The population of The House of Mars has decreased by one. Marcos departed this world on February 7, leaving Marcel and Marceau,
and yours truly V. Margaret to return to life as it was before he came to live with us.
He had a brain tumor, or so his veterinarian said. I thought it was canine dementia but whatever it was, it left him disoriented and wandering around to get lost in corners.
If he was truly sixteen when I adopted him, he would be 21. (In case you missed that post, here it is.)
If he was 8 or 9, as the vet suggested at his first check-up, that would make him 13 or 14, which is more likely.
This afternoon he was buried at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery.
It wasn’t a new experience for me but it never gets easier. It does give me comfort, though, to know he joins all the pets who came before him.
The first to be buried there was Duke, also known as Dukie-Dog and The Duke. Dukie was actually my brother’s dog, and lived to the ripe old age of 14. My outstanding memory regarding living with The Duke is coming home from school and being greeted by “Shush, the dog is eating.” This meant having to stand statue-still until he finished. You see Dukie was an extremely finicky eater and if he was distracted, the meal was over. My mother wasn’t taking any chances.
O.B. Brat, the O.B. standing for Old Baby was also known as The Obadoodle and Badude. She was my first cat and shared my first apartment in Yonkers. I adopted her from Bide-a-wee Pet Shelter in Manhattan; a six week old bundle of white who fit my hand. Even at that size, she had a hiss and growl befitting a Bengal tiger.
When I got her home she ran under the bed. That evening I coaxed her out and picked her up, intending to introduce her to her dish in the kitchen. I got all of two steps when she hissed and twisted out of my grip. “Ooh, you’re such a brat,” I hissed back. Thus, the name.
I became so obsessed with my little Obadoodle that I actually almost stayed home on Friday nights lest she be alone. You notice I said almost. I didn’t but it ruined my fun, knowing she was home alone. What she needed was a friend to hang out with.
I went to the Yonkers Animal Shelter in search of a dainty female kitten and came home with a strapping six month old muscular male. I was passing a cage when a paw reached out and grabbed my sleeve. Imploring me from the cage were the most beautiful green eyes rivaled only by the beautiful black fur surrounding them, shinier than the black patent leather shoes I wore to church when I was so little.
Job E Cat, also known as Joby Cat, Jobinski, Binsk, and Joby Cat the Wonder Dog was a man‘s cat, as in a man’s man. He was rough and ready and loved to wrestle and play soccer, both taught to him by an old boyfriend from England. Soccer consisted of the Englishman soccer kicking a ball of aluminum foil with that odd ankle twist soccer player’s use, and Joby returning it with his own version of a soccer kick, which, now that I think of it, was probably more of a hockey stick move. Back and forth the foil ball would go with the two of them scrambling the entire length of the long living room – until I’d have to put an end to the game. Dogs pant. Cats shouldn’t.
His full name was Job E Cat and that stems from the patience he showed upon meeting her, for she didn’t tone down her obnoxiousness in the least, even though he was twice her size. She hissed and growled and left the room, then came back and hissed and growled some more.
I commented “He has the patience of Job.”
The patience was short-lived however. When it wore off he tried to beat the you-know-what out of her whenever he could. My plan worked – Brat may have hated Joby but she was never lonely.
Joby loved everybody but Brat never let anyone near her …until one evening when I was getting ready to go out. My date had arrived and I went into my bedroom to get something or other and returned to find him leaning over a chair, talking to someone. This was a chair on which Brat had been sitting.
“What are you doing?” I asked, incredulously.
“Petting your cat.” He said. And there she was purring and craning her neck for more.
That was the best character recommendation anyone could give. I married that young man and we all moved to California.
In California Brat abd Joby devised a sharing scheme – divvying up the rooms in the house and agreeing to share the yard.
Brat lived to be 14 years, 3 months and Joby died the one year later. He was one month shy of 15.
Do you think it was mean of me to sentence them to eternity togetherness?
Fremont, my California Cat, also known as Huge Biggie. What can I say about Fremont – my 23 pound guardian, the cat for whom I bought The House of Mars before it was The House of Mars? That would have to wait for Marcel and Marceau, the original Martians. But then you’ve read all about Fremont in earlier posts, and if you haven’t I invite you to. Fremont lived to be eleven
And I’ve also written about Niles, sweet gentle Niles. The black and white kitten who grew to be a slightly smaller version of Fremont, a gentler version of Fremont. Fremont recognized his gentleness and took it upon himself to watch over his little Niles. Niles survived life without Fremont for only a year. succumbing to the same cancer as Fremont.
