Archive for February 2012
It’s not a sign, it’s a coincidence!” this from an ex-boyfriend.” I hate when you start with that sign crap.” Yes, ex. Need I elaborate? And yes, I have always believed in “that sign crap.”
Omens, messages, synchronicity, Call them what you will; those guiding lights that appear at arbitrary times in the most common of places. To the rest of the world it may be something ordinary, barely noticed, if noticed at all. But to the one for whom it is meant, it illuminates and affirms the path.
I saw my first New York sign on the very first morning in Harrison. Fifteen years of settling for the San Jose Mercury News with my Sunday morning coffee left me ravenous for the Sunday Times. I bounded out of bed the next morning, intent on finding a deli where I could get the Times, a hard roll with poppy seeds, and coffee. Just the idea of once again having a NY corner deli made me giddy. I’d asked my brother the night before when he picked me up at the airport where I might find one and he’d said “probably on Halstead Avenue,” the main shopping street.
Jet lag or no, I was up bright and early the next morning and raring to go. Fremont was in the linen closet where he’d be hiding for a few more days until he realized this was his new home. I dug up the baggie full of kibble I’d packed in my suitcase, poured some in his bowl, then went off on my quest. I started the car, and headed off in what I hoped was the right direction.
I found Halstead, as well as a church, the post office, a car dealership, a drugstore, the VFW post, but no deli. There had to be a deli. Maybe that initial right turn I’d taken onto Halstead should have been a left. so I turned into a side street to make a U-turn. Of course I picked a one way street. I’d have to go around the block to get back to Halstead. I continued to the next corner where the street sign brought me to a complete jaw dropping stop.
Fremont Street. It was nothing out of the ordinary. People living there had most likely rendered it invisible to their consciousness. But for that one moment, for me, it was a sign. Everything was going to be alright. I had no job, no prospects, and no idea of when or where I’d find one, but I’d followed through on my long-held dream, pulled up all my California roots and moved back to New York. How could things not go my way?
The years brought success, adventures, many new friendships, and rekindling of old ones. Things couldn’t be better and then along came Spring 2004. While petting Niles, I felt a lump on his side. Both he and Fremont were due for their shots so I made a double appointment. The vet did a quick needle biopsy and thought it looked like Sarcoma. “It’s your decision,” he said “but this cat is only three years old. You can let it progress and see what happens or remove it and give him better odds. I’d remove it if he were mine.” While I was digesting all this, he examined Fremont and sighed as he felt his leg.
“Him too?” I cried. “Both of them?”
And so both Fremont and Niles underwent surgery and we entered into wait and see. I was terrified to pet either one of them for fear I’d feel a lump. And my fear was not unfounded in Fremont’s case. His lump reappeared with a vengeance. There was no need to feel it, It was apparent to the naked eye.
I think my mind became unhinged at this point for one Saturday morning in May, I set out on my morning run and came upon one of the ubiquitous yard sales that bloom every spring in Putnam Valley. This one had a second sign on the fence. Free Kitten to Good Home.I stopped and inquired of a small boy sitting on the stairs and was told the kitten was a female. “Oh, too bad,,” I said, “if it was a male I’d take it.”
Sunday morning, I took the same running route. Free Kitten to a Good home was still on the fence, and there standing in the yard was a little girl with the cutest bundle of striped orange.
“Is that the kitten in the sign?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said with the drama inherent in seven-year old girls.”I love this cat so much, but my mom says we have enough animals so I can’t keep him.
“Him?” I gasped. It was a sign!
But in this case it was a sign I should have passed right on by. I think my reasoning followed a line that having a kitten in the house to play with would bring new life to my boys. I say think, because I have no idea what the hell I was thinking. And so Dino became a resident of Fremont’s World. Unfortunately, Dino was a rough and tumble kind, let’s wrestle kind of guy,not what I had in mind, but I kept him. And a good thing I did for Dino turned out to be the crucial link in the Mars landing.
