Cats Are Useless

Earlier this year I watched a documentary about cats. At one point a scientist type is interviewed and he explains that the concept of cats as rodent control devices is inaccurate. During times of severe rat and mouse infestations, specially trained dogs- not cats- have historically been used. This then poses the question: exactly what purpose do cats serve as part of human society? The answer, apparently, is none. Cats may be cute, funny, devious, cuddly, but in utilitarian terms… they’re completely useless. They’re not even good garbage disposals as they tend to eat only carnivore-friendly scraps. Even worse, cats can be notoriously picky and will refuse even the choicest meat scraps!

Case in point regarding rats is an odd video I came across courtesy of the Staten Island Advance (or as it’s called around here “the ADD-vance”). Apparently there is a group of NYC dog owners who in true historical fashion have trained their dogs- mostly terriers from the looks of it- to hunt rats. They are summoned to infested areas of the city and the rat hunt begins. Take a look for yourself:

Looks like a fun way to spend the evening. Rats weighing more than five pounds are termed trophy rats. There’s a joke somewhere in there about trophy wives, but I can’t find it.

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Wimpy Wine

The island survived my absence: turkeys still grifting, opossums still gnawing through garbage, my oldest daughter kept the feral cat colony in our yard alive. My tomato plants died but that was written in the stars.

It was difficult being up there, not in ways I anticipated. Often while driving around it felt I never left. Nine years non existent, maybe a time loop. The town looked somewhat worse- I saw a meth head handcuffed & hauled into the police station- I never saw that while living here. I never saw anyone handcuffed until I moved to nyc.

My dad was irate. Ranting about my aunt, her lack of estate planning, nitpicking her last motions, grumble grumble grumble. God lord, I wanted to tell him- the woman was dying! Cut her some fucking slack. I kept my mouth shut.

My mother dragged us to church, “us” being the little guys and myself. Alright I get it, she wants to show off the grandkids. I’ll show them off too- they’re criminally cute.

The church was so depressing. They recently signed a compact with a lutheran church merging two dying churches, and I could sense one foot in there was turf war betides. The lutherans on one side, anglicans on the other. Stink eye ensued.

My lovely children started acting rotten so I dragged them to the back where exactly one child (I later learned he was being raised by his GREAT grandmother- both parents and grandma were unfit) playing with legos and toy sharks.

Did I like sharks!? he asked, full volume. I tried to shush him. Had I ever picked up a shark? Had I ever picked up a shark but failed! What was my favorite type of shark?

He rolled up his sleeve. I’ve gotta tattoo, he said proudly, showing off a temporary skull tattoo. I gave him a silent thumbs up then shushed him again.

Day before the funeral my parents had a wine and cheese event. My mom’s cousin was first to show up; they discussed weather, traffic, grandchildren, who was at what school studying what. There was discussion of family history. The cousin marveled how adept my two year old was at navigating stupid games on my defunct android. I listened politely… and thought of the steven king story where people slowly turn into vegetables.

Then my dead aunt’s buddies arrived. The greeted me uproariously- hugs, jokes, booze! My aunt’s best friend’s other best friend sat in an armchair, perched on a cane chatting brightly. Aunt’s best friend threw back a tumbler of gin. I don’t want any of that wimpy wine! — she bellowed– viking style. The other friends downed glasses of wine and nibbled on cheese. We discussed architecture, history… the house was rocking!

Then the funeral. It was at the merged church, beautiful in its day. Rich mahogany knotted the ceiling, elaborate stained glass pictographs: Ruth the Gleaner, John the Baptist, St. Michael– ready to charge.

I read from revelations, my sister read a poem. The gin drinker cried quietly.

A reception at my sister’s house. I wolfed down turkey and roast beef while my kids ate fruit. My sister’s german shephards skulked like patrolling soldiers while I clandestinely fed them pieces of meat. I watched our kids, all our kids, my kids, my sister’s kids, my sister’s friend’s kids, frolic in the gated garden. How surreal to regard such life in the shadow of death. The yard sloped down to a pond, endless acres of forest, the sky clear. I wonder as to the state of my aunt’s soul.

