Archive for June, 2011

People named Roger are evil.

When I was younger, I wrote all the time. At nine, I wrote Trixie Belden- or Encyclopedia Brown-esque stories featuring my friends. When I was 12, my stories briefly turned lurid and grisly, full of human sacrifice and cannibalism.

At 13 or 14, I turned to fantasy and romance. My heroines had names like Jethany and Ember, and the stories frequently involved an evil uncle named Roger. I had never kissed a boy, so the romantic bits were vague.

Many of my stories were transparently modeled after whatever book I had just read and loved, whether consciously or unconsciously. I tried on the voices of L.M. Montgomery, Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, and Madeleine L’Engle. Once I got caught writing in class and the teacher confiscated my work in progress, thinking it was a note. After class, he gave the pages back and told me I should keep writing. I remember thinking he didn’t realize how closely it was inspired by a book I had just read, and feeling a bit like a fraud.

Then I went to college, and my life immediately grew more engaging. I had more friends, I went to parties, and I kissed lots of boys. From there, it only got worse. Men continued to take up my attention. I had “real” jobs, finally got to do some traveling, lived in cities, and fell in love. While I still spent plenty of time dreaming, my actual life absorbed me.

And I decided that I had written when I was younger only because I was so very bored, so full of longing, so very much wishing for my life to be different. When my life became different, I didn’t need writing any more.

But now, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to write fiction again, even though it is like pulling teeth. This morning I’ve washed the dishes, cleaned out the refrigerator, organized the bedside tables, trimmed dead leaves off the fresh flowers on my dining table, swept the bathroom floor, and eaten two brownies. And looked up weather records to see if this is, actually, the coldest Seattle spring/latest summer in memory. And went hunting to figure out where my kitten is able to disappear to so completely in my 700-square-foot apartment (in the back of the closet, in my husband’s shoe). Ah, procrastination.

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A case of mistaken identity in the Seattle Public Library.

I was oddly flattered today to be mistaken for someone else by a teenager. I don’t know why. I must be so old now that to draw the attention of a teenager is unusual, and, on some level, affirming.

I stopped at the library on the way home from a run, and I was in the “teen” section. (I like to re-read old favorites once in a while. Today I was picking up The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, a book I read approximately nine times the summer I was 13. I can’t remember the last time I read it—it’s been at least ten years—and I’m curious to see if I will still find what I used to find in it, or if it will seem ridiculous to me.)

I needed to look up something in the library catalog so I decided to use the computers in the teen section despite the fact that they were emphatically marked for the exclusive use of those aged 13-19. I am pathologically uncomfortable with rule-breaking, but since I knew I would be quick I went for it.

Anyway, while I was using the computer I heard someone say “Tabitha,” in that insistent way that indicates that they are trying to get your attention. So while I ignored it at first, I suspected after a few seconds that someone was talking to me and turned to the side, to see a kid that I would have guessed was 17 or 18. He had long hair and piercing blue eyes, and looked a bit dirty. At 15, I would have thought he was cute. He looked me in the eye and said, “You’re Tabitha.”

I shook my head. “Not me. And I’m not even close to being a teenager,” gesturing at the sign reserving the computers for teen use. (I was obviously feeling sensitive about breaking the rules.)

“I’m not either. I just bought some beer,” he informed me. What a teenager thing to say. It made me remember, with nostalgia but also with cringes, my terribly embarrassing interactions with adults when I was that age. Like, for instance, when I was 19 and waiting on some older men at a restaurant. We were chatting and they asked what I was doing that evening. I  told them I was going to go to the local college bar with the fake ID I had gotten that day. The worst part wasn’t even that one of them was the owner of the very same bar and that I got kicked out later that night—it was that I was such a dumb kid that I would even engage in that conversation. I mean, sure, they may have been pervy, but I was an idiot.

But back to the library. Now I’m imagining that I have a doppelganger with a far more interesting life than mine. Hanging out with street kids and such. Is she a teenage runaway, a social worker, or something boring, like an aunt?

How not to adopt a cat.

Over the weekend, my husband and I decided to get a kitten. Today I visited an animal shelter that specializes in cats. It did not go well.

Modesty aside, I believe we would be great pet owners. We’re responsible, caring, and financially stable. We live in an apartment and we like having the flexibility to be gone all day or for a weekend, so we wouldn’t be good dog owners, but I’m sure we could provide a great home for a cat.

And yet, my visit to the shelter was a disaster. The volunteers at the shelter will probably go home and tell their families about the horrible woman who came in today (unless their cats are their only families). It would not have gone worse if I showed up wearing a fur stole made from a cat, complete with stuffed head and paws.

I’ll start by explaining that I’m not always good at dealing with people. My husband accuses me of being robotic. My family calls me impatient (and sometimes worse). I never mean to be rude to people, but sometimes, perhaps, I come off as rude. I think what is happening at these times is that I approach a social interaction as an efficient exchange of information, but that is not always what a social interaction is. There are other aspects, social niceties, that I’m oblivious to. Plus, sometimes I just forget that in certain situations you should just tell people what they want to hear and I’m honest instead.

(When my husband got home from work I tried to explain what had happened at the shelter. I said: “You know how sometimes I’m not good at talking to people?” He responded: “What do you mean?,” waited a beat, and then burst into laughter.)