Only the good die young.
And so Marcos joins the beloved crew. When his headstone is ready, it will say “Marcos, Handsome Hunk of Dog. He was, don’t you think?
One of the many articles I read in aftermath of last week’s tragedy in Colorado posed the question
“Are the days when we can just walk up to a movie complex, buy a ticket, and go to our seats without passing through any security nearing an end.”
The author went on to say probably not if we consider the measures taken following Columbine serve as a gauge. Some schools went so far as to install metal detectors but the passing of thirteen years dulled the vigilance and all that remains are lock-down drills which vary from school to school.
Just what is a lock-down drill?
At a couple of school in the Denver area, when the alarm bell rings students close the doors of their classrooms, draw the blinds, and cover any glass door-panes with black construction paper, then proceed to the farthest corner to hunker down until the all-clear bell. Reading about it sent chills down my spine. But then I have a history with drills.
Air raid drills
The word drill, when partnered with Air Raid, is a nightmare of a memory. It the mid -50’s , (OK, the early 50’s ). The Korean War occupied the nightly news. Film clips of planes and soldiers filled our 10” TV screen,
and President Eisenhower gave speeches about the evil Russians and bombs.
The Cold War was just starting to brew (freeze?) And I was an impressionable six-year-old .Air raid drills were a regular part of the school year. The bell in the hall would ring and Sister Anita would announce “Air Raid Drill. Get under your desks.” Now, from my advanced adult status, I ask you –
What good would getting under your tiny wooden first grade desk do?
Mark the spot where your tiny body would be found in the rubble of bricks?
But back then I’d think
Oh no, Daddy’s at work? What’s going to happen to him. And Mommy and my new baby brother, I’m never going to see them again.
if a plane just happened to be flying overhead…… well, I was a mess, then.
didn’t bother me back then. After all, you could see there was no smoke. However when I was on the other side of the desk (as we teacher types refer to our profession), fire drills, if not the bane of my existence, came very close
First off, I had no warning when one would occur but when it did you could bet it would be one of those rare and precious moments when I had the rapt attention of every one of my Kindergarteners, that glorious teachable moment I’d been striving toward all year. The alarm would sound and those still little forms would erupt in a frenzy, filled with cries of “Fire Drill! Fire drill!”
I’d designate my most dependable student to lead the line and follow the preceding class down the steps to the street. I’d bring up the rear, close the door behind me, start down the stairs and remember. Oh @#!%!! the attendance book! This called for a rapid about-face to retrieve it from my desk.
You see, God forbid it’s the real thing, the teacher must take attendance when the class is in a safe place, for you must account for each child, and in the confusion and panic you would not want to go searching for a student who was absent that day. I’m not sure if it’s law but I’ve taught in New York and California and the practice was mandatory in both states.
Speaking of California, there we had …..
Earthquake Drills .
Also called Duck and Cover, these drills were identical to the dreaded air raid drills of my own early days. While living in California in 1989 I experienced the famous Loma Prieta earthquake. Baseball fans remember it interrupted the World Series. The 7.1 quake resulted in the collapse of a freeway, toppled chimneys, and houses destroyed when they slid off their foundations. Tragically, a couple of people lost their lives.
The quake also changed the drill procedure, and even its name. Luckily enough it occurred at 5:04 PM, after most schools were closed. But college and Adult Ed classes were in session so the students ducked under their desks and covered their heads with their arms to wait out the shaking which seemed like it was never going to end. But when it was finally over and the all clear call was made, they were no longer under their desks. The temblor’s vibrations had set the desks skittering away.
And so Duck and Cover Drills became part of history. The alarm still sounds and students still duck but they don’t cover. They hold on to the desk legs to keep their desk from “walking away. The edited drill is now called….
Duck, Cover, and Hold
So there you have it – so many drills, and not a single hole!
I said Adios to my beloved Truckito, today. For ten years I never had to worry about getting anything home – lawn mowers, power washers, furniture, peat moss, he could handle it. He faced wintry weather with sure-footed confidence. No matter how much snow awaited on the driveway from hell, his sturdy four wheels cut through it like a knife through butter. But he’d developed very expensive ills and no matter how much my heart tried to finagle my head, I just couldn’t see spending $4,000 on repairs.