The funeral. We drove two hours to the grave site, my little guys surprisingly well behaved. An ancient retired pastor gave the homily while a grinning funeral home worker stood by his side. What a racket! (I later told my mom just to dump my ashes if I precede her in death.) The weather was sublime, a perfect breeze shimmering through towering oaks like god had planned it.

 

 

Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

Zootopia Looks Like Staten Island

After all the hype, after my mother raved about it, after my children raved about it– including my 19 year old nerd son with ice in the veins– after my daughter put the dvd on view for her psych ward– I watched Zootopia once it was on netflix. I’ll reserve my observations for a future post, but I could not help but notice that the city of Zootopia greatly resembles Staten Island.

zoo1

zoo2

staten-island

I’ll note this: if having a tiny bunny on the police force is novel, how does Zootopia police its rodent population? That doesn’t make sense.

Do You Want Something to Eat

Everyone has their own opinion on the homeless. You either walk past them, or throw a little money at them.

One of the nicer aspects of Staten Island is you are typically spared this choice… until the recent inception of the heroin epidemic. These days you see all kinds of beggars, mostly young white kids in areas they would not typically spawn. This morning I ran to the grocery store for a few things and there was a kid, about my oldest son’s age, holding a sign stating his dilemma.

I AM HOMELESS TRYING TO GET OFF THE STREETS.

I dug through my purse as I harnessed my shopping cart, handing him money as I walked past. Then I knelt down, looked him in the eye, and asked (because this has been the purpose of my life for the past 19 years): do you want something to eat?

He looked stunned.

I’m not used to junkies, but there was a nervous, exhausted, desperate look on his face.

“Yeah…” he replied.

“What would you like?” (This is the “mommy monster” inside of me. Because seriously, I’ve been doing nothing but feeding and placating whiny children for 20 years.)

He looked even more stunned here. “Uhh…” he said, confused…. “Anything?”

Now it as my turn to be stunned. My kids are all picky eaters. I mean really, really picky, as in two or three foods, for years, picky. Was this guy really willing to eat anything? This was a novel concept for me… to put it mildly.

“And maybe something to drink,” he added weakly.

“What do you want to drink?” (there’s a liquor store right by the Stop and Shop)

He stared at me incredulous… “Water?” he asked, again, so weakly.

“Just water?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay honey.”

And I walked into the grocery store. What exactly do you buy a homeless drug addict? I felt, in a surreal way, like a mom packing lunch for her kids at camp: it had to be nonperishable, palatable, and high calorie. I settled on a big bottle of Fiji water, a box of granola bars, and doritos. Along with the other items I came there to purchase.

I handed the bag to him as I embarked to my car, knowing I had accomplished no good, but no bad either. “Take care of yourself honey…” but I knew he wouldn’t.

Barbie Heaven

Yesterday we had the incongruous family outing of heading to the beach– the psychiatric facility is right by the one I take the girls to. So I dropped off my husband at the psych unit, then continued to the water with three girls in tow: the 14, 12, and 4 year olds.

“If there’s no garbage in the water,” I announced [you know you live in NYC when you have to preface statements with if there’s no garbage…] “I’m going swimming.”

The older ones took bets on how far I would go (to those unfamiliar with the beaches around here, the water can be chilly). “I bet she’ll go up to her knees,” said Dea, the 12 year old.

“Waist at the most,” quipped the overachiever.

Well there was no garbage in the water so I took off my sunhat and waded in. It was chilly but not unbearable, I dove underwater to the accolades of my girls still on the sand. I swam back and forth, dove under again, did a backstroke. It dawned on me I couldn’t remember the last time I went swimming.

“Hey mom!” shouted the overachiever. “I didn’t know you could swim!”

I wanted to tell her– I had forgotten I could too, but I dove back under, surfaced like a seal and floated in the gray waters of the Atlantic. There was the Verrazano; there was a passenger jet heading to JFK; there was the gaggle of fat russian men, lounging in lapping water (I don’t know if it’s a Staten Island thing, but it’s mainly men who go in the water at the beaches). They chatted to and fro in Russian while I dove under again. Salty water streamed down my face when I resurfaced; I wiped droplets from my eyes and pushed back my soggy hair. This was paradise!

My 14 year old got the 4 year old on her back, piggy back, and waded in to her waist. I shouted Mommy shark! went under, and grabbed at their ankles to the 4 year old’s sheer delight. Dea darted in and out of the ocean, looking like a starved, wet rat.

