Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vignettes (and a long story about poop)

So, I moved from New Orleans to Colorado Springs this past summer. I did this for a number of reasons, the foremost among which was better proximity to family, but also foremost among which was the job. I was hired in early summer to teacher middle school at a charter school in Colorado Springs, which meant I didn't have to transfer my teaching certification from Louisiana, and I could continue to work with low-income students. It also paid extraordinarily well, so everything was shaping up nicely. I finished my summer work in Atlanta, met my parents in New Orleans, packed up my house and was back in CO within the week. What follows here is a series of vignettes about the doings of me since then. 


I lived with my folks for the first few months back in CO as I started the new job and tried to find a place to rent. I needed a place that had enough space for me and the cats and our stuff, and while that may not sound too demanding on paper, it was hella hard to find a rental house. The market here is vicious. Like, shark-frenzy vicious. I would find a place I liked online in the morning before work, call and leave a message at lunch, and get a call back that afternoon to inform me the place had been rented not two hours before. This went on for weeks. So I just bought a house instead. 



Everything about the job that wasn't the money was shit. Charter schools are notoriously hit-or-miss, a moving target of educational and community balance, and this one was a spectacular miss. So I paid the closing on my house, and I quit my job, just in time to have a mortgage. 


Unemployment was like a vacation. An unemploycation, if you will. It took two weeks for the three years of teaching to wear off a little and for a Sunday night to roll around without me experiencing the horrible and automatic dread of the impending Monday morning. I had forgotten what it feels like to just accept the end of a weekend without a panic attack. 

But when I vacation, I vacation. It didn't take long for me to forget what day of the month it was or how daytime schedules work. I spent a lot of extremely late nights tying up some freelance writing projects and publishing Honey Island Swamp Child. Curating and editing that anthology was a richly rewarding experience, but it also saw me drinking Red Bull at my computer at three in the morning for the first time since college. It's not a thing anyone older than 22 should ever do. 


When my life isn't adhering to a schedule wherein other humans rely on me to be at a place at a time, the basics of being a capable and self-sufficient person rapidly fall away from me and I become a frayed husk of forgetfulness and rationalization about why the thing doesn't have to be done today. This means, most significantly, that I forget/refuse to go shopping for food. Currently, I think I have some mandarin oranges and half a container of old Chinese food in the fridge. Also old milk and some cereal dust. That is all. This is my food selection, just because I hate leaving my house and if I don't have to go anywhere all day – like a job or something – then I just don't, and my food supply steadily dwindles into just the dust at the bottom of the cat food container and some used cinnamon sticks. 

So when I was housesitting for my parents during their final camping trip of the season, I found myself huddled in the middle of their living room, staring at nothing, cramming chips in my mouth like a ballsy, very hungry squirrel. I ate a total of four chips inside about nine seconds before the image of myself there, in the center of the carpet, holding chips like my baby, came to my mind, and I quietly stopped. 


I made two animal-related decisions consecutively, and they together have resulted in a massive increase in the amount of pet feces I have to handle on a daily basis. The first decision I made was to adopt a dog who stress-poops, and who happens to be stressed a lot. The second decision was to toilet train my cats. That is, not to house train them to use a little box. That they already know. The choice I made was to actually teach them how to use the toilet. Now, I understand from the Internet that this process is made much easier when only attempted with one cat at a time, but I don't know how to tell one cat to poop in a box and the other to poop in a toilet and have that happen, so I just went with it. 

The cat were fine at first. Confused, and bad at balancing on the toilet seat, but fine. Then the little rings from the middle of their fake litter box that hangs suspended in the middle of the toilet started to come out, right on schedule, and they forgot how to poop entirely for a few days. There was just no cat poop anywhere. Then, they came to what I'm sure they considered to be a rational kitty agreement. 

The found a long thing, that was porcelain, near the toilet, and they decided that was a close-enough target to what I wanted from them. So one day, I came downstairs, confused by the utter lack of cat poop anywhere in the house, but definitely being able to smell it. As part of my super skilled detective work in the poop quest, I pulled back the shower curtain. 

The bathtub was, horrifyingly, transformed into a cat poop storage unit. There was so much cat poop. I didn't punish them for it, because cats tend to hold grudges instead of internalizing self-correction, but I made them watch while I flinchingly moved one cluster of poop (this is an awful story, I know, I'm sorry) from the tub to the toilet. They seemed to understand, and for a few days, everything was fine. The cats were weirdly but successfully pooping in the toilet, the dog was at least attempting to poop mostly outside. We were on the straight and narrow. 

When, a few days later, I discovered another tiny, guilty-looking cat poop in the tub, I disinfected the whole thing with bleach and covered the inside with aluminum foil. Cats are supposed to hate aluminum foil, you see. It's a widely accepted understanding among cat people. But that night, I heard a whispering, wispy sound, and I tracked it to the bathroom. Pulling back the shower curtain again, I saw Whit, gleefully perched in the middle of the foil, fastidiously folding edges back on themselves in an absolute fit of cat origami. He was thrilled. I was confused. But I left him to it. The next morning, I found a cat poop carefully wrapped in a take-out basket of foil, like Chinese leftovers, so I redirected him again, moving poop while he watched from tub to toilet. He got it. 

But the holidays rolled around, and I decided to get a new Christmas tree for my new house. I got a huge, all-white tree, and a lovely, almost too-sparkly tree skirt to match. The cats have always loved Christmas, but if you have a cat, you know that they are also deeply materialistic creatures, and are finely attuned to every household change. I think, perhaps, that the move, the new house, the new dog, and the new toilet expectations were all made too much by the introduction of a new tree - they were apparently very attached to the old one - and therefore Whit began his own personal war on Christmas. 

He pooped on that poor tree skirt more times than I thought a cat could ever poop in a single night. When I came downstairs the next morning, there were ornaments everywhere. An angel in the bathroom, a ball on the couch, hooks just all over the damn floor. It was like a minefield. But the poop. On my brand new, extremely white tree skirt. I washed it to get the stains out, and the rest of my clothes are still glittery. Two days of my cat using his feces to enact a deeply personal war on Christmas was enough for me, and I retired their toilet training kit, at least for now. Whit still sometimes pees in the toilet, and he likes to hang out on the seat for some reason, but when I refilled their litter box, Zephyr straight up rolled in the litter like she'd never seen anything so beautiful. 


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