Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fevered Fuzzy Delusions

What's vinyl and looks demented?

There is a certain structure to being sick. It is a process, a journey, a transformation.

First you feel odd but push on. To be sick is inconvenient, and you don't have time to waste, or patience to spare. You have a life, things to do, plans, a schedule.

Later you feel less odd and more pained. Reality becomes fuzzy, and you are not so sure you still understand exactly the point of it, or how to navigate around obstacles like furniture. Still, things aren't unpleasant enough to cause more than a slowdown. You decide you can ignore the throbbing.

Then there is that stage when it becomes clear you are no longer in charge, and possibly not human. You are going through something, the way a small animal goes through a large one after lunch. No matter where you are, it's too hot, too stuffy, too drippy, and you can't get comfortable. You hope it's over by morning.

The next day, of course, is when you realize that there are two possible outcomes. A painful, endless continued semi-existence barely worthy of the word, or a painful, lingering death, that will first reduce you to a whimpering puddle of intensely aching slime inside your bed clothes, and then will get much, much worse before it gets better (i.e., you finally die in your sleep, except that you can't sleep because of the pain).

You think about things. Work left undone. Things yet to do. How life once seemed worth the living of it. What you could have done with yourself if only you'd been paying attention, and changed direction when you could. Your eyeballs hurt. Your skin hurts. Every joint hurts. You are too exhausted to do anything but hurt.

And the next day you don't need to think anymore because, though it might be possible to do so, it really doesn't matter by now. You no longer think about getting better so you can once again go out the front door and have a nice walk in the sunshine. If you could think about that, you wouldn't be able to remember how it feels. You might get a flickering image of it, like perceiving a faint faded sepia trace on a piece of yellowed paper that used to be a photograph. But you wouldn't care. Doings like that are part of another universe now, another universe that is a strange, quaint, and wholly improbable place of no interest to you.

Because life itself is pain, and even your pains have pains. And they are all fighting with each other, for the honor of putting an end to you.

Now you do only two things. One is to intermittently regain consciousness, and you have no control over this. The other is to open one eye whenever you happen to regain consciousness.

If you open that eye and see darkness, then it is night, and you have made it through another day. If you open that eye and see light, then it is day, and you have made it through another night. Either way you realize you are still alive, and you would curse your fate if you could, and your entire world is aches wrapped around pains simmering in fevers.

It is exactly times like this that you realize how lucky you are to have a pet, if you have the right pet.

You don't want to stagger out of your bed after a week lost in the screaming wilds of agony to find that your small furry friend, alone in its cage, has eaten itself in a desperate attempt to defeat starvation while you were out of your mind.

So you don't want a pocket pet.

You don't want to be lying in bed, barely able to stand the agony of breathing, to have some galumphing, 180-decibel, 75-pound, arfing beast come and jump on you, slobber on your face, and be happy that you feel great too.

What you do want is a cat.

Given a large bowl of dry food and a reasonable amount of water, a cat can remain satisfied, sleek, and plump for weeks before it even considers a gentle, tentative nibble on an unguarded part of your body, and even then, if it decides it has to devour you to survive, it will do so while you are asleep, so you won't know. Cats are tactful.

If a cat is bored, it sleeps. When a cat awakes it goes for a quick nip of food, a sip of water, and then resumes its normal catatonic state. (Where did you think that word came from?)

While dogs are like loud, stupid drinking buddies vomiting all over you, cats are like lovers. They provide discreet comfort, are circumspect, self-effacing, quiet, and clean, and they truly appreciate your affection. They know when to disappear, and somehow they always reappear just when a person needs a bit of reassurance and unconditional acceptance.

Cats are, however, not universally available, and they have their own quirks.

Like, for example, the way a cat may come by to help you greet the new day. Cats are always alert somehow, and when the cat knows that you are awake in the morning it may well drop in to help you readjust to daylight, sounds, sensations, and to regain your bearings within the the world of the living.

You have to watch out for this.