I do not want to dwell on a sad time so let’s just say Fremont’s lump returned. On July 30, 2004 Fremont left his world to Niles and Dino.
But the journey that began with the black and white cat who appeared out of nowhere in that parking lot eleven years prior, the one my brother, Jim, in his final days on the planet, may or may not have foreseen, had one more mysterious turn. I’d say it was a sign but it’s going on eight years now and I still don’t know what to make of it.
My first two cats, O.B. Brat and Joby Cat, as well as my brother’s, dog, Duke, are buried in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery I make it a point to plant flowers every summer and place wreathes every Christmas. Now I’d being decorating a third grave, Fremont’s. Straight from the vet’s I drove Fremont’s remains to Hartsdale. This is no simple case of dropping off the animal and being done. No, the staff affords you a chance for closure. You may come back for a very private good-bye and a respectful burial. I completed all the paperwork and scheduled a day to return
I had every intention of driving straight home but a few miles into the drive, I had an urge to visit my dad’s grave and tell him Fremont was gone. Now my brother, Jim is buried in the same cemetery not far from Daddy’s grave but it was Daddy I wanted to tell and so I stopped at the cemetery.
My usual routine is to park by Jim’s grave, perhaps out of habit since his death preceded my fathers, visit it first, then walk over to Daddy’s. But on this day I parked near my father’s, said what I had to say, and walked through a row of graves in the direction of Jim’s.
About halfway there, I looked down to my right and gasped at what was lying there. A stuffed animal. It was bedraggled and mud covered but here was no mistaking what it was. A black and white cat. Luckily there was no one around on this beautiful hot summer morning to hear me but I don’t think it would have mattered anyway. I scooped up the toy and ran the rest of the way sputtering aah, aah, aah. I held it out to Jim’s headstone, asking “did you do this? did you do this?”
Of course I got no answer. I visit that cemetery at least four times a year. I walk through the same row of graves. I see flags, flowers, Christmas ornaments, statues, but never a stuffed animal. Yes, maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe someone placed it there for some other departed soul. In that case I guess I should have just left it there. But I didn’t. I brought it home to Fremont’s World.
Fremont’s World is 0.25 acres in the town of Putnam Valley, NY. it is also the land on which the House of Mars sits. It has no signs. It does have a flag, though – several, in fact.
Every kingdom needs a flag, and wherever Fremont lived he declared his kingdom. This particular kingdom was formally recognized in the summer of 1999.
I am a night person. I am also a night eater. I rarely sit down to dinner much before ten. This means in summer I grill by the light of the moon with a lot of help from the floodlights on the deck. One particularly sultry August night, I stood, spray bottle in hand, ready for the the usual flare-up that is part and parcel of barbecuing chicken. Above me, up in the woods,the thick canopy of moon- lit leaves rustled in the breeze.
I guess they rustled, I could see them flutter. Can something rustle if you can’t hear it? Like the sound of one hand clapping? No, that’s not right; like that tree that falls in the woods when no one’s there? That’s it! On this night the air was so saturated with the sibilant droning of amorous crickets and cicadas that it seemed to close in on me. I felt as if I were in the middle of a black velvet painting.
Soon, though I was able to make out the sound of deliberate plodding foot steps making their way down through the sloping woods, and the impressive silhouette of Fremont made its way into the light. He braced his front feet against the stucco retaining wall and landed with an oomph, then made made his way to the deck. It was the first time I felt part of the world he ventured into every night. “So this is your world, Fremont, “I said, reaching down to rub his head. “I like it.” And thus Fremont’s World came into being.
The next spring I decided we were being selfish. There were plenty of cats who needed a home and we had more than enough room. It was time that Fremont shared his world with another cat. I can’t say I went into full blown search mode. A nagging question held me back . What if Fremont didn’t get along with the newcomer? Even worse what if he turned out to be an aggressive cat and he made Fremont’s world miserable? So I kept my good intention on the back burner and May rolled into June and June into July.
