Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Molly, Picasso's Cat

In 1970 we took jobs as teachers on the island territory of Guam. Every new teacher had an assigned sponsor to help get settled in a house and find their way around. We were no exception. We also had a sponsor.

Our sponsors had a female cat who had given birth to a litter of kittens just a few weeks before our arrival. Lucky for us, huh? We agreed to take a kitten and dropped by to make our choice. Joanne picked up each kitten in one hand and held her up over her head. Most of the kittens whined and complained, all except one. This very small specimen of feline attacked Joanne’s nearest finger and began to play with it. She, we decided, was the keeper.

We took her home when she was old enough to leave her mother and named her Molly. For no real reason. However, when we got her home we noticed that she was the strangest looking thing in the shape of mortal cat. Her ears were too large for the rest of her body and she seemed to be nothing but bones and joints, loosely held together by calico fur. She looked like Picasso’s cat.

Molly feared nothing and attacked everything. She snagged her sharp little kitten claws caught in chair cushions, curtains or clothes. Shaking her loose from my shorts while trying to put them on became a morning ritual.

She moved to Agana with us when we left Sinajana. She really related to the entire three-bedroom second-story apartment. She loved it there. There was room for a cat to PLAY! She used to sit in the center of a small throw rug and attack anyone who was foolhardy enough to step on it. Our daughter, Pat, would stomp at the cat with her bare feet while the Molly assaulted her toes. Sometimes our son, Eric, would chase Molly around the house and the cat’s claws would dig up ringlets of wood as she rounded the corners full bore. Then Molly would turn on Eric and chase him around the house. At least Eric’s toenails never dug up ringlets of wood.

We spoiled her. We had pets all of our childhood days and all of our married lives. There was always a cat, a dog, a goat, a burro, someone. When we first got married and living in an el cheapo apartment in Hollywood, we trapped a mouse, Poquito. Poor thing got caught in our frying pan, filtered down through the stove and stunned himself on the wall when he missed the doorway trying to escape. But now, all of a sudden, we had only this one, small, imperious cat and she basked in our collective affection and esteem. She deserved it, of course. She knew that. She was a goddess.

But even for goddesses live is imperfect. More later on.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chinese Health Food

We spent Christmas of 1971 touring Taiwan with the Guam Science Teachers. That's how we happened to be at the Lungshan Night Market, just a half mile or so from Chiang Kai Shek's presidential palace.

The Chinese have a theory of health consonant with their theory of the universe. The universe is composed of contesting opposites, yin and yang. Don’t ask me which is which; I never could keep them straight. Sicknesses come in two varieties, hot and cold. When one is afflicted with a cold disease, a head cold, for example, one eats a hot food. Dog, for example. When one is afflicted with a hot disease, a fever, for example, one eats a cold food. Snake bile, for instance. Poisonous snake bile. The more poisonous the snake, the better the bile. They import poisonous snakes into Taiwan for bile harvesting.

So here we are wandering around the Lungshan Night Market with our mouths gaping as if we had just come into town on a wagon load of pumpkins. We saw a dentist lugging his chair on his back. When he got to his assigned place, he set up shop. We saw an acupuncturist at work. (I won't vouch for how sanitary his needles were.) There were fabrics and foods and it was like an Arabian Nights scene. Only everybody spoke Chinese.

We stopped by a smallish man who stood by stacks of wire cages. He bowed to us. We bowed to him. Then we bowed to each other some more. After demonstrating how flexible our spinal columns were, the Chinese vendor grabbed a piece of stiff wire about a foot long with a hook bent into the end of it. He opened one of the cages and poked around for a few seconds. Finally he brought his hook out with a black snake hooked over it.

The snake looked at us for a few seconds and decided he didn’t like what he saw. So he spread his hood. Joanne and I were in front, of course. We all of us suddenly realized that this Chinese guy was poking a cobra in our faces and instantly retreated three giant steps. If there were any children or pets behind us, they died. Two dozen people running backwards can cause a lot of havoc. Sorry about that.

The vendor offered to kill the snake for us and let us sample cobra bile, but we had just eaten a big dinner and we none of us saw the need to kill a perfectly good cobra just so we could lose our dinner in the streets of Taipei.