The cat may only, if you are lying on your side, stick its nose into your ear and purr. This of course sounds exceedingly cheery and agreeable, lovably cute, even. It of course is not. Unless you really do want to be deafened in one ear by something unpleasantly fuzzy and wet which feels like it is attempting to get at your brain through the side door.

Yes, and speaking of doors we have the other thing.

Say that you are not on your side but are on your back, and Kitty hops up there on your chest all thrilled and delighted to see you awake once again (and therefore available to haul down some chow for Kitty). And then, the next you know, Kitty is doing that thing that cats inexplicably do, and has actually turned away from you, so you are facing Kitty's secondary weapons area (not the one with the teeth -- the other one).

Of course you learn how to deal with this. A quick puff of air directed right at the bullseye gets Kitty to give a smart hop and throws Kitty's aim off, saving you once again, but you may learn this trick only after you learn why you need to learn it. And it is not an easy way to learn, though your lesson will last a lifetime.

Say Kitty is on your chest, facing your toes, and in order to maintain environmental equilibrium, must release a small but highly caustic jet of digestively-processed gases. Well sir, it takes very little of this to gain one's attention quite promptly, and how it works might be like this.

You are there, and Kitty is in position only inches away, as noted. And then critically, you are also breathing. If you weren't you'd only need to fear for your eyesight and a minor loss of eyebrows and facial skin. But if you are breathing when Kitty out-jets you will, by reflex, inhale a quick gasp. Just once, ever in your life, and you will never forget it.

And even if you could think about it later you would never think up a way to wash out your lungs, if it ever happened again, which it won't. A small but quick phhhht!, a gasp, and there you are, both lungs bathed in it, and no way to clean them or trade them in on a fresh pair or anything.

So you learn, if Kitty ever, ever again turns the artillery toward you, to hold your breath, pucker, and give Kitty a short, sharp blast of air in the butt.

But what if you can't have a pet at all?

I would suggest getting a sister. Luckily, I have one. Even more luckily, she's the smart one.

She recently sent me a "CAT-IN-A-CAN". In order to defeat the possibility of stress-inducing uncertainty, I'll jump right to the point. This is a cat in a can, inflatable, and reusable. Even the can is reusable and resealable. It says so on the side.

On the other side it says "INGREDIENTS: Expandable Calico Cat." And "APPROVED BY: The Inflatable Pet Association." And, in a final hug of reassurance: "Easy And Convenient Storage." Given how difficult it is to get the average cat into a can half the size of a coffee mug, I hereby proclaim this a triumph.

The only time I've ever known my sister to be wrong about anything is when she wrote the note that accompanied my very own plastic pal. "Everyone needs a pet," she said. "This one can stay alone when you're hiking. It doesn't eat much."

Well, of course I wouldn't expect it to eat, and although I could puff it up and stick it in the kitchen window to watch with bated (i.e., no) breath for my return every time I went backpacking, it strikes me that CAT-IN-A-CAN could come along.

TBear is getting a bit scruffy and smells bad, doesn't deflate, and is hefty for his size, all things considered. Not so great any more to have as my snuggle buddy.

Squeaky Frog was OK, and it was fun to sit around in the dusk and talk, squeezing him every time I needed to hear someone whistle in agreement with my more subtle arguments, but he was a sort of rubber after all, eventually experienced stress fatigue, and his hand fell off. No more squeaking then, plus he couldn't salute properly after that either, so I set him on fire and turned him loose on the river.

CAT-IN-A-CAN seems promising. I could carry CAT-IN-A-CAN in a pocket by day, and set it up, inflated, by night to guard against snuffling, night-creeping mousies and such. Very light, washable, brightly colored, but sadly without a squeaky hole. Maybe I could learn a bit of ventriloquism. That might do it. CAT-IN-A-CAN will never know it's me, I think.

P.S. If you get an inflatable cat, don't lick it. They taste even worse than real cats.

Totally unrelated and totally worth seeing: Big Buck Bunny