Thursday, September 29, 2011

Every House Should Have a Cat

I wish I had as much fun anywhere as my cat has with a paper grocery bag left on the kitchen floor.
It's like an instant party for that boy.

Everyone knows I love dogs, and that I have dogs, since they frequently accompany us, and are often famous on the internet for wearing silly costumes or posing in front of famous locations.
But what many don't realize is I am a cat person as well. In fact, during the rare time when there was no cat in our house, things seem overloaded with canine energy. We need a feline to balance things out. This may be my Libra Moon talking, all balancey and stuff, but I do know a house is best when there are both cats and dogs inside.

very first group photo, June 7th 2011

I never had a cat as a kid. We were proudly, chauvanistically "dog people". My mom even had a silly book, popular in the '80s called "101 Uses for a Dead Cat." Though we thought it was funny at the time, in retrospect it seems a bit remarkable that such a thing was a comedic hit.  We didn't "get" cats. The only one we knew was this semi-feral tom named "Morris", who belonged to our neighbor. He prowled the woods along the railroad tracks looking for battles. He always looked like a raggedy mess, all torn up, bloody, missing pieces.
"Mo-o-o-o-o-ooom! Morris sprayed in my room!", I remember my friend Theresa yelling on more than one occasion. "What does that mean?", I asked.
"He pissed all over my wall!/bed/ garbage can/etc.!", she explained.
Dogs were gross in their own ways, rolling in and eating filthy things... but the cat pissing on my friend's belongings seemed much worse than anything the dogs ever did. Somehow more wild and dangerous. Claiming people as their territory.

As I got older, I knew cats, and had cat friends. But never had my own cat.
I worked at a garden center in college that had a mascot named Jack. Good ol' One-eyed Jack, Really he only had one eye. One was stitched shut and the fur grew right over it like there had never been an eye there at all. He was still a great mouser, despite sometimes losing his prey right in front of his face. Jack was a great animal. Sandy colored, and short-haired and stripey-ish. I dunno, my memory of his appearance has faded from lack of a photograph. I wonder what ever became of Jack. I went back to college and that cat probably got old and faded away. Or hit by a car on bustling Dempster.
My Mom got a big cream colored Persian cat named Alex sometime in the early 1990s. She trepidatiously offered to take it, as it belonged to her boss' family who had a new baby, or something, and needed to find a new home for the cat. Allergies or something. Surprising to us, she brought home this cat, this freaky long-haired exotic cat, with big golden eyes. He spent the first hours hiding under the basement stairs. Alex turned out to be a real gem of a pet, peacefully co-existing with our Scottie, MacDuff, in his final years, and living on into the 21st century as a companion to my Mom, and an inspiration for great photography. I was mostly gone, away from home at school, but my brother and Alex became pals. Apparently, Alex liked to be spun around by his tail. He was crazy.

We first became cat people in the year 1998, when we lived in Jerome, Arizona. A neighborhood cat named Raoul adopted us as his new family. Irritated by a batch of new kittens infiltrating his house up the street, he set off to find a new home. He ended up on our front porch. Wild, burly, black with white socks and chin, Raoul was handsome and loud-mouthed. He stood on our porch and meowed his fool head off.
At first we dumped Dixie-cups of water on him in an effort to chase him away. But he was steadfast and did not give up. Then we started to enjoy him being there serenading us, waiting for us to get home from work. We started looking for him and calling for him, "Ra-oooooooooooooooooo-oul! Ra-oooooooooooulie Boo-Boo-la!"
He liked for us to pick burrs out of his fur, and patch up his battle wounds. One time he had a flap of loose skin on his head, like a toupe. We called it his "flip top head" and doctored it with ointment until it was healed and reattached. He'd go on strolls around town with us, following us to the old high school, or down to a secret waterfall. Raoul would disappear on "walk-about" now and again, causing us much worry until his return, always looking a bit haunted. 

striped cat

Raoul met his end on the freshly paved Highway 89A, a December night in the year 2000.
Finding his body on the road that cold morning killed something in us too. We buried Raoul in a grave down by the Verde River that we still pay respects to anytime we're near it.

autumn forest clarkdale

Raoul's death actually propelled us towards leaving Jerome, and taking a leap into adulthood by signing up for a mortgage on a house in neighboring Clarkdale.

