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Jan 2 / Vick Mickunas

Goodbye 2016. That was the door slamming on you.

2016 was a painful experience. Lots of losses. In March my beloved cat Buddy died. We had managed his diabetes for years. It finally got to be too much for him. Buddy went into massive organ failure. I knew he was dying and I understood that he wanted to die with me. At home. But someone intervened. A kind-hearted, well-meaning person insisted that Buddy should go to the vet where he died after expensive and futile attempts to save him. I wasn’t even there with him when he died. I feel like I betrayed him. He died with strangers. In agony.

Buddy was my best friend. We understood one another. And Buddy was the only living creature who ever has really understood me. He was precious to me. I miss him every day.

Last summer we were going through a dry period. No rain for weeks. One morning there was a slight sprinkle. Just enough precipitation for our ancient cat Lazzy to seek shelter beneath a vehicle parked in the driveway. I’m sure he never heard the engine starting up. Lazzy was stone deaf. He was almost 20 years old and he had lived primarily outside for his entire life. Semi-feral. He loved to be stroked along his butterscotch orange back. Whenever it got cold we made a place for him in our heated tool-room. It has a cat door.

Last winter a young feral cat showed up. Lazzy had a box where he would hunker down right next to the heater. This young feral would crawl in to the box with Lazzy and snuggle down with him. They would spoon like that all night long. Lazzy looked very content. I think that was as close as Lazzy ever got to feeling love or happiness.

In the spring we figured out that the young feral was a female when she gave birth to 5 kittens in the tool room. We call this mama Sweety. She won’t let anybody touch her. She did have a boyfriend, a cat named Red. Red had showed up the previous summer. He was a big orange guy. After he realized that we were putting out food he moved right in. Sweety adored him. She would rub up on him and nuzzle him. He didn’t seem to mind.

About the time that the kittens were being born our dear Red began to suffer violent attacks from two of our elder cats. Scamp is a huge black cat who decided that it was his duty to pick on Red. And Red would never defend himself. Scamp was tearing him up. Things got even worse after Lazzy died. Lazzy had a pal, an old cat named Toby. Toby was almost 20. He used to belong to the neighbors across the road until they dumped him to fend for himself. So he came over here with his pal Simon, an ancient Siamese, and Toby’s dearest companion. The neighbors had dumped both cats. Nice people. After Simon died Toby became Lazzy’s sunbathing buddy. They would lie out in the yard next to each other. They would eat together. Red always ate elsewhere. With Sweety, and then with the kittens, too. Red has an insatiable appetite. After Lazzy died Red made the mistake of coming around the house and horning in on Toby’s food dish. Toby went berserk and even though he was half Red’s size he began to attack Red with lethal force. I heard it and was able to detach Toby from Red’s throat before Red suffered irreversible injuries.

After that we had to sequester Toby from Red. Meanwhile Scamp was still ripping in to Red whenever he could. I love Red. He’s a lover boy. A lap cat. He’s a peaceful, happy, non-violent purr ball. We finally found a new home for Red in town. Apparently Red is very happy there and his new owner adores him. But I miss him. And so does Sweety.

After Red was gone I still kept Toby locked up at night so he wouldn’t get into fights with the kittens, or Scamp. Toby’s behavior after he flipped out over Red was no longer predictable. One morning in November I let Toby outside at about 9:30, the regular time. He would usually look for a leaf pile or a sunny spot to nap. Then he would want to come back inside after a while. That day I had a chimney sweep come over to clean the chimney. Toby avoided strangers. That’s how he had lived for so long. I assume he made himself scarce while the sweep was here.

But Toby never showed up for dinner. He never showed up at all. He was just gone. After all these years. That was so unlike him. He never left the area. The next morning I went out and walked along the road checking the ditches to see if Toby had gotten hit by a car. There was no trace of him. As I was walking I noticed half a dozen black vultures gathering out in the harvested soybean field across the road behind the neighbor’s house. That’s the same house where Toby had lived for years. The house was sold a few years ago by those neighbors who had discarded Toby and Simon. I wasn’t aware that Toby ever went over there but he must have gone there the day before to escape from the chimney sweep.

I walked out into the bean field where I found Toby’s body. He had a bullet hole in him.