I find comfort in imagining his soul going on to that great driveway in the sky where he’ll be initiated into the Fraternal Order of Beloved Cars Virginia Used to Drive. And since it is my fantasy, I’ll go with him to make the introductions.
Truckito, 2002 Nissan Frontier
Years of Service” – December 30, 2002 – May 1, 2012
FOOBCVUTD is very exclusive. It has but three members. Ziegfried is the grand poobah. After graduation, my dad gave me the $330 left over from the money he’d saved for my college education. I promptly handed it over to Avoxe Volkswagen of the Bronx as a down-payment.
Ziegfried, 1969 Volkswagen Bug
Years of service: September 1968 – May 1977.
Zig: “Hello Truckito, I taught V all she knows about driving”
That’s not true. I’d been driving my dad’s cars since I was seventeen.
Zig: “Automatic, not stick.”
I took a lesson before I picked you up.
Z: “One lesson and it didn’t include driving on hills. Truckito, the only way home was up E.236th Street. Ever been to San Francisco? Seen those hills? That’s what E.236 Street is like.
“When we got to the first light, just my luck, it turned red, and when it turned green, she was so slow getting her foot to my gas pedal I had to roll back. Then she stomped on my brake and when she tried to go forward again, I had to stall. Of course I rolled back some more. Well, to make a long ugly story short but not pretty, she soon had a whole line of cars rolling back behind me. “
That was one day. We went on to have good times; summers at the Jersey Shore, Skiing in Vermont. We even mastered driving in the snow.
Zig: “Mastered!? Mastered?! Define mastered. How many times did you crash me in Vermont?”
I had two accidents.
Zig:” And which one caused me to develop tremors in my left wheel? Tremors you ignored until my wheel fell off?”
That was the first one. The second one wasn’t in Vermont, it was in upstate NY. And it only did a bit of cosmetic damage.
Zig: “Speaking of cosmetics, all my friends had flower decals and peace signs, you had to cover me with snowflakes.”
Ah, the days of flower power. Everyone had flowers. Snowflakes were different. And you did have a peace symbol – in the back window.
Zig: Now that I look back, those days were fun. But after you moved into your own apartment , all your money went for rent. I only went to work and to the city on Friday nights. Bo-r-r-ring
That speeding caper you pulled on the Throg’s Neck Bridge, was that to relieve your boredom?
Zig: “What speeding caper?”
I was coming back from Queens and the next thing I knew you were going 80 miles an hour. Luckily it was a Sunday night with light traffic. I almost had to stand up on the brake to stop at the toll booth. And then you shot out of there like a cannonball. I pulled off at the first exit and called AAA . But of course when they got there, you purred like a kitten.
Truckito, I never quite trusted Ziggy after that. And when he refused to start anytime I parked him on a hill, I took him to my mechanic. Pat found gas in his oil, oil in his gas, and no compression. He shut Zig down to two cylinders and wouldn’t take any money for his time, as long as I promised never bring him back.
And now I’d like you to meet
Screaming Yellow Zonker, 1977 Datsun B210 Hatchback
Years of Service, May 1977 – October, 1989
Zonk: “ Hi Truckito, I didn’t have any problems with her driving skills but she tended to abandon me from time to time.”
I never abandoned you.
Zonk: “You left me out to be stolen on Bronx River Rd
I’d been parking Ziggy out there and never had a problem.
Zonk: “Ziggy wasn’t my sunny shade of yellow.”
I still get mad when I think of that night, Truckito. The police were there, hiding in the bushes, waiting for thieves to come along and this was their lucky night. They watched the two guys pry the passenger side lock out of the door, leaving a jagged hole in three-week old Zonker. Then they waited until they’d popped the ignition out of the steering column. They didn’t swoop in until the car moved because if they’d stopped them after punching the hole they’d only have a breaking and entering case but when they moved the car, they had a genuine auto theft collar. One of the cops had to teach me to hotwire the car so I could get it to a body shop.
Zonk: “I guess you wanted to make it up to me because after that you got me my very own parking space behind the building
Yeah, that added $15 a month to my rent.
“But then the following winter you abandoned me ….in Queens…in a blizzard.”
Why do I feel like I’m on trial here? Okay, no contest. I plead youth and romanticism.
Zonk, “No, plead stupidity. Truckito, she let some guy she was dating, talk her into driving to his place in Queens, this on a day every weather man in the Tri-State area was ecstatic about the coming blizzard of the decade.”