Soon after, Clyde arrived in our lives. The Jerome Humane Society staff has seen our Raoul tribute posters stapled aroud town, and thought we might be special enough to take on this kooky one-year old cat who'd become a handful for the elderly lady taking care of him. He was living in Cottonwood's Verde Villages, scrapping with wild critters. Something had nearly taken his tail clean off. The vet stitched it back on, and soon after, Clyde was our cat. Handsome and elegant, blue eyed, creamy colored, Clyde was a "flame point siamese mix" per the vet. He was very chatty, due to his siamese blood, and very friendly to everyone. He was not of the "hide under the bed" variety when guests came over. If there were visitors at the house, Clyde would stroll right out to the middle of the room, and flop over on his side as if to say, "Okay. You may commence to petting me now."

flat on his back

clyde and honey boy

Clyde ushered in the Era of the Dog at our house, treating a chihuahua puppy named Floyd as if he were his very own little project. He could have easily eaten the tiny little rodent-sized dog, and probably fought every natural urge to do so.

3 favorite pets

Clyde was the best cat ever. He was gentle and patient and never clawed the furniture (well, almost never). He liked riding in the car. He'd tolerate being walked on a leash. He was friendly and playful with the dogs. Except for our buddy Tim's miniature pinscher, Harrison, who was always his nemesis in the most amusing way. Harrison never was able to crack Clyde's code.

It was 10 years, almost to the day he first arrived, that Clyde got very quickly fatally ill and died.

Almost 11, he quit eating. He stopped grooming himself. He quit jumping on our bed at night, and most notably, he was quiet. This noisy loud mouth cat who is so vocal we frequently have to holler at him "Shuddup, cat!" was suddenly stone silent. We took him to the vet hoping he was merely constipated with hairballs or something simple. Turned out to not be simple at all. He was going into kidney failure from something called Polycystic Kidney Disease. It's genetic, common to "exotic"  (Siamese, Persian, Himalayan) cats, and something he's had since he was a baby. There is no cure, no treatment, and there's nothing we could have done to change his trajectory. He was born with his kidneys full of tiny cysts.As he got older, the cysts grew and began to crowd out the good tissue, and impair kidney function.

The vet said he had no idea how sick he is, and still was remarkably responsive and social considering the toxins building up in his blood. They sent us home with some special food which is easier on the kidneys, and bags of fluids, tubes and needles so we could subcutaneously flush his system this week (inserting fat needle between the loose skin between his shoulder blades--it was a bit daunting) and perhaps bring his crazy blood test numbers back to something more level. The prognosis was grim. Kidney failure is the most frequent killer of cats, and this disease in particular was also what killed my Mom's Persian, Alex.

"That's the thing about pets. They only last 10 years or so...But it's worth it."- Chad sobbed as we lay in bed, crying and trying to sleep. I certainly never thought my cat would die at age 11. An indoor cat, fed an organic meat-based diet, given dental care, vaccinations and filtered water, and everything they say a good pet owner should give...I thought he'd live to a ripe old 17. This makes me question my notions about everything. We're all falling apart. The rug can be pulled out from under us at any moment. No one knows the future. We must live every day like it's our last. I said, "When Raoul was hit by a car it was so sudden when we found his body in the road. I was buried in grief. Now, even though Clyde is still alive, I've already started mourning his death. We have time to say a proper goodbye. And I guess that is a good thing." Sobs took over my chest, making me feel hollow inside.

clyde at Verde River Greenway

We took Clyde on adventures to the river. We let him bask in the sunshine of the yard, hiding in the tall grass and rubbing his whiskers in the yucca. We cleaned his fur with a wet cloth, like he was a kitten and we were his mother. We fed him liquified food from a baby bottle.

