Arboring Resentment

When I was younger, Arbor Day sort of used to be a thing. At some point during the school day, we’d receive little conifer saplings in long, perforated plastic bags which we were then urged to go plant somewhere. I remember gingerly wedging the now-steamy bag down the side of my backpack, next to three binders and at least as many scoliosis-inducing books, feeling like an infinitely better person while I unwittingly robbed the tree of its ability to photosynthesize for the duration of my long bus ride home. Do I remember actually planting any of these baby trees? Not exactly. While it wouldn’t have been characteristic of either one of my parents, both of them raised on a farm of some description, to outright scorn tree-planting, I do know there was always some warning not to plant my little Charlie Brown tree too close to the house. And I think there may have been one, once, that made it into the soil. It may have even lived, who knows. But otherwise, Arbor Day sort of faded out of existence for me and became one of those holidays where I’d hear someone say something about it, and about three weeks later I’d think, “Oh, right. That happened, didn’t it?” The glut of holidays nowadays sort of obliterate the ones that used to matter when I was a kid, anyhow. Arbor Day, shove it, we’ve got International Purple Socks On a Llama Day! (Can we please celebrate that next year? No llamas will be harmed in the celebration. Promise.)

Arbor Day was recently brought to my attention this past spring, though, because of my job at a middle school. As the school secretary mumbled through her end-of-the-day announcements, I heard, “And the tree-planting ceremony will take place in the school parking lot immediately after school.” At first, I laughed as Joni Mitchell warbled in my mind about paving paradise and putting in a parking lot. But then the rush of elementary school Arbor Day festivities flooded back in a deluge and all of a sudden, I wanted to atone for all the trees I probably didn’t plant back then. As luck would have it, I discovered that the tree-planting ceremony, being led by a woman fervently reading what may as well have been the Holy Gospel according to Saint Lorax, was taking place RIGHT in front of where my car was parked. No big deal, right? Just walk out to your car, linger for a second, take it in, then go on your merry way. Atonement, anonymity, success.

But luck is a frequently a four-letter word in my life.

Glancing out the window of the chorus room,  I saw the proceedings going on, and recognized a couple kids from the chorus classes I play for standing in the semi-circle that appeared to be nowhere near any…trees. A couple spindly sticks in the grass, sure. But no holes had been dug, no signs of foliage and sweet, sweet photosynthesis. Poor judgment, perhaps, but again: this was about my personal redemption. And those couple well-intentioned, dweeby kids would be witnesses to it. Hallelujah!

And then I realized…

My car is a 2006 Corolla. It was, at the time of this ceremony of shame, 2013, and the car had at least 150,000 miles on it. Not a catastrophic scenario in and of itself, though. What I forgot at the time was that my catalytic converter was tragically derelict; due to some shoddy workmanship at some point in a repair, the converter didn’t attach properly to the muffler, so any time I put the car in reverse, it was, well…a proclamation of sorts.

Unfortunately, that proclamation was multifaceted. Suddenly vanished the fleeting, selfish joy I had taken in knowing that those folks would see how virtuous I was in supporting greening up the Earth. Suddenly overweening pride turned to overwhelming guilt. Because the second I sat down in the seat and turned the key in the ignition, everyone knew that there was one person who desperately had some environmental sins to atone for. The low-pitched clattering of a detached muffler combined with the slow belch of unfiltered exhaust fumes cast a gloomy pall over the would-be tree-planters. And then the slow head-turns in my direction and slit-eyed judgmental glances hit me square in the solar plexus. Let me tell you: there are few lower levels of shame than receiving the stink-eye of judgment from a middle-schooler eighteen years your junior who may as well have a pocket protector and be reading Popular Science in his free time.

So, as much as one with a rattletrap car can slink away, away I slunk. I vowed I would get my car fixed (I did…sort of), I vowed I would plant a tree somewhere and somehow (I didn’t), and I vowed I would remember when the heck Arbor Day is for once this year (I almost forgot). I still feel a little pang of remorse when I see the now-eighth-grader boy who shot me that look, even though I’m sure he has little to no recollection of the day Miss Watson killed the Earth. When I heard the announcement at the middle school this year that the tree-planting ceremony had been rescheduled, I heaved a sigh of relief and laughed as I walked out to my car, started it up, looked at the non-trees planted in front of my parking spot, and rode off into the afternoon after backing into my own cloud of pollution. Arbor Day, let’s be friends…next year.

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Prelude to a Hairball

Several years ago, when 30 seemed like an age that I’d never be, I made a vow to myself: “If you’re still single when you turn 30, self, you need to get a cat.”  I love cats, and my family had at least one cat from the time I was born until the summer after my second year of grad school. But since I’ve been living here in Jersey, I have been feline-less.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My first year up here, one of my roommates got a cat, but Bella (cat, not roommate) was only allowed in one tiny little room of the house, due in part to roommates’ allergies, and in part to weird interpersonal dynamics that, shockingly, existed in a house of four female roommates. So, Bella didn’t count as me having a cat.

