I’m not sure how it happened.
But, somewhere between ending my career as a steely-eyed Special Forces sergeant, and beginning a career in writing, I seem to have turned into Erma Bombeck.
Maybe it’s the wife and kids — you know: family life. Our cats and kittens definitely figure in too. As does the cigar store where I work part-time, the kids in my Sunday school class, and my battle to coerce our front yard into growing grass instead of baked dirt. Each seems to conspire with the others, to beat me into the shape of a male-version Erma Bombeck. (Well, assuming ol’ Erma smoked large cigars, wore a beard and — If you can believe what my wife says about me! — scratched her crotch a lot.)
|The late, great Erma Bombeck|
Take last night, for instance.
Well . . . actually, first I’ll have to explain about the “Cat Bathroom.”
We have three grown cats and two kittens in the house. Two of the grown cats are Frisky, my daughter’s cat, and James Bond Jr., my son’s cat. Frisky and James are sisters (that’s right—James Bond is a female cat). The other adult cat, a male named Sandman, is Frisky’s son from a previous litter, while the two kittens (male and female each) are the last hold-outs from her most recent litter.
Now . . . long ago, James Bond noticed that humans used the bathroom for certain non-washing functions. Consequently, she tried to follow suit. Since two attempts at using the toilet ended up getting her wet, she shifted fire and started doing her business in the bathtub. Not something we welcomed. Our house has three bathrooms in it, however. So, we learned to keep the doors to the master bath and hallway bathroom closed at all times, while leaving the door to the small half-bath at the back of the house wide open.
Since this postage stamp sized bathroom has only a sink and commode, we closed the commode lid and added a cat box — and James was happy; he could do his business in a bathroom, just like a human, but didn’t have to chance falling into the toilet. After some discussion with my wife, I agreed (my wife claims “agreed” should be amended to “grudgingly admitted”) that balancing the sandbox atop the toilet was probably tantamount to tempting fate. Thus, the sandbox wound up on the floor.
James did not resent this.
The two new kittens have changed the dynamics of the cats’ ablution practices, however. And, this, James clearly does resent.
The two adult sister cats haven’t been getting along very well since Frisky started having kittens. The kittens don’t seem to realize this, however, and they keep trying to play with their aunt – which makes her hiss and often earns the nearest kitten a set of boxed ears.
This, of course, does not deter the kittens.
Further, in their youthful exuberance, they evidently decided that Aunt James’ toilet setup was really cool. Consequently, they tended to do their business in her box. After a lot of cat screaming, and much struggle, and some quite ridiculous carting of kittens from James’ cat box, down the short hall to the utility room, where they could use Frisky’s much larger box, we finally surrendered to nature and installed additional boxes in what has now come to be called “The Cat Bathroom.”
While James the dowager duchess still prefers to perform her daily constitutionals in private, the kittens also use the Cat Bathroom — when their aunt isn’t looking. (Trust me: you need to know this.)
Steer Manure Between The Dust
So, last night, my 9-year-old son, Quentin, and I were spreading steer manure across the front lawn because the city would really like to see some grass out there.
In fact, the city wrote me a letter to that effect, which I found most depressing, because — until my mom started going downhill, and I had to spend so much time at my parents’ house (now my dad’s house) — I’d actually had a pretty nice lawn going. All the bald spots were filled in, and nary a weed dared raise its head. The dark green grass was thick, soft against the bottoms of bare feet, and the trunk of our orange tree was painted bright white.
Now, however, the city letter reminded me that “…bare dirt is not considered desert landscaping in the city of Scottsdale.” I know this fact, of course, and have never mentioned to city officials that — though I grew up here in the Sonoran Desert, and have hiked and camped throughout untold miles of its most remote terrain — I have never in my travels crossed a single patch of natural desert in which the scorched ground was covered with plastic sheeting beneath a thin layer of gravel (this being the city’s definition of “desert landscaping”). Nope! Not gonna mention it!
