Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Set the world on fire, not your pet

Owning a pet is a big responsibility. You have to know things like what to feed it, which shots it needs, and the best method of extinguishment when it inevitably catches fire. I owned a Maine coon named T.C. many years ago, and if he were still around, I think he’d agree that I did pretty well on those first two but had room for improvement on the third.

Before I tell you that story, I owe you some background about T.C. I adopted him in 1997 as an antidote to the loneliness I feared might come as I moved into an apartment to live by myself for the first time. That fear was unfounded, but I was glad for it nonetheless because it led to one of the better companionship decisions I’ve ever made. We only had five years together before I had to have him put to sleep, a loss that was worse than any breakup I’d endured to date. I haven’t had a pet since, because no other animal could possibly meet the standard T.C. set. He loved people (and their food), attention, and toilet water. A furry slapstick comedian, he didn’t glide through the world with feline grace; he lumbered around like Godzilla. And in place of a dainty “meow,” he held forth with a gravelly yowl that made me wonder if he’d been raised on a diet of Marlboros.

When describing T.C. to a friend a few years ago, I used shorthand and simply said he’d been a very dog-like cat. The friend, a committed Dog Person, rolled his eyes and said, “That’s what every cat owner says.” Perhaps. But even if that’s true, some of those cat owners are right, and I’m one of ’em.

T.C. loved it when I invited people over  — one of my favorite things to do in my Big Girl apartment –and on the day in question, I had done just that. My friend Christopher was supposed to come over for dinner after work. My plan to come home and start cooking hit a major snag when I walked through the front door to find that T.C. had done some prep work of his own in the form of a vast, rust-colored hairball he’d deposited on the sofa.

A concerted Resolve campaign didn’t help much, so I bombed the area with dishwashing liquid and hot water. That did the trick, but it left in its wake a massive spot that I knew wouldn’t dry on its own before Christopher showed up. Panicked, I grabbed a hair dryer and trained it on the spot. It seemed to be working, so in an effort to speed things up, I pressed it against the fabric. The dryer’s whine became increasingly high-pitched and then I heard a strange pop. The whining stopped abruptly. A wisp of smoke curled out of the hair dryer and the smell of burned fabric wafted under my nose. Great. Not only had I not fixed the couch problem, but my apartment now smelled scorched. I was out of ideas and running out of time, so I lit a Yankee candle, set it on the coffee table, and called my friend Shel for advice. It wasn’t that I thought she’d know what to do so much as I thought Shel was the only person who, on hearing my story, might be able to stop laughing long enough to try to help.

I sat on the un-hairballed half of the couch, told her what I’d done, and waited for the cackling to subside. She began to think out loud. As I listened to her rattle off ideas that sounded like a cross between “Hints From Heloise” and the Three Stooges, T.C. leaped onto the coffee table and started walking across it, oblivious to the Yankee candle and on a path to stride right over top of it. The candle, by contrast, was very much aware of my cat’s proximity.

Its flame rose up, igniting the long hairs that hung from T.C.’s belly. He marched on, smoking yet still utterly clueless, as I interrupted Shel.

“I gotta go – my cat’s on fire!” I hung up, grabbed the wet towel I’d used in hairball cleanup, and went into action. My firefighting knowledge was limited to “Stop, drop and roll,” so I used the towel to grab the cat, and roll him on his back to smother the flames. He let out a yowl of irritation, another idyllic coffee table stroll rudely and inexplicably interrupted. He skulked off towards the kitchen, muttering as he went and leaving in his wake the unmistakable stench of burnt hair. I didn’t even have a chance to attack it before there was a knock at the door. Christopher.

On taking a few steps into my apartment, he furrowed his brow, wrinkled his nose and said, “Um, exactly what might you be cooking?”

This incident came to mind tonight when I had another friend over for dinner. As he was leaving, he noticed the plaque Shel gave me for my birthday this year. On prominent display in this very cool word collage that celebrates the highlights of our friendship is the phrase “pets on fire.”

“There has to be a story there,” he said. Indeed there is. And the moral of that storY? Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire, and possibly also a flaming cat.


What kind of sick person are you?

[Day 8 of blogging every day in the dog days of August with my partner in crime, Philippa Hughes…My posts are all somehow supposed to involve water. I’m drinking a glass of it while I’m writing this, so I’m gonna say that counts.]

