Serene in a Festival of Lights

It’s been cold on Thursday. I don’t know what possessed me to dress in skinny black jeans, and a light black cloche coat. But by the time I was in the street I realized it was too late to trot back to my apartment. I was on my way to the endocrinologist, eager to see how my thyroid was doing.  What a year was 2014. Last December out of the blue I lost 10 lbs. in 14 days or 14 lbs. in 10 days. My throat was gorged. I could barely talk, the thyroid pressing on my vocal cords. Investigations, blood testing, taking radioactive fluids so they can scan the glands, on and on it went. Medication. At all costs avoid stress. No stress. No stress. How can one live in New York City and have no stress…
But when there’s a will there’s a way. A neighbor took me to her friends’ camp in the Catskills. Deep in the woods. There was a creek whispering no stress no stress no stress. Across from it a field of wild yellow flowers exuding scents of no stress no stress no stress aroma therapy. In the background the old fir trees guarded me no stress no stress no stress shall enter here. Ella is sunbathing on the weathered wooden deck. No stress, no stress, no stress….
A golden summer. But when fall swishes its cold cat-o'-nine-tails whip chasing you back to your cozy New York apartment you wonder how you will keep no stress no stress no stressing on when one must network, attend events, promote, sell, survive, push on her talents applecart.
And I was so tired of if you make it here you make it anywhere. I wished to be a chipmunk dug in a hole for winter. Feel no guilt I don’t press on. But how?
One day I knock at my son’s room door with a bowl of blackberries. He cracks the door open. A horrid meow screeched behind him. My son with a glint in his lovely eyes informs me he brought home a stray cat and he shall keep it no matter what. He always wanted a pet and I never allowed him a pet. So now he has a cat. His cat. Alright. But she stays solely in your room. I’m allergic to cats. Let me see the damn thing!
Oh, Lord, what an unsightly scrawny miserable creature. Fur dangling in thick matted balls. And the meowing most unfortunate. But my son dug his heels. This is his pet. Alright.
The next day when he’s at work, I break into his room and dig the cat out from a dark corner by the bed and start cutting off her matted dangles. She meows pitifully but doesn’t scratch, doesn’t bite, doesn’t hiss, always poops in the litter box. I bathe her. Her voice tells me it’s the end of the world, can’t I understand it’s the end of the world; can’t I stop the water and shampooing? We’re all gonna die in a matter of minutes. But I towel her and blow dry her and when done she scurries back to her dark corner. My son throws a fit that I could have hurt the cat, she’s his pet, I should not sneak into his room!
So of course every day I go in his room to pet the cat and play relaxing cat music and worry she doesn’t eat the dry food my son bought her. I name her Mişu, after my father, who got skinny and frail, but my son calls her Rico. She is not a Spanish cat! On Friday early morning I stay in line at the veterinarian van stationed by the park. The cat perks up when she sees bushes. It’s a long wait, so I take her on the baseball field. I tied a red rickrack lease around her neck and she roams the filed, munches on grass. I scoop her up. She never bites, never scratches, never hisses.
Finally the vet invites us in his mobile clinic. For his $25 fee he declares Mişu/Rico the cat is about to die, she’s dehydrated, she’s at least 12 years old, she needs blood tests and an IV drip, all for a measly $120. They trim her claws for $5.
I can’t afford your neighborly prices. He advises to drop her at the animal shelter.
I push my senior cat in the backpack and leave crying. It sinks in that America is cruel. I am that cat. If I can’t afford medical treatment they let me die.
I stop by the animal shelter to ask them if they could give me a pipeta, whatever you call the thingy with which you put ear drops or eye drops, so I can force water my cat. The boss there goes on that this is not what they ado there. Do I want to leave the cat with the shelter? I do not. This is my cat, my senior cat, and I shall take care of her till she or I die. All I need is a pipeta. Finally one worker gives me the device and we go. My cat walks on the sidewalk, stops and detects scents, scoots under parked cars. I talk to her, holding tight the improvised leash.
For days I’m heartbroken she’s gonna die. I ask advice over Skype from my mom who used to work at a cooperative farm supervising the animal sector. She is disgusted by my cat. One doesn’t keep animals in one’s home. They are dirty. They carry parasites. Contagious diseases. Cats and dogs are utilitarian. They eat mice and rats and chase robbers away. They do not, do not live in the house. I explain to her here they are part of the family.
Each time I talk to her I tell her about my cat’s progress. We discovered she likes tuna, so we feed her tuna. I brush her every evening. I walk her daily. People can’t stop taking pictures of her. They never saw a cat walking on a leash before. My son laughs that I’m like Dali and his ocelot.