So . . . Since Scott’s Turf Builder, grass seed and several 97¢ bags of steer manure are cheaper than plastic sheets and tons of gravel: Last night, my son and I were spreading steer manure across the lawn, between dust storms that blew in from the desert south of us.
These dust storms, sometimes followed by rain, are blown up by the Monsoons, created when seasonal wind patterns change, which drags cool moist air across the hot desert. The result is high wind, high humidity (in desert terms), and often some flash flooding. And — just a note! — though I was rated at an 8th Grade level in reading, writing and speaking Modern Standard Arabic, as well as the Egyptian Dialect, on multiple occasions in the past, I have yet to meet a native English speaker who calls our local dust storms “Haboobs” (which, technically, I believe, should probably be more correctly transliterated as: “Hibub”) — with the exception of newscasters who’ve never seen a dust storm before, and those who garner their vocabulary from such inexperienced sources. In fact, I asked one of my Arabic friends, who runs a local Indian Jewelry store here in town, what he thought of the term, and he responded: “What am I, an idiot? I call them dust storms. What do these people want? Next, we start calling eggs ‘beydah’ because that is what we call them in Egypt.”
So . . . anyway . . . we’re spreading steer manure, which means my son, Quentin, is wearing a layer of manure from head to foot. And, naturally, he needs to go to the bathroom. I grab the hose and hit him with a high-pressure stream as he strips off his shirt and pants, still standing on the lawn because I paid 97¢ a bag for that stuff he’s wearing. Then I move him to the porch and hose off his underwear and shoes.
All washed off, he drops his shoes, preparing to make a dash for the bathroom. And my 17-year-old daughter comes home from her boyfriend’s house.
Enter My Daughter
Now, my daughter’s bladder is 17 years old, and that bladder has learned to detect its surroundings. If that bladder isn’t in a safe location, such as our home bathroom, or the bathroom of a girl friend’s house, it DOES NOT empty!
And, over 17 years, that bladder has learned how STORE, buddy! Whenever she comes home, my daughter makes a mad dash for the bathroom. And she’s in there so long, we’re clearly talking multi-gallon-capacity. Contrary to what you may be envisioning, however, my daughter is very thin and quite petite. In fact, when I look at her, I sometimes think: Good Lord! That girl must be 90% bladder.
And now, my daughter comes tearing up the front walk, repeatedly whispering her home-coming mantra: “Gotta pee, gotta pee, gotta pee.” She shoots past us and slams the front door behind her.
And my 9-year-old son looks at me in horror. Because, his legs are crossed, but he knows: Our master bathroom has a plumbing problem that placed it off-limits until the plumber can get out the next day.
I give his shoulder a fatherly squeeze. “It’s okay, little buddy. You can use the Cat Bathroom.”
He shakes his head, eyes huge. “I’ll never make it past the cat boxes! There’s too many!”
“You can do it. The boxes don’t touch each other; there’s a few inches between them. You can make it, if you stay on your tip-toes.”
He shakes his head. “No way! I’ll never make it.”
I hesitate for a moment, thinking I might need to go move cat boxes out of his path. But, the next dust storm is boiling in fast. I can see the black night sky to the south being eaten by a brown, amorphous shape glowing in reflected city lights. I’ve got to finish spreading the manure, and get everything watered in, before it gets here. Otherwise, 97¢ a bag, plus Scott’s Turf Builder and grass seed is going to get picked up and carried away, spread across 20 miles down-wind. But, my son needs assistance, guidance, leadership — outside the box problem-solving.
Quickly stooping, I snatch up one of his hosed-off shoes. Shaking out as much water as I can, I hand it to him. “Here. If you can’t make it, and have to use a cat box, dig with the shoe instead of your bare hand.”
He grabs it. “Great idea!” Then runs inside.
And that’s when it hit me: I’ve turned into a cigar-smoking version of Erma Bombeck.
See ya’ in two weeks! (Maybe with something to say about James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce.”
|Quentin and me, after a dust storm in 2011 (He had a shower before the pic was taken. I'm still covered in gray dust.)|