You know how we sometimes divide the world’s population into Cat People and Dog People, based on which animal a person associates with most? I think we can apply a similar division to the way people behave when they’re sick. In other words, I think there are Cat Sick People (CSP) and Dog Sick People (DSP).

For context, allow me to start with the Cat People v. Dog People distinction, which has been the subject of a surprising amount of research, as well as a few unfortunate romantic comedies. According to a recent article in, studies have found that Dog People tend toward extroversion, which doesn’t surprise me. Dogs think nothing of just walking right up to each other and taking a highly personal sniff, and they usually aren’t skittish about approaching people. Not only that, but they seek attention and they want to be liked. Cats, on the other hand, often eschew that kind of proximity, opting instead to engage on their own terms, which may mean not at all. They’re perfectly happy doing their own thing, they ask for attention when they want it, and if they care about approval, they do a good job of hiding it. Cat People are said to show similar traits. (In case you’re wondering about people who own and/or claim to associate with both animals, no one believes them, so they get lumped into the Dog People category.)

This brings me to my DSP/CSP hypothesis, something I’ve formulated only because I’m on Day 3 of an annoying chest cold with a side of laryngitis and have a little too much time on my hands. When some people get sick, all they want to do is slink off to their bedrooms, shut the door, and watch The Wire in peace until they feel better. (And maybe even after because, whaddya know, all those people who said it was an awesome show when it came out in 2002 were right.) Such people do not view illness as a social event, they don’t ask for help, and you won’t even know they removed their own spleen with a toothbrush until after they’ve recovered. These are your CSPs.

Then you’ve got the other kind of sick people, the ones who become the town crier the moment they experience so much as a sniffle. Ailments drive these people to text, post on social media, and basically hold a Sickness Bee. They do not want to be left alone (even if they claim to out of a desire to earn praise for their martyrdom); they want sympathy, pity, and attention, and they won’t leave you alone until they get it.  These are your DSPs. If you happen to live with a DSP, which I once did, even if goes into his room, shuts the door and lays down (a series of steps he will take only after he has spent at least half an hour walking around, clutching at some offending body part while claiming that he really needs to lie down), he still feels compelled to make sure you know he’s there. He will groan each time you walk by the closed door, even if you try to sneak past it with the stealth of a ninja. If you think you’ll avoid the strategic groaning by staying on another floor altogether, you’re wrong. The DSP will text you because, no matter what illness has taken hold of him, it will not do you the favor of claiming his fingers. And just like that scene in When Harry Met Sally where Billy Crystal explains to Meg Ryan that there are high-maintenance women and low-maintenance women and she’s the worst kind –a high-maintenance woman who thinks she’s low-maintenance –most DSPs, if asked, will tell you they are CSPs.

And before you even ask, I’m a CSP. I swear.




The Great Unknown

Camp Boob got amazingly fantastically wonderful pathology news from the cancer surgeon this afternoon:  Philippa is all clear!

But the hours leading up to that 2:15 appointment? Pure, abject torture.

For openers, nobody at Camp Boob slept well last night, not even the cat.  In fact, I threw him off his game this morning in a big way by getting up and making coffee at 3:45.  As I left the bed where he’d been curled up next to me, he opened one eye halfway and fixed me with a glare that said, “Who do you think you are, banging around in the middle of the night? That’s my job, dammit!” (I fully expect him to resume his duties tonight.)

Philippa woke up before 6, too, because even Vicodin can’t conquer a whopping case of good old-fashioned anxiety.  Once the whole house was up, we set about passing the hours until the appointment by acting like it was any other day. We talked about boys, we drank the green juice whose health benefits vary inversely with its taste, and we laughed.  But it was a little uneasy.

Roughly 862 hours later,a physician’s assistant led our group of four into a tiny little examining room at the Ourisman Breast Health Center at Georgetown Hospital.

If you’ve ever gone through something like this before, you know these medical people are masters of suspense.  They are perfectly aware that you’re there for one piece of information and one piece of information only, so you’d think they’d give it to you in the first 30 seconds, right? Wrong!  First they have to weigh the patient, test her blood pressure, and check her vital signs. It heightens the dramatic tension.

I wanted to scream, “WHO CARES IF SHE LOST HALF A POUND! JUST TELL US IF SHE’S OKAY!!!!”  Instead, I bit my tongue and felt grateful they weren’t taking my blood pressure.