I don’t wear bathing suits. My reasoning is, I wouldn’t walk around in public in my underwear, so why would I walk around in public in a bathing suit that probably shows more than my underwear? No thanks! So I wore leggings, a skirt to my knees, a tank top and a long sleeved shirt for good measure. I figure if nothing else it will protect me from UV rays. I may have gotten a few curious stares but didn’t care.

The girls either followed suit or were too lazy to find their own bathing suits. So there the four of us were, fully clothed, horsing around in the water.

Later we went to the playground where the 4 year old misplaced her Barbie. Back in the car, noting Barbie’s absence, Dea gibed She went to Barbie heaven. This satisfied the 4 year old who spared us a torrent of tears, and she fell sound, sound asleep on the way home, her cheeks flushed bright red from sun.

 

Port Richmond, Staten Island

Port Richmond, derisively coined Puerto Richmond by some Staten Islanders due to its massive influx of hispanic immigration, is a neighborhood spanning roughly from Forest Avenue to the south, Richmond Terrace to the north, Clove Road to the east, and Morningstar Road to the west. Originally an Irish neighborhood (at least I think so) it eventually turned predominantly African American, and over the last decade has transformed into a Hispanic neighborhood with a dominant dose of Mexico.

The commercial areas host restaurants, storefront churches, fly by night shops, and natural healers (known to Spanish speakers as curanderos or botanicas). You don’t see much else beyond that. Here and there are a few holdouts from the anglo era, including Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices and Ice Cream.

ralphs

In fact when we moved to Staten Island, the first thing the realtor advised after we sealed the deal was to visit Ralph’s. This ice cream shop is a Staten Island landmark and has withstood the environs’ decay. Denino’s, a pizzeria consistently ranked as some of the best in the country, is right across the street (if you click the above picture you can see it in the background).

As you head north things get dicey but my end goal was a live poultry butcher on Richmond Terrace. North of Castleton is especially decayed, so I gave myself the option of abandoning the endeavor if things felt unsafe.

There were few people out on this early, chilly Sunday morning. And those who were: all men. It was weird. There was not a single woman (other than me) to be seen. Most of the men traveled in pairs and were carrying coffee. In retrospect that should have been a warning sign but I soldiered on, taking pictures of anything that caught my eye. And a lot caught my eye.

guadalupe
eat, pray, comprar

virginmaryla virgen gets ready to mop

pushbutton
do these things serve any purpose?

postoffice
Port Richmond post office

postalparkingonly
lock without a cause

iglesia2
one of many, many storefront churches

iglesia
another storefront church. the power of tax free income!

abogado
abogados (lawyers) for when Trump takes over

lawyersteps
the lawyers’ front steps. business must be bad.

coconutjuice
a discarded can of coconut juice in the lawyer’s front lawn

twitter
twitter and facebook meet graffiti

restaurantauction
a restaurant that bit the dust

restaurant
another restaurant: “The Western Cowboy.”

lostdog
lost dog… sniff. But $1000??

automotive
an abandoned auto shop

caseyspublichouse
a holdout from days of anglo

inca market
…that is now next to Nando’s Inca Market

compramosoro
one of many signs offering to buy gold

It Only Takes One Microbe

I’ve officially entered the realm of crazy pregnant woman mode, where I’m in a constant and acute state of anxiety, superstition, and worry. I’ve been reading meaning into everyday occurrences. My daughter saw a mouse in the kitchen this morning. A good sign! There’s a dead cricket on the basement floor. Bad sign! And it would be even worse luck to touch that dead cricket, so it’s been there for weeks.

This morning I had to go to Willowbrook for yet another blood draw. My phlebotomist was an older Russian lady who suited up in a face mask before sticking me, ranting the whole time about Ebola and how neither the government nor the lab manager were taking adequate precautions to protect healthcare workers. “If it becomes an epidemic…” she said morosely, and put her hands in the air in a hopeless gesture. Then she jabbed me way too hard, and I still can’t fully extend my arm which is swollen and bruised opposite my elbow.