On to my disastrous attempt to find a cat to adopt.

I walked in to a small office with that distinctive pet store smell. The office had a tiny central room, surrounded by other rooms where the cats were hanging out. There were three volunteers there, a kindly older woman, a young man who looked like a college kid and was in training, and a heavyset younger woman. I filled out the form given to me by the trainee and handed it the older volunteer, who began interviewing me while the trainee sat with us and the younger woman apparently eavesdropped.

On the form, I had selected the option that the cat might be alone for more than 9 hours a day. I explained that we liked to go out of town for weekends, and that we might both be gone all day at times working full time, although my job was flexible and not always full-time.

I quickly realized she had me pegged as someone for whom an older cat—not a kitten— would be appropriate. But instead of explaining that I often work from home and was willing and able to devote a few months to caring for and bonding with a kitten, and that low maintenance was what I eventually wanted from the cat, I blurted out: “We only want a kitten.”

It’s true. I want a pet for selfish reasons; I’m not just trying to do a good deed. Kitten-hood or puppy-hood is one of the best parts of having a pet, in my opinion. And I feel like I would need to get a kitten to be able to bond with it. I’ve never had a cat before. I am afraid that if we got an adult cat, it would just feel like we were doing it a favor by letting it live in our apartment. It would just stare at me and pee on things and I wouldn’t know how to interact with it.

But instead of explaining that, as the tension mounted I just repeated “I hear what you are saying, but we only want a kitten.” She said, more firmly, they probably wouldn’t give me a kitten, given our lifestyle.

Then I tried to backpedal, explaining that I was willing to devote more time to taking care of younger cat for the first few months. But I could tell that all they were seeing was a thoughtless would-be pet owner who wanted a cute kitten but would neglect it and give it back when it had behavioral problems. I kept interrupting them, working up to full-on annoying mode.

It wasn’t going well.

We went further down the survey, reaching the question: “Will you declaw the cat?” Answers: Yes, No, or Maybe. I had checked “Maybe.” Honestly, when we first thought about getting a cat I assumed we would get it declawed. I find cats slightly scary and I don’t like when other people’s cats scratch me with their claws. Then I read about declawing online and learned that many people think it is inhumane. I settled on not declawing the cat at first and seeing how it went.

Older volunteer: “Were you thinking of declawing the cat?”

Me: “Well, I know the whole story about it and I know that people are really opposed to it, but I don’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other.”

Older volunteer: “You checked ‘maybe.’”

Me: “Like I said, I haven’t given it much thought. I know what people say about it.”

The younger volunteer chimed in again to explain how declawing is mutilation, and how cats that get declawed are brought back with behavioral problems. Again, I helpfully interrupted her to explain that I know all that.

She tells me that to adopt a cat I’d have to sign a contract saying I won’t declaw the cat. I’m nonplused. I guess if it is a requirement, I’m willing to commit to it. But I wonder why they didn’t just start with that. Why not phrase the question differently: Will you sign a contract agreeing not to declaw the cat? Yes or no. I feel ambushed. I wonder if they just want to catch people in the wrong answer so that they can explain why declawing is so bad.

At least I have enough good sense to refrain from revealing that I am actually slightly afraid of cats and their claws. It’s not a great quality in a potential cat owner. I know they will just tell me to train the cat properly, and will think I’m hopeless if I say that I was thinking I would get it declawed if, down the road, it keeps scratching me and our future babies.

The older volunteer moves down the form. We rent, not own. She asks if the building allows pets. Me: “Er, yes. I know they allow dogs, so I’m sure cats are fine.”

The younger volunteer chimes in again: “Have you paid your pet deposit?”

I’m confused again. We don’t have a pet yet. Is her point that it is an expense I haven’t considered? I say, obnoxiously, “That’s not a problem for us.” Younger volunteer: “Landlords don’t like it when you go to them and tell them you’ve already had a cat for three months.” Her tone is now openly hostile. They hate me.

Now, I live in a pet-friendly building. It’s also run in a pretty laid-back manner. My husband has lived here for six years and has a good relationship with the apartment manager. I’m sure there wouldn’t be any issues with our getting a pet. But it’s too much to explain, and I’m still confused about why I would pay a pet deposit before getting a pet. I made clear when I walked in that I wasn’t planning to adopt that day, but that I had just started investigating and I’d want to bring my husband to see a cat before we adopted it. I mumble something.

The interview completed, the older lady explained that they didn’t have any kittens at the moment, but that I could go look at some of the cats they did have.

Then, my awkwardness kicked into overdrive. I said the number one thing you should probably avoid saying when you are trying to adopt a cat. I described myself as “not a cat person” and said I might wait to look at the cats until my husband was with me.

But since I was there I went into two of the rooms where several adult cats were sleeping or lounging. I exchanged stares with one for about 20 seconds, but I didn’t try to touch any of them. I’m not in the habit of petting cats unless they throw themselves at me. I just don’t think they want me to touch them. Why impose?

I hurried out with a falsely bright “thank you.” The older volunteer said, “We have you on file.” I believe it was a warning.

If we go back to that organization my husband will have to take the lead. He can fill out the survey and do the interview, and I’ll wear a hat and sunglasses and hope they don’t make the connection between our last names.


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