In the end, on a sunny March afternoon, Clyde took his last breath in our front yard. He now lies beneath the eucalyptus tree in a grave Chad spent all day digging. Buiried with him: sea shells, favorite toys, locks of all of our hair, and a Polaroid photo of Floyd and Ivan.

 A couple of months after Clyde died, I thought it was time to return some feline energy to the house.
The dogs seemed positively lost without a cat bossing them around.
Then this guy shows up. Crazy kitten, getting into everyone's business. We named him Ned.

crazy cat on my leg

Born the first week of April 2011. We first saw these three tiny kittens at the Verde Valley Humane Society sometime in May. They'd been abandoned outside of Olsen's Grain on April 21st, and had spent most of their lives at the pound. One kitten was our favorite right away. Chad called him "Mr Personality." We returned a second time with Floyd to let him pick his favorite kitten, and he picked the same one as us. We named the kitten Ned.

7-11 choco Ned

I've never had a kitten before. All of our cats came to us as adults. Kittens are nuts! So full of life! Chasing every strange shape and sound. My friend Heather says kittens are "dumb, and full of the energy of the sun". The first few days at home with the dogs were rough, and had me in tears. The dogs, well versed in life with a cat, showed immediate interest in Ned, but the kitten, knowing nothing about dogs, hissed and spit at them, stirring them into an angry lather.

A few days passed, and they all started to settle down, grow less afraid, and more content. Soon things were peaceful. Perfect. Floyd doesn't have much patience with the cat's shenanigans, but Ned knows not to bother him so much. He's got Ivan, who is always willing to wrestle. We are convinced Ned is Ivan's pet, just as Floyd belonged to Clyde.

red box ivan ned2

Ned follows me constantly, weaving in and out of my legs, jumping into any drawer or door I open, attacking my belt as I put it on, jumping on the bathroom sink to get a closer look as I brush my teeth, attacking any shadow or wayward scrap of fuzz or paper, playing "peek-a-boo" behind the blankets of our rumpled morning bed. He is nuts! But in all the best ways. He always wants to be where we are, and has learned to line up for treats along with the dogs when they're getting their evening biscuits. Today he was draped over Ivan's neck like a feather boa. What a koo koo bird.

May Neddy be blessed with a long happy life, healthy kidneys and best buddies. I do think Clyde would approve.

relaxed gato

Friday, September 23, 2011

Go Postal: The USPS Evolves for the 21st Century

Go Postal:
The USPS Evolves for the 21st Century
Ellen Jo Roberts
October Outs 2011
The Noise

Mr. Zip! circa 1961

Fax. Fed-Ex. Anthrax. E-mail. Internet. Automatic Bill Payments. Over the past 20 years, our beloved and beleaguered United States Postal Service has struggled to keep pace in a world of ever more instant information. In 1861, the Pony Express delivered Lincoln’s inaugural address to California; just seven days on horseback to Sacramento from railroad’s end in Missouri. At the time, it was considered record breaking, remarkable, lightning quick. 150 years later, news of similar importance is delivered to us almost before it even happens, in real time via television, smart phones and Twitter.

1964 Postal Truck. Photo courtesy USPS

I know I am an analog girl living in a digital world, caught in a dreamland where everything is less instant and somehow more enduring. My cameras all shoot film. I read books, make mix tapes, listen to vinyl and the radio. I foolishly lament the demise of the telegram. I am a fan of handwriting, which they barely teach in school anymore.. And I get excited about mail. I subscribe to magazines. Sending and receiving post cards and hand-written letters from faraway friends and family is a regular occurrence, and far better than a Facebook wall post any day. The digital and the instant are oft forgotten as soon as they arrive, contributing to our insatiability for the constant flow of more. A card in the hand may be savored, revisited, treasured. Mail archives fill a file cabinet in my closet: artistic envelopes, picture perfect postcards, hand written memories forever captured at their peak ripeness, gorgeous stamps cancelled with dates and locations of various eras and past lives. It’s still remarkable the journey an envelope can make for a mere 44 cents, and the faith we have in its arrival as we feed it into the mouth of a big blue metal box.