By that point I’d fasted for 14 hours, so I sat in the car and wolfed down a sandwich with juice. I was supposed to eat a high carb meal before returning two hours later for the second draw. I haven’t eaten bread in months, and while it was yummy it didn’t seem to re-awaken my bread addiction, especially since I knew it would make my levels shoot up (it did, I tested later at home out of curiosity).

During the second draw I overheard a group of phlebotomists in the hallway discussing Ebola. One intoned ominously there are a lot of Liberians on Staten Island. Yeah, but they live in West Brighton said another. No, they live in Park Hill said yet another. Well as long as they don’t come here, said a fourth. Errr… don’t they realize Staten Island is a mere 60 square miles? And microbes don’t care about neighborhood demarcations. As my aunt the pathologist always said when I left the cap off the toothpaste: It only takes one microbe.

I don’t know why but I’m just not worried abut Ebola, even in my crazy pregnant woman state of mind. I guess it could become as airborne as the common cold, then we’d all be in trouble. I’m a lot more worried about nasty flu viruses, or the enterovirus circulating the country, as two of my children have life threatening asthma and a third has moderately bad asthma. Even with suitcases of medication in the house they’ve been hospitalized for it, one in the ICU for a week (the overachiever). Anyway, if there were a clear and present Ebola threat I’m sure my aunt, who works for the CDC, would have contacted me. But so far she’s only sent me scary information about DV-68.

Here is the current state of the bump. It continues to look much smaller in pictures for some reason. It looks, and certainly feels, at least three times bigger in real life.

bump

Al Sharpton Cometh

Al Sharpton and 15,000 of his friends are due to arrive on the shores of Staten Island tomorrow, so I decided to do all my grocery shopping today. There will be a number of road closures and networks of diverted traffic due to the “We Will Not Go Back” rally (what exactly does that mean? Is it like “Never Again?”). I have trouble believing 15,000 people will journey to Staten Island for any reason, and it’s a shame those visitors who do show up will be marching through one of the more miserable sections of the island. Despite its supposed renaissance as the next Greenpoint, St. George for the most part is not a pretty sight. Yes, there are lovely historic landmarks here and there (like St. Peter’s Church) and some well kept Victorians. But for the most part it’s blight, ugly storefronts, and lots of down and out folks hanging around. Perhaps the borough president should have organized hospitality squads to shepherd protesters on diversionary tours of our sparkling beaches and vast greenbelt. They could even take a golf break in Todt Hill.

The timing of Mr. Sharpton’s visit to the island is serendipitous because the one year anniversary of my breach from sugar is approaching, and as some of you may be old enough to remember, Al once cut a portly figure.

chubby al

My husband often waxes poetic about Sharpton’s jumpsuits and bling that are now relics of a bygone era. Despite being chubby in years past, Sharpton is now emaciated thanks to a prison fast and vegan diet.

skinny al

I don’t know, I think he looked better fat! It’s people like Al who give veganism a bad name. They look sick, gray, and withered. But I’m going to assume that like me he has also sworn off desserts, even vegan cupcakes. It was almost one year ago tomorrow that I decided to quit all desserts, and I only fell off the bandwagon once through that period when under the influence of too much wine. I wolfed down a chocolate chip cookie before I remembered it was verboten.

What is life like without dessert? Honestly, not much different. The only physical change is that I have a somewhat less tortuous time trying to sleep. My entire life I’ve had difficulty staying asleep more than two hours, and without the sugar and accompanying chocolate (my weaknesses were chocolate croissants, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate) I can occasionally stay asleep for three hours. But other than that I feel no different. No extra energy. No greater immunity to the common cold. So if you’re considering giving up desserts, too, you may not want to bother.

Not only that but two months ago I finally managed to quit bread! This means I’ve been gluten free for some time. Other than some possible withdrawal symptoms, like a severe headache and bad mood, I can report that I feel no different without gluten either. So again, you may want to avoid this current health food craze. In fact, a recent study surmises that the gluten free fad is completely fake.

The only reason I gave up desserts and bread was because I realized they were wasted calories, and I would rather my carbohydrates derive from fruits as they, at least, contain antioxidants and fiber. The only perceptible difference is that so far I’m gaining less weight with this pregnancy than I gained in previous pregnancies, but that’s only because I’m not devouring bagels, rye bread, pizza, and homemade pretzels like I once did.