The neighbor’s truck was in his driveway. I was holding Toby in my arms when I knocked on the door. There was no response. I noticed the farmer who farms that field back by the grain dryer. I went back there, still carrying Toby, and asked if he had noticed anybody shooting my cat the day before? He told me that he didn’t like cats. And he hadn’t seen anything.

Later I saw my neighbor in his yard. I went over there and asked him if he knew what had happened to Toby. He said that he had shot Toby. He claimed that Toby was stalking his chickens. Toby had never stalked a chicken in his life. He used to live in that house. The previous owners had dozens of chickens and turkeys that ran loose all over the place and Toby never had the slightest interest in those birds. Ever.

It’s so comforting to live next to someone who would shoot my cat and then pitch his corpse out in the bean field for the vultures.

Goodbye 2016. Oh, and my dear sweet dog Rupert died this year, too. Let me slam this door on you one more time.

p.s. These kittens are adorable. They are Sunny, Dolly, Jenny, J.R., and Patch.

Jan 23 / Vick Mickunas

another record store story…

It must have been about 1979. The record store was still on the south side of the street. We were busy that late winter day. It was cold out. Lots of browsers. We were waiting on customers when a teenaged guy flashed in, grabbed the new Prince album out of the front rack and took off out the door.

I didn’t pause to think about it. I took off after him. He headed straight east down University in a dead sprint for the ghetto. I chased him for several blocks until he darted down an alley. By the time I got to the alley I had lost sight of him. So I circled back around the other way. I figured he was hiding somewhere in that block of houses. As I came past Soul Fire Records I spotted him. When he saw me he took off again in a dead sprint. I pursued him for another few blocks.

He finally got to the area right across from what was basically the edge of the slums, at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Harding Road. The restaurant “Mustard’s Last Stand” was on that corner. For some reason the kid darted into the yard directly behind Mustard’s. He must not have realized that the yard was entirely enclosed by a high chain link fence and as I approached him through his only escape route he got frantic and started trying to scale the fence. That wasn’t working too well since he refused to let go of the Prince LP.

At that point I was fairly peeved. This kid had taken me on a chase for almost a mile. I was winded and extremely annoyed. I approached him and he turned toward me. I grabbed him by the shoulders of his leather jacket and lifted him up and then proceeded to administer a healing massage by rubbing him up and down on the chain link fence.

I had been doing that for a minute or two when I suddenly noticed the car that was parked in the Mustard’s lot right behind the fence. It was a Des Moines police squad car. The officer inside was observing my behavior with keen interest.

At that point I slowly released my grip and set the youth down. The cop was now approaching on foot. I explained the situation. The officer had only seen one thing and it was his perception that he had just witnessed me assaulting the shoplifter.

At that point he locked the two of us up in the back seat of his patrol car and he radioed in for assistance. This young thief looked at me with disdain. I found out later that his name was Orbie Boggs. He turned to me and said: “You slow.” I replied that “I was fast enough to catch you.”

The kid was a juvenile. 15. They said since I lost sight of him during my pursuit that it was now impossible to prove he actually stole the Prince record from our store. He had removed the shrink wrap and the price tag. They didn’t charge him but they took away the album.

End of story.

Sep 23 / Vick Mickunas

Record Store Days

Back in the early 1980′s I managed a record store in an inner city/university area in Des Moines. One day a guy came in the store and asked me: “do you have the song “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo?” I said: “yeah, that’s on The Best of Lobo album.” I showed him the record in the rack. He started looking at it.

I went back behind the counter. There were several women in line buying tickets to see Kenny Rogers. I glanced over at the guy looking at the Lobo record. I noticed a puddle forming right next to his left foot. Obviously, he was standing there peeing while he was browsing.

I rushed over and said “you have to leave right now.” He refused. So I grabbed him by the arm and started dragging him toward the door. He freaked. He was grabbing at stuff, posters on the wall, the lath board lattice at the entrance, tearing it up. I drug him down the stairs and pushed him out the door. I figured that was the end of it.

We were trying to clean up his puddle of piss when I heard somebody yelling at me from the entrance. It was the pee guy. He was shouting that I can’t discriminate against him, that he has a right to be here, to shop, etc.