When the doctor –a renowned breast cancer surgeon who has the best bedside manor I’ve ever seen– came in and gave us the good news, we hardly knew what to do with ourselves.  Like actors who’d been nominated for an Oscar, we’d been hoping for the best, but we hadn’t dared go so far as to let ourselves prepare for it.

I might have broken into the Charlie Brown dance if I had the funds to replace the the medical equipment I’d have destroyed in the process.  I considered pumping my fists and screaming “WOOOO-HOOO!” until I realized it would probably go over better at a NASCAR race than a breast cancer unit.  In the end, I felt too weak to manage anything more exuberant than an ear-splitting grin.

We drove away from the hospital in a state of blissful shock and barely spoke.  When we got home, we toasted to Philippa’s good fortune with ice cream and—what else—green juice.  (As celebratory drinks go it ranks second only to Dom Perignon.)

We really crushed this vat of green juice.

And then, just as the clock was creeping up on 4:00 p.m., our little group got hit upside the head with the cast iron skillet of exhaustion and nearly passed out.

Meanwhile, the word of Philippa’s good news spread.  The legions who love her picked up where we left off and breathed a collective sigh of relief so huge it could’ve powered a wind turbine.

As I write this, Philippa is sleeping peacefully, finally claiming the rest she deserves.  And the rest of us will sleep far easier tonight, too, comforted by the knowledge that our girl is gonna be just fine.

Splat of the Week: The U.S. Legal System (aka “Cats and the Commerce Clause”)

As a lawyer and a U.S. citizen, I’m somewhat reluctant to speak harshly of the American legal system.  It works twenty-four/seven, spending half its time safeguarding us from potential abuses of Government and the other half trying to protect us from our own idiocy.

(And our capacity for stupidity must be boundless, judging by my recent purchase of a toaster that had the following warning label affixed to the back: “For indoor use only.”  C’mon, people.  Everyone knows toasters starve in the wild.)

Most of the time the system does a fairly decent job, but it screwed up royally in December in its handling of a Constitutional question involving, of all things, cats.  The 50-60 cats in question live at 907 Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida.

Ernest Hemingway also lived there from 1931-1938 with a cat named Snowball.

Right out of the chute you find yourself feeling sorry for Snowball.  Who would want to be forced to shack up with the guy who inflicted The Old Man and the Sea on an unsuspecting reading population? As if that weren’t insult enough, Poor Snowball was walking around with extra digits on his paws.  A “polydactyl” cat, to use a technical term.

Eventually the bell tolled for Hemingway and Snowball.

Once Hemingway was out of the picture, the descendants of Snowball (who also have bonus digits) saw no reason to leave, so they stuck around and proliferated.

In 1964, the house effectively became a museum, but the cats, whose ranks had swelled to sixty or so, were never displaced.  To this day the museum owners keep and feed the cats and provide them with weekly veterinary care.

I’m sure they do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but it’s for the goodness of the business: People love these furry little six-fingered squatters.

One of the Hemingway House’s “six-fingered” squatters. Thanks, Wikipedia!

All was well until a museum visitor expressed concern to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2009 about the Museum’s care of the cats. To make a very long legal story short, the USDA decided that it had authority to regulate the Museum under the Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA based its authority on its view that the cats are “exhibited” to tourists (many of whom are out of state) and, therefore, affect interstate commerce, and fall within the domain of federal law.

The Museum responded by filing a class action suit on behalf of crazy cat ladies everywhere.  Okay, I’m kidding about the crazy cat ladies part.

But the Museum did file a suit, and when it lost at the district court level, it appealed.

And that’s how the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found itself fulfilling its lifelong judicial dream of presiding over a cat case.

The case turned on whether cats chilling at the Hemingway crib while the public tours constitutes “distribution” of the cats.  (The cats, meanwhile, never actually leave the grounds of the house, so this is more of a metaphorical distribution, here.)

In a decision handed down last month, the court shredded the word “distribution” to ribbons on its way to deciding that yes, these cats are distributed and they do, in fact, affect interstate commerce.  In other words, these cats aren’t polydactyl, they’re Constitutional.

The court must have felt a bit guilty about the little present it dropped in the Museum’s legal litter box, because it wrote, “Notwithstanding our holding, we appreciate the Museum’s somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration.”

But that didn’t stop them from kicking some sand over the whole mess and concluding with, “Nevertheless, it is not the court’s role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress.”

Indeed it is not. They’ve already got their hands full protecting citizens from their wild toasters.