I admitted it was a dumb move. The whole city was paralyzed. I waited a day but Queens being Queens, I figured it would days before the street was plowed. I had work and the cats were home in Yonkers so I took a gazillion subways home , and the following weekend I took a gazillion subways back to get you.
Zonk: “Then you abandoned me again, the very next week.
Was it my fault the super plowed the parking lot, and piled all the snow in your space while you were in Queens
Well maybe, but where else was I to park you when I couldn’t find a spot on the street? It was a Friday night and very late. The supermarket lot was my only choice.
Zonker, “Didn’t you see the sign “Cars left overnight will be towed” ?
I thought it was just a warning. But don’t forget, I paid a lot to get you back – The ticket, the towing fee, the storage charge, the cab fare to the impound lot!
Zonker: “Then I got towed again. But that was OK that time was fun.”
Truckito, When I got married and moved to California, my husband’s company paid to have Zonker shipped on a transport truck.
Zonk: “When I got there, I was her guinea pig.”
I’d have thought you’d have been grateful to get tender loving care.
You see, Truckito, my husband was talented at restoring cars and rebuilding engines. So I learned to change oil, lube, flush radiators, rotate tires. But I couldn’t fix everything.
Zonk: “No, she abandoned me when I had a nervous breakdown.”
Why do you keep saying I abandoned you. We were together for 12 years and five months. And you started it, revving your engine to frightening proportions when I stopped at lights.
Zonk. “I only did it a few times.”
But not for the mechanic or my husband.
Then there was your windshield wiper stunt. I had to drive all the way home from work, across San Jose in a downpour, trying to make out the road through cascading sheets of rain because your windshield wipers wouldn’t work
Zonk – But you did good, we got home safe
I did good! Was that why you started flashing your lights when we finally reached our street. Not the flashers, the head lights! And when I pulled into the driveway and you started honking your horn on and off, on and off. Were you clapping for me?
Zonk, “I never did it again.”
No, Truckito he didn’t but I couldn’t trust him anymore.”
Next we have
My Red Car, 1990 Nissan 240SX
Years of service October 1989 – August 2004,
This car was too beautiful and sophisticated to have a nick name. I had just gotten divorced and his sun-roof, and sleek lines were just what a Bay Area single needed. We had five fantastic care-free years until family matters called me home. I drove my red car home to look for an apartment for me and Fremont. (Regular readers of this blog have already met My Red Car in a previous post.
Red car: ”Unlike my lodge brothers I have nothing ill to say of Virginia, or her driving. ”
See, Truckito , I told you My Red Car had class.
My Red Car: “Our life together did have a rough start, though. Ha-ha. No pun intended.”
Oh my! I’d forgotten that. I picked you up from the dealer on a Saturday, October 1, and on Tuesday, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. All I could think as the house rattled and creaked was oh no, my three-day old car is outside. But luckily, no damage.
My Red Car: “I wasn’t quite so lucky at the end of my life, though.”
Grr! Nearly fifteen years of trouble-free loyalty and you got rear-ended – in a parking lot- by an old lady. And although I could have lived with your caved- in bumper and slightly dented trunk, the insurance adjuster couldn’t see past your age and the 176,000 miles on your odometer. His verdict? Totaled. I was going to protest it but he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, $4,000. I was greedy, I’m sorry.
Zonk: “That’s even worse than abandonment! She sold you down the river!”
Zig: “And you hadn’t done anything.”
My Red Car:“Yes, it was sad. But this isn’t about the three of us, Z & Z it’s about welcoming my old friend, Truckito. “
You and Truckito were driveway mates! That totally slipped my mind.
Ziggy: “They were?”
Zonker. “Red, how come you never told us?”
My Red Car: “I was a rear wheel drive sports car, not the best car for NY snowstorms And although I survived two blizzards, there came that evening rush- hour I negotiated that long sloping curve on the Taconic Parkway at a forty-five degree angle .
In perfect control, Ziggy! ……Go on, My Red Car, sorry for interrupting.
My Red Car: ” It was time for me to semi-retire. Truckito was my relief and for the next two add a half years, we shared driving and hung out at the top of the driveway from hell.”
It’s time for me to go, Truckito. I feel a bit better knowing you have a friend.
Ziggy: “She probably has a date with a new car!”
Ziggy! You too, Zonker, be nice to Truckito. Unlike some members of FOOBCVUTD he never gave me an ounce of trouble.”
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.”