We were in a little shopping area called Dogtown. There were 3 record stores, a clothing store, restaurants, a barber shop, bars, pizza places, a disco, an urban mix of businesses. It was a weekday afternoon. Business was slow. I went up to the door and tried to tell the guy to get the hell away from my store. I noticed 3 salesmen at the clothing store across the way watching our confrontation.

The guy wouldn’t leave. I had about 6 inches on him and probably 40 pounds. He kept yelling at me. I was standing on the step in the doorway so I had about a foot on him then. He punched me in the stomach. The guys across the street were laughing. I’m not a boxer but at that point I figured, hey I have witnesses, this little pissant hit me first. So I decided I might as well try to take him out with one punch. I nailed him in the forehead with my right. Blood started squirting out of his forehead. The little weasel went berserk. He started punching me again.

So I hit him back. I started driving him down the sidewalk, left, right, left. Then he jumped on me and started biting down on my left bicep. We fell down onto a grassy area beside the street. I looked down at the little bastard, he had his teeth buried in my bare arm. He was panting and gasping and drooling and his spit was oozing into the open wound he was gnawing in my bicep. And he wasn’t letting go. AIDS had just started getting headlines. When I realized this crazed punk was injecting his nasty drool right into my bloodstream I finally lost it. I’m right handed. I decked him really hard on the side of the head with my right fist. Big mistake. The force of my punch nearly tore the flesh away where he had my muscle locked between his teeth. He started biting down even harder.

At that point a miracle occurred. A police car pulled up and the cop jumped out and started prying this maniac’s mouth off of my arm. It took a couple of minutes to pry him off. The cop was disgusted. After he threw the little creep in the back of his car he advised me to get a rabies shot. Then he asked me if I was the one who called the cops? Well, it turned out that after I threw the guy out the first time he had called the police to report me. Then he came back and we had our little brawl. The cop was responding to this little jerk’s complaint.

Later on I asked people around the neighborhood what this guy’s deal was?? I found out that he spent most of his time in the laundromat. He always carried around a cardboard box with a box of detergent and a pair of pants in it. Apparently he would walk around for a while, piss himself, go to the laundry, change his pants, wash the dirty pair, then begin the cycle all over again. All day long.

He never came in the store again but I would see him around carrying his box. He never seemed to recognize me.

Sep 23 / Vick Mickunas

Have I talked about my plumber lately??

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I love my plumber. And I still do. Here’s why:

He’s smart and he solves problems. Here’s the latest example:

The sump pump in the well failed. Moisture along the wall of the well got into the outlet and the plug melted down. I had an electrician come out and replace the electrical outlet in the well. I had to turn off the well pump during the time that the outlet was toasted. When I turned the pump back on the water heater started leaking water. We call that the cascade effect. When one thing fails it tends to impact other things, thus the cascading effect of devices failing.

I turned off the well pump again so the water would stop coming out of the water heater. Then I called my plumber and explained the situation.

He came out and replaced the sump pump. Then he looked at the water heater. He said it was 13 years old. They usually last 10 years. But instead of trying to sell me an expensive replacement, we are talking about 800 dollars for a new water heater, he investigated the problem to try to determine why the heater was leaking.

He discovered that the heating elements had burned out. He told me that the elements were somewhat non-standard these days but if I wanted to try to fix the heater instead of replacing it that he could obtain new elements and give it a shot. He had to order them. It took about a week.

The plumber’s wife handles all his office duties. She called to make a new appointment and asked if I still wanted to try to replace the heating elements or had I decided I wanted to buy a new heater. She said a new heater would run about 750 dollars, give or take. Replacing the elements would cost about 250 dollars.

I told her that I wanted to try to fix it and explained that her husband had always done right by me in the past. So she made an appointment.

He came out this morning and got to work on it. I always hang out while he’s working. He likes to chat while explaining what he’s doing. Today he told me about his invention for lifting heavy water heaters easily. He said if he could get the idea patented and found a way to manufacture these devices that it could save millions of dollars a year. I wondered how that could be? Well, he explained that there’s a plague of injuries in the plumbing trade that result from plumbers trying to maneuver heavy water heaters into tight spots. Lots of plumbers hurt themselves and all those worker’s comp claims really add up. Millions a year in claims. If they could use his device for easily lifting heaters into tight spots they could save lots of money and productivity. I was impressed.

