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  40. Earl,
    If the shoe fits.........you know the drill.

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  41. Tom Waits, who knew...all I remember is his raspy voiced pieces. He's a heartbreaker.

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  42. I know, Paula. When I sorted through clips, the I Want You was new to me, too. And I played it over and over again.

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  43. Oh, and thank you Amy and Janey. Margaret, I'm going to save that ticket.

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  44. I think the album is "The Heart of Saturday Night." Waits. Gorgeous all the way through.

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  45. I know the song The Heart of Saturday Night from an album called You Must Ask the Heart by Jonathan Richman. I didn't realize that Waits had written it, but sure enough, he did.

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  46. That little wanderer is Newt Norms' little girl. She is a doll and a real love bug. I have seen her wandering from the palace a bit too far. I think she loves the abandoned yard and the wildness it has to offer. she used to have a tag that said "Newt"

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  47. "Wandering from the palace." I like that. The hawks worry me most of all. One was circling my house when she was on my porch the other day.

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