My cat, well, our cat, gained 3 lbs., her fur coat is luscious, gray with black stripes, she sleeps at times on my bed, I scratch her head and she purrs, if I stop she meows reminding me I’m her human scratcher and must go on scratching. I got her rubber lizards and hung them on the lamp arm, she battles them fiercely. When she sleeps, flat on one side, legs and paws, her back and head making a circle, my serenity fairy, an innocent being, hurts no one, elbows not for hullabaloo celebrity in the greatest city in the world. When I hold her in my arms and she softly meows I don’t give a fig about what I’m missing by not going out, working the scene, network, promote, sell.
I am the quiet of my cat.
The endocrinologist shouted a big hurray when she saw the blood test results. My thyroid is back to normal levels, true with the help of her meds, but also my Zen cat.
So shivering in my flimsy outfit I hopped on the train to face Brooklyn, be part of an evening of stories curated by my friend Martie at the Branded Saloon on Vanderbilt Avenue. I sat on the A train, swiftly working out the crossword puzzle, when the conductor alerted us there was a fire somewhere along the line, the train goes back to Manhattan.
I won’t go back to Manhattan. I am on a mission. Tonight I shall attend the Festival of Lights at the Branded Saloon. I shall amble on by bus. I got to the surface and realized I’m gonna freeze to death if I didn’t go to the Goodwill around the corner and get a pullover, a cap. So I did that, then found the bus stop and saw I could get off at Vanderbilt Avenue. Bus arrived, I kindly asked the driver to let me know when we reach Vanderbilt Avenue stop. Half an hour later still no Vanderbilt Avenue. I inquire the driver when shall we hit Vanderbilt Avenue? Vanderbilt Avenue?! I announced it 15 minutes ago. Take this transfer and go across the street and go back to Vanderbilt Avenue. So I did. So I did.
Branded Saloon was indeed at the indicated address waiting for me, though an hour late.
The backroom had chandeliers made of intertwined deer horns. On a piano there was a stuffed peacock without its feather tail. Martie opened the second part of the evening introducing a charming lady who told us a story about the Christmas stockings her grandma cross stitched for each of her children and grandchildren. The charming lady is a rare object, antiques appraisal. If I got it right she found somewhere in Florida a small statue she purchased for $5,000 and was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $5 million, the statue being either formerly owned or a representation of Rasputin.
My memory is party inaccurate because I was next to go on stage and was annoyed with myself that I was clad in black like a typical New Yorker. But on stage I went for Martie and her Festival of Lights, and I told the audience how upon arrival in America, I was stationed for three years in Baton Rouge as a graduate student. And Christmas comes, let alone everybody was in shorts and flip flops under the arduous tropical sun, seeking the shade of palm trees, metaphorically speaking since they air-condition themselves, we were taken on neighborhood tours to admire the lawn adornments, electric bulb Nativity scenes and reindeers and Santas and Three Kings, and bales of straw as snow hills. Martie tells me it was a show off contest.
My interpretation was that the poor people were trying to fake it till they make it, but it didn’t quite work out. My childhood Christmas memories have no blinding electric bulbs concoctions, but the fresh air of my village, the crunchy sparkling snow, as I went with my friends caroling from door to door. It wasn’t so much about announcing the birth of Jesus in a manger, but about all the cakes and cookies and walnuts and apples villagers gifted us, and who got the biggest bag full of goodies by the end of the night. We would walk on the path thru snow, at times a misstep would deep you, swallow you, drown you waist high in snow, and as we approached the porch of the house the icicles trimming the roof would sparkle from the oil lamp of the home. That was real wintery Christmas you can’t buy with all the bulbs in America. And the ice flowers on the windows, frost flowers you call them? I haven’t seen any in America. Maybe they have them at Home Depot.
What I also remember were the Christmas tree decorations. We were comrade countries with China, and mom always brought out the boxes with glass balls and velvet figurines. There was a peacock, a green velvet peacock, its wire claws had to be clutched on the tree branch.
I don’t remember much of the Christmas spirit, father being usually plastered, but I do remember a ginger haired teddy bear with an azure bow. So large he was, I could barely hold him in my arms.
And once, we searched thru mom’s boxes and we found some white balloons and we blew them up and stringed them in garlands. Came out they were condoms.
Martie laughs, I was gonna say they were condoms. I was gonna say!
And we laugh, not sure if I already told her this story.
My trip back to Manhattan was a breeze. The train stop was four blocks from the Saloon.
I came home and hugged my soft cat, and I told my son, ‘You know, I still have it in me. My thyroid is at peace now. Maybe, maybe I still have it in me and we didn’t come here for nothing.’
I felt at home back on stage again.

New York
Saturday, December 20, 2014

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