Meanwhile he was dealing with replacing the heating elements while explaining his theory of how they burned out and what was causing the leak. There were difficulties installing the elements. My plumber charges 75 dollars an hour for labor. He spent almost an hour and a half fixing the heater. When he was finished he gave me the bill. I guess he hadn’t heard his wife’s previous estimate. He charged me 150 dollars.

I just turned on the tap. We have hot water again. Have I mentioned that I love my plumber??

Sep 2 / Vick Mickunas

Remembering MoMo

Remembering MoMo

It was right around New Year’s Day-1999 was about to expire, I went back to the tool shed and discovered that a feral cat had found shelter there. She had just given birth. Only three in the litter. Two orange guys and another male who was black.

When spring arrived they had been weaned and the mother went back to her wandering ways. Shortly thereafter we found her dead in a ditch. A car had hit her. Her kittens remained behind. They were feral like their mother. Two of them, the black one and one of the orange ones were skittish and distrustful. They would eat but kept their distance from us and remained outdoors.

The other orange cat was a lover. He would come in the house and rub up against our legs. A real sweetheart. I have found through sad experience that the gregarious kittens are the most endangered. That little fellow vanished soon thereafter. I don’t even remember now what we called him. The coyotes probably made a meal out of him.

We named the black cat MoMo. The orange cat acquired the moniker of Lazzy. We took them to get fixed. Lazzy never forgave us. 14 years later he still remembers being captured and delivered to the vet where he was unmanned. Lazzy still winters in the tool-shed where he was born. He eats what we serve him and he keeps his own company. He will allow me to pet him on his terms. He’s still mostly feral.

MoMo decided a long time ago that he preferred having access to amenities. Warm beds. The arm of my recliner where he could receive all the stroking and loving he so thoroughly savored. He didn’t purr very much but there was something so languid and fulfilled about him. Pure pleasure. He would always show up at about 5 minutes before 6. Dinner time. He would inspect the meal and if we were having salmon his anticipation was relentless. His satisfaction, boundless.

Sometimes the other cats would make it perilous for MoMo to enter through the cat doors. Often in the dead of winter at 3am we would be awakened by MoMo. He would climb up the sides of the second floor deck and up on to the balcony where the sounds of his claws raking on the glass doors would rouse us from our slumbers. MoMo would then come straight to bed.

This past winter we noticed that MoMo would occasionally sneeze. He would be in bed and suddenly have a sneezing fit. Two of the other cats were also somewhat sneezy last winter. We assumed it was some kitty bug they were passing around. The other two cats got better. As spring rolled around MoMo was still having some respiratory issues. Trouble breathing. Congestion. Sneezing.

He never got better. We took him to the vet and after being examined we were told that he had polyps growing in his airway, that this was not uncommon and that following surgical removal most cats did just fine afterwards.

We consulted with another vet to obtain a second opinion. This vet said she could not really determine the problem without performing surgery to be certain what was wrong. We agreed to go forward.

The findings were not what we had hoped. MoMo had a tumor growing in his throat. There was nothing that we could do to help him. It was too late. The vet suggested that a cortisone injection might temporarily reduce the size of the tumor, alleviate any pain and give him a little more time with us. He got the shot and we took him back home.

His appetite improved-he seemed more like his old self. But not for very long. Two nights ago he came and snuggled up next to me in bed. That would be the last time. He was so sick. This morning we took him to the vet to help him to exit his worn out body. I have buried MoMo in the yard.

MoMo deeply understood the hazards of the road, I never saw him go anywhere near it. He had his secret places out in the forest where he spent his afternoons hunting voles and field mice. I never knew him to attack a bird of any kind.

He did enjoy the occasional baby squirrel lunch. This spring after he was already ill with the cancer that finally ravaged him I walked past the firewood pile next to the fireplace and I heard an odd sound. I looked over there and saw that MoMo had caught a baby squirrel and as was his custom he was devouring it. MoMo would begin by chomping on the squirrel’s head then proceed anaconda-like to eat the squirrel all the way down in one long devoted and thoroughly ecstatic chewing session. He would not stop until he had reached the tail which he would then deposit like some feral trophy upon the driveway.

We’ll miss you, MoMo.