Just after the fourth of July, I went in to work and my friend, Laura, mentioned that her neighbor, an animal lover to the nth degree, had found a mother cat and five kittens, and was looking for good homes for them. I deemed it a sign; a companion for Fremont, emerging out of nowhere.
“You know I’ve been thinking about getting another cat,” I told her.’ “I want a male, though.Do you know if any of them are males?”
She promised to find out, and the next morning returned with the news. “There’s only one male, a black and white one.”
Black and white? A sign if ever there was one. And so Niles, who fit into the palm of my hand when I brought him home, took up residency in Fremont’s World.
I decided to introduce them gradually, confining Niles to the spare bedroom for a week so they could make each other’s acquaintance through sniffs under the door. The sniffs from Fremont’s side were peppered with hisses, hisses that escalated into growls on the meet and greet day.
I opened the door slowly. Niles bounded out,his tiny stick of a tail held high. I’d never seen Fremont arch his back before! He turned and greeted the kitten with a raw hiss and a deep throated growl before retreating out his cat door. It was not an auspicious start but Niles was not the least bit phased. Each time Fremont came back, the little munchkin would sneak up on the giant at least quadruple his size, and flick at his tail, darting away at the hiss and growl this elicited, but only for a second. And so it went with Fremont taking all he could and when fed up, escaping through the flap of the cat door into the refuge of his world. I didn’t worry about tiny Niles getting out since the pet door was set in the dining room window and the little guy wasn’t quite up to jumping that high….
Or so I thought. I was upstairs in the loft one morning, cleaning the litter box when I heard the flap slap shut. Fremont had gone out earlier and it was not his habit to return until dinner time so that could mean only one thing. I ran down the steps and got to the screen door just in time to witness the moment Fremont’s world changed.
He had been sitting in the sun grooming himself when Niles landed and ran over to flick his tail with a “Hi Guess what!” attitude. Fremont did a double take then looked up at me as if to say”How could you let this little innocent out? He’s not ready for my world.”
Then he walked over to Niles and began to groom him with a gentle flick of his tongue. Little did he know that he was volunteering for a permanent job.
The pact was made. Niles was a needy cat when it came to his Fremont. He needed his Fremont to groom him. Fremont did. He needed to snuggle up to his Fremont when it was cold. Fremont made room to accommodate him. Niles and Fremont, they weren’t inseparable. They carved up Fremont’s World into their own fiefdoms. When I arrived home from work each night, Fremont would appear out from across the road and make his way up the stairs to the front yard while Niles would utter his customary “I’m on my way” cry from up in the woods, then descend amidst the sound of breaking twigs and crunching leaves to the backyard.
But when they were together, Fremont looked after his boy!
It was idyllic. I wish it could have gone on and on. But if it had, there would have been no House of Mars.
It’s not possible to explain how the Martians came to be here without first delving into the Fremont question, because were it not for Fremont, there’d be no Martians. The Fremont question is really quite simple:
Who was Fremont?
The question was first posed in 1993, on November second to be exact, by Karen, one of the two women with whom I shared an office in the loan servicing department at Fremont Bank on Fremont Blvd in Fremont California. As for me, I was just sitting there minding my own business.
“What”s that guy throwing out of that car?” She stood up and leaned over her desk for a closer look.”Is that a cat or a puppy? ”
As I remember it, I kept on minding my own business. It was Sandra who jumped up, dashed to the window, and with a “what the f….” had vanished through the door and was halfway to the elevator before I felt the breeze . It took a couple of minutes for my curiosity to kick in. By the time I got to the window Sandra was at her car, holding a black and white cat and pantomiming for one of us to bring down her car keys. I could do with a break from the computer so I fished around in her purse and came up with a charm filled chain of keys.
“What am I going to do with him?” she asked holding up the cat so I could see him. He looked at me and opened his mouth to voice a squeaky complaint.