In Arizona’s Verde Valley, each zip code is serviced by its own singular Post Office. Some of the area’s smaller communities, like Jerome and most of Clarkdale, do not receive home delivered mail. Instead, the town’s Post Office building serves as a central delivery location, with residents each assigned a P.O. Box for no charge. Jerome’s ancient P.O. Boxes are dialed open by alphabetical letters. With a decrease of nearly 30% in mail volume since the 20th century, the USPS continuously strives towards increased productivity, and “facility consolidation” is a term bandied about frequently. A euphemism for closure, facility consolidation is a threat to small town post offices nationwide, including my own.

clarkdale post office, 86324

The Clarkdale Post Office is staffed by hardy folks; smiling, friendly and proficient. The clerks are genuinely interested in the lives of their patrons, and we too are equally fond of them. They know everyone in town by name, and for this reason packages not addressed quite correctly will still always reach their intended recipient. The joys of small town life. You may apply for a passport, get a money order, purchase postage and send your envelopes and packages out fast or slow. Checking the mail is also a chance to see, and be seen by, your neighbors and catch up on local news. Always bustling with activity, the Post Office is an important element of Clarkdale’s identity. For a vintage company town, proud of its interesting history, losing the Post Office would be a huge morale buster, and great backwards blow to our identity on the map. Earlier this year, alarming rumors swirled that the Clarkdale Post Office was on the short list for closure. With no UPS Store, nor even a Fed-Ex drop box, our Post Office is our only method of exit from town. I sent several letters to local politicians, as well as to the Post Master General in Washington D.C., asking what we citizens could do to save our Post Office. Get signatures on a petition? Should I start a rally? Chain myself to the building? We would gladly pay a yearly fee for our (free) P.O. Box if it would assist in keeping the 86324 open for business. I received a form letter back from Washington, explaining that in order to be more efficient Post Offices nationwide were under consideration for consolidation, and though the Clarkdale Post Office was not slated for closure at this time, it could be reconsidered in the future.

our washer and dryer broke on the same day

“I can’t imagine life in small towns without the Post Office,” says Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, “The Post Office is weaved into the tapestry of life in every small town. At a recent meeting, we were discussing public notices, and one Northern Arizona community said they don’t even have a local newspaper in which to post notices, but if public notices were posted at the local post office, everyone in town would see them. I hope there is some way we can economically and efficiently continue to keep Post Offices in small communities.”
Despite what you might think, our tax dollars do not support the Postal Service, and haven’t since the 1980s.  In the words of the USPS, “A self-supporting government enterprise, the U.S. Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation, 150 million residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. With 32,000 retail locations and the most frequently visited website in the federal government,, the Postal Service has annual revenue of more than $67 billion and delivers nearly 40 percent of the world's mail. If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 29th in the 2010 Fortune 500.”

The Postal Service is the nation’s second largest civilian employer, second only to Wal-Mart.
With the largest retail network in the United States, it has the world’s largest civilian fleet of vehicles.
Of these, more than 44,000 are alternative-fuel capable, operating with electricity, ethanol, compressed natural gas, liquid propane gas and bio-diesel. With the U.S. Department of Energy, the USPS is currently working on prototype electric vehicles, and testing hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles.

In addition to automobiles, mail is also delivered via plane, train, boat, ferry, helicopter, hovercraft, subway and snowmobile. The mule also provides very specialized mail service in Arizona. Every animal in the mule train carries about 130 pounds of mail, food and supplies down the eight mile trail into the Havasupai Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, averaging 41,000 pounds per week! Of course in addition to all of these methods, mail is also delivered in a much more common (and very green) manner: on bicycle and by foot.  And regardless of delivery location, everyone pays the same and equal postage.

Solar-powered Post Office facilities dot the nation, from sea to shining sea, from California to Rhode Island. New buildings are being constructed, and older ones are being renovated, with the environment in mind, using green features like natural lighting, thermal windows, recycled fiberglass insulation, solar systems, rainwater harvest, vegetated roofs and native species utilized in landscaping. Sustainable features like high efficiency lighting/heating/cooling, recycled building materials, low water use fixtures and low-volatile organic compound materials combined with detailed energy audits aim towards the agency’s objective of a 30% reduction in energy consumption by 2015. They’ve already achieved a 24% reduction.