Then, the next year, Beans the cat briefly lived in the same house. Beans was cute, but definitely was not allowed, and definitely ate my basil plant. Beans also had the misfortune of earning his name due to some kittenhood flatulence. They might be cute, but my word, kittens can be so miserable-smelling. Cuteness is in this case Nature’s defense against predators with, well, olfactory perception.

There were a handful of ferals that one or another of us fed but certainly never touched. The wayward cats were also hardly offended that we shirked from their pale, disease-y eyes and dingy, clumpy hair. There was talk of trapping and having them neutered, or at the very least bathed, but no amount of compassion could convince any of us to follow through with what would surely end up in bloodshed, flying fur, and a round of tetanus shots.

But I don’t want a cat because, woe is me, I feel like I’m never going to get married, and I’m going to end up a spinster, and oh my word, in two years has this blog just come full circle? I want a cat because I get cats. I am a cat person. I like them. And they usually kind of like me, at least as much as a cat likes anyone who isn’t offering them food or pointing a laser toy or dangling a string in front of them. And frankly, coming home to a little furry being that I can talk to without feeling totally weird would be pretty handy some days.

I feel like I’d be a pretty competent caretaker; I know how to clean a litterbox, I’ve successfully broken up a fight between two 20-lb cats, and I’ve got a proven history of successful cat-sitting endeavors. But, aside from the fact that I’m sort of technically not supposed to have a pet in my current apartment either, I’m still not pursuing this endeavor with full force. You know why? Because in less than two weeks, I’ll be 30. And, unlike other ages that seemed somehow weird, this is just verging on impossible.

Plus, there’s always been this one part of cat ownership that I have a very hard time dealing with: the hairballs. And not even the product. The process.

The way that you see the cat start to extend its neck forward like a desperate turtle and wheeze in the most alarming, death-knell way. The atrocious gulping noise. The inevitable time that this happens when the cat is sitting on your lap. The conflicting feelings of “Oh my gosh don’t let the cat puke on me I want it off my lap NOW” and “This animal is already clearly in distress, what will happen if I pick it up?”. The waiting to see what you’re going to have to clean up; what all this hullabaloo is going to bring.

And that, more or less, is how I’m feeling about my upcoming birthday. Fundamentally, I know it’s just another day in another year in which stuff, both good and bad, will happen. But for someone who was mistaken for a 24-year-old last week while one of my best friends has a kid who’s almost a year old, I’m still in the gulping, wheezing stage of acceptance. Sure, I’m grateful to be celebrating another birthday. And sure, this is beyond self-indulgent to be making a big thing about turning 30. But if you think about it, hairballs are a lot of (really gross) fanfare, too. So until the day hits, I’m just going to keep plotting ways to sneakily keep a cat in my apartment and hope that when the time comes, and I turn another year older, someone has a gigantic paper towel ready. Because I just might be sick.

Posted in Crazy Cat Lady, Jersey Life, Life Musings, The CATegory (ha...ha) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Unexpected Poetry #6

In lieu of a thoughtful, well-written post, I bring you a poem from, again, my public library’s announcements. The rhyme scheme is, well, forced at best, but you can’t deny the subject cries out for it. (And seriously, who uses the term “manipulative objects”?)
Happy Thanksgiving to those of you celebrating it!

“Nursery Rhyme Time”

Songs, rhymes and stories
for the very
youngest accompanied by an adult.

Children will be
exposed to a variety
of manipulative objects

such as shakers,
bells, sticks and scarves.
For children 12-24
Please register.

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Unexpected Poetry #5

And now we turn to Craigslist, the source of all great literature (and where grammar and spelling go to die after they’ve given up all hope on life in social media).

I call it “Broken on the Inside.” Let the pathos begin:

Available is
Baby Grand piano.
Shiny black with bench.

Plays but something
inside piano is broken
and it will not stay tuned
for long.

Local pick up

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Unexpected Poetry #4

I’m not sure if this entirely qualifies as poetry, but in a public library’s blurb, included was this list of journals in which a certain poet has had works appear. I think I found the missing verse of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Read on:

“His poems have appeared in such journals as”

The Sun,
Rockhurst Review,
Poet Lore,
English Journal,
Barrow Street,
Lake Effect,
Zone 3,
New Letters,
Coal City Review

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Unexpected Poetry #3

And now, a haiku from the same monkey article, with only two words deleted for syllabic reasons.

Reports of monkeys
riding on backs of wild pigs
have not been confirmed.

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Unexpected Poetry #2

This time, we draw from none other than the New York Times Magazine. More specifically, from an article about a rogue monkey in Tampa. Read on.

What’s a Monkey To Do in Tampa?

That fall, it


in a low-income neighborhood in East Tampa,
crouching in a


Guessing it was a raccoon, an
scaled a ladder and

barked at it.

The monkey urinated on him




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