He was a perfect tuxedo cat. I patted his head. “I’d take him if we had a box but there’s no way I’m going to drive 25 miles with a loose cat in my car.” It was a bold-faced lie.
“Ooh,” Sandra cooed. “I just moved and my cat’s carrier is still in my car.” I remember standing there semi-comatose as she yanked the carrier from the back seat up over the passenger seat and deposited the cat, my cat into it. “He’ll be fine here until five,” she assured me as she lowered the window. “It’s four-fifteen.”
By the time we got back up to the office word had spread. I was a hero, a dazed hero who was still trying to catch up to what had just happened. Voices buzzed all around “It’s so wonderful of you to take that cat.” I heard that a couple of times and I recall being assured “That God would bless me for the kindness I was showing.”
I drove the twenty-five miles to Los Gatos glancing from time to time at the black and white circle of fur sleeping peacefully in the passenger seat ” We’re just going to be kind of roommates.” I told him. “You can live outdoors in the little yard. I’ll feed you, and that’s it.” I stopped at the supermarket and bought cat food, and stood staring at cat litter. “Maybe I should get a bag , I thought. “I can’t leave him out on rainy days.”
Well, he was a crafty one right from the start. As usual I parked in my parking spot and came directly into my little back courtyard. I closed and locked the gate behind me. Like all fences in California it was a six wall of wood planks, “Privacy fence”. I lifted him out of the carrier. “Welcome to your new home.” I said, unlocked the sliding glass door and went in.
I had no sooner slid the door shut when he started meowing frantically at the door …the back door of my next door neighbors. I don’t know if he crawled under or climbed over the fence. It didn’t matter, he’d called my bluff
“Psst You! Get back over here,” I hissed. “I’m not supposed to have pets.”
I was pleasantly surprised when he darted back under and allowed me to scoop him up. For that day until we moved back to New York ten months later he stayed inside all day and when I came home, he hung out in the back yard or the parking lot until bedtime – with Willard, Blackie and Peppina, the other cats who weren’t supposed to be living there either.
Dr McCall was the second to question who Fremont was, the next week when I brought Fremont for his shots. He pulled him out of the carrier I’d bought after returning Sandra’s. He turned him this way and that on the examining table then proclaimed “He’s a teenager, about four months old.”Then he pried open his mouth in that way vets do that makes it looks so easy. “Holy crap!” he exclaimed. “He’s still got his baby teeth. he can’t be more than nine or ten weeks old.”
Well, when we returned two weeks later for his second round of shots, Fremont still had his baby teeth. And two months later when I brought him back to be neutered he barely fit into the carrier. When October rolled around and we flew cross-country, “I had to buy another carrier – a dog carrier. Fremont weighed twenty-three pounds without an ounce of fat on him.
Despite my reluctance to take on Pet “ownership” I must say Fremont’s presence provided a comforting constancy as I prepared to once again pull up my roots. The previous year had been the worst of my life. My younger brother had been diagnosed with lymphoma in July of 1992 on his fortieth birthday, and despite a grueling bone marrow transplant, his cancer returned full force , spreading to his brain. I traveled back to NY as much as I could and kept in touch by phone but as the cancer continued its march, conversations with him weren’t always what they seemed. He was on his own wave length. One Saturday afternoon my phone rang . It was my mother who previous to that day, had never initiated a phone call.
“I just got off the phone with James,” was her way of explaining why she was calling “He called me to ask if you want a black and white kitten.”
“Me?” I asked ” No I don’t want to get myself into that again.” My previous cats Brat and Joby had lived to be fourteen and I’d let them rule my life . “Does he have the kitten?” I asked.
“I don’t know but he’s very upset about it,” she said.
“My lease says no pets. Just tell him that.”
That was July of ’93. I never heard another thing about the kitten. In fact I forgot all about it for months. Jim died in August, and I encountered Fremont in November.
After I was settled in New York I had dinner with Jim’s girlfriend and asked about it. “What kitten?” she asked. “This is the first I’m hearing about it.”