1923 Mail Carrier © USPS

“We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever.” This is the unofficial creed of the United States Post Office, corrupted from a translation of the Greek “Herodotus' Histories”, circa 440 B.C. Carrying mail is a heavy responsibility, literally and figuratively. Mail is federally protected and tampering with it and any of its containers is a federal offense, as is sending fraudulent materials. Through rain, heat, gloom of night and winds of change, your faithful mail carrier completes the appointed rounds.

Over the years, even famous folk have paid their dues handling mail. Bing Crosby, Charles Bukowski and Sherman Hemsley all spent time as postal clerks. Rock Hudson and Walt Disney were both mail carriers. Hotel magnate, great grandfather of Paris Hilton, and one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s many husbands, Conrad Hilton was Postmaster General of San Antonio, New Mexico. Future presidents Harry S. Truman and Abraham Lincoln were both Postmaster Generals at one time, of Grandview, Missouri and New Salem, Illinois, respectively. The Postmaster position was once rather politically significant.
          On July 26, 1775, members of the Second Continental Congress decreed "that a Postmaster General be appointed for the United States, who shall hold his office at Philadelphia, and shall be allowed a salary of 1,000 dollars per annum.” That first Post Master General was Benjamin Franklin, whose guidance built a system that bound the new nation together, supported the growth of new commerce, and perhaps most importantly, shared information and a free flow of ideas so crucial in our developing country. Recognizing the agency’s importance to the nation, from 1792 until 1971 the Postmaster General of the United States was part of the Presidents Cabinet, and last in line of succession to the presidency.

The Post Office is also featured prominently in our pop culture, with rock ‘n roll songs pleading please to Mr. Postman, getting emotional that baby wrote me a letter, and angry girlfriends sending things back marked “return to sender.”
The Post Office is all about anticipation, and promises of love arriving in a stamped envelope. Thought there has never been a TV sitcom devoted to the life of a mail carrier, there have been plenty of notable post office characters over the years, like the dreaded “Newman!” on “Seinfeld”. I grew up with that guy McFeely from “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”, Reba the Mail Lady on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” and that loveable know-it-all, Cliff Clavin from the long-running “Cheers”.

“Ours is a proud heritage built on a simple yet profound mission: Connect every American, every door, every business, everywhere through the simple act of delivering mail. This idea of universal service is at the heart of a $900 billion industry that drives commerce, plays an integral part of every American community and remains the greatest value of any post in the world
.” –United States Post Office

Support your small town Post Office. Subscribe to a magazine. Pay the extra $1.00 for Priority Mail. Send charming postcards and letters to your people near and far. Not just for holidays, but for no reason at all. Go Postal.

Ellen Jo Roberts lives in a historic brick bungalow with Chad, Floyd, Ivan and Ned. Read all about it at
Send her a postcard at PO Box 832, Clarkdale AZ 86324.

Supplemental Photo Opinion Sidebar...

PHOTO OPINION: How would the closure of your local post office affect your life?

Rick Lovelace, Resident of Jerome, AZ.:
You can’t close that Post Office! Everyone’s gonna say that. It would drastically affect my life. I’d have to go all the way down the hill, using lots of gas and energy and whatnot to get my mail.”

rick lovelace of jerome az

David Wilder, Business owner in Jerome, AZ.:
“They can’t close the Post Office. We don’t get street delivery, so by federal law, I believe they can’t. That would leave 450 people without an address.”

david wilder- jerome arizona business owner

Birgitta Lapides, Resident of Cottonwood, AZ:
“In Sweden, the Post Office now is a supermarket. They have to have, as part of the supermarket, a Post Office. People in Sweden are very sheepish and they don’t complain. If the Cottonwood Post Office closed I think it will be bad. I don’t see how Fry’s, Safeway or Basha’s would act as a Post Office.”

birgitta lapides of cottonwood az