Yet another radical change in my dietary life is that I’m now eating meat. After being a devout vegan for years I began eating the very occasional egg, piece of chicken, or dairy item. But once I noticed Costco sold lamb at $5.50 per lb the die was cast. If there is one meat in the world I actually enjoy eating, it’s lamb. I cook it on “low” in the crockpot for 10 hours with wine, garlic, and tomatoes. It’s utterly divine and the final nail in my vegan coffin.

However, eating red meat for the first time in nearly 20 years has not made me feel any different. As I’ve noted before, I think humans are more like rats than we want to admit: we can survive nicely on just about any calorie source, as long as it’s not outright carcinogenic or poisonous.

If I weren’t very pregnant I might venture into the fray tomorrow to take pictures for my readers, but as it is, I can barely make the rounds of Costco without bordering on collapse. I don’t know why that is, because I haven’t gained much weight, though I guess it’s the nature of babies to suck the life out of their mothers.

Polycystic Avian Syndrome

This morning I had an appointment with the new doctor. The results of the triple screen came in slightly elevated for Down Syndrome, but I knew from past experience these screenings have high false positive rates. Also, they gave me the information a month too late so I’m out of the window for an amniocentesis or medical termination (not that I would necessarily want one). As I alluded to before, though I didn’t know this when I chose the doctor from “the book,” the office appears to somehow be associated with the local crisis pregnancy center, a pro-life enterprise helping mothers who fall pregnant under less than ideal circumstances. It’s hard to tell how much of their clientele yields from it but there is a solid representation of teen moms and surly boyfriends in the waiting room.

I discussed the results with the on-staff midwife since the doctor continues to remain AWOL. I knew due to my age (“ancient” says my son) I was at increased risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome- somewhere in the 1-2% zone. But the results of the triple screen put me at a 1:145 odds which is actually a better statistic than the general one for my ancient counterparts. But it is still worse than the 1:270 cutoff used to deem women at risk.

I calmly explained to her that I understood these screenings have false positives and I wasn’t too worried. But I was curious, what happens to women as far along as me who do want to terminate? Is it even legal? Do they make exceptions for medical situations?

From her reaction my question didn’t fall on hospitable ears. “You would have to go somewhere else,” she said vaguely, rustling papers and avoiding eye contact. (Where somewhere else? Another practice? State? Country?) “And it would have to be a saline abortion to make sure the baby isn’t born alive.” She then said I should have a sonogram “So I could see my baby.” I suddenly realized she was trying to talk me out of a theoretical abortion I didn’t even want.

I didn’t delve further and they sent me to the basement storage closet for my sonogram. It’s cramped quarters down there, the waiting room the size of a modest bathroom. In strolled one of the aforementioned teen couples- the guy sporting those miraculously aloft baggy pants, and a hefty mother-to-be sporting tight leggings displaying more of her underwear and ample derriere than I needed to see.

They were both glued to their phones except for the occasional harsh exchange of words. The guy was agitated, pacing relentlessly back and forth in the small hallway muttering along to music off his earphones. He’d sit for a few minutes then get back up to pace. The Steve Harvey show was on TV, and though it’s not my cup of tea I have to admit it was kind of funny. He hosted a comedienne who joked her standard for boyfriends was a few real teeth and the ability to walk.

Then Mr. Harvey interviewed an expert on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The teen mom snapped out of her phone coma. “I got that!” she said excitedly. “I got that!!”

“You got what?” asked her boyfriend.

“Polycystic… polycystic… avian syndrome.”

“You don’t got nuthin.”

“Yes I do!” she retorted, all offense. “I got cysts on my… my… avians.”

He remained unimpressed and returned to his phone. I wondered how these two managed to create a baby together, yet all the while he never knew she had a serious medical condition? Then he announced he needed to charge his phone, and as it turned out the only outlet was behind my seat. I wasn’t about to argue with a guy with knuckle tattoos so I switched seats. Well the girlfriend would have none of this and started chewing him out for making a pregnant woman surrender her seat for his sorry ass (her words). She then tried to make me take her seat- which would mean I’d be sitting next to the boyfriend- but by the grace of all the saint statues in the office, the sonographer called me in.

Everything was perfect with the baby, who continues to measure big which is a good sign. All of my babies except the overachiever were born big, but she came into the world a little peanut.