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Oct 12 / Vick Mickunas


October 3, 2019

There’s a feeding station for five of the cats just outside the back door. These cats are a family, the mother, I call her Sweetie, is feral, she has tuxedo markings, and she has stayed around since giving birth to her litter. The only time I have ever touched her was when I had to capture her to take her to the vet after her kittens were weaned. She won’t be having any more kittens. She has never forgiven me for that day two years ago. I enticed her into the tool room where these cats spend the winter months. When I was finally able to grab her after a mad scramble she bit me so deeply through my thick leather gloves that she left a scar.

Sweetie and her four kittens, Junior, Wibbles, Dolly, and Patch, know that at the same time every morning and evening I will be feeding them at their feeding station. They rarely miss a meal, especially Sweetie. She gets all excited when I bring out their dishes. She swirls around expectantly and as I set her dish down she will often lunge forward grazing her whiskers against my hand. That’s as close as I ever come to touching her.

Her kittens are wonderful, affectionate creatures who love to be stroked and petted. I have been handling them and loving them since the day they were born. After the cats have eaten I’ll take up their excess food and put it in the refrigerator. I do not want to attract wildlife with the scent of cat food. They always have a bowl of water out there. It has been quite dry here for months and that bowl of water attracts passing opossums and raccoons. The opossums will lean into the water dish and drink until it is dry. The raccoons will drag the dish around and despite their spurious reputations, that they are clean and wash their hands, in reality they are filthy creatures. They leave muck in the dish. If they get inside the tool room, or heaven forbid, the attic, they befoul the area. They will defecate where they sleep.

I have had to remove raccoons and opossums from the house on a number of occasions. I don’t mind removing the opossums. They scurry about and just want to remain where it is warm and dry and where food is served regularly. Raccoons are a different story. They freak out when you try to remove them. They get really vicious, snapping, snarling, and after I catch them in a live trap they scrabble frantically in their efforts to escape. We drive these creatures to a local forest some distance away and release them.

I don’t worry about opossums harming the cats but the presence of raccoons is worrisome. When raccoons show up I have always assumed the cats avoid them. They let me deal with them. I do worry about the cats fighting with a raccoon. I have always been certain that a raccoon could really hurt my cats. However, as of this morning, I am not so sure of that assumption.

Last night it was hot. October has begun with record shattering 90 degree days. When it is cooler the cats are more likely to want to be inside at night. We have cat doors so they can go in and out. Wibbles, Dolly, and Patch will use the cat doors. Sweetie and Junior will use the cat door to the tool room but they never come inside the other cat doors that could take them inside to beds and food dishes. They are more feral in their behaviors. We have had raccoons and opossums enter through the cat doors and act like they lived here! Last night all the cats were outside. I thought I heard some fighting last night but it subsided quickly so I remained in bed.

This morning all five of the cats who eat at the feeding station outside were waiting for me in the front yard when it was time for breakfast. I got their food ready and opened the back door by their feeding station and was about to call them around for breakfast when I glanced over and noticed a very large raccoon next to the door. There are some small logs stacked there, firewood I am preparing for winter. The raccoon was lying next to a small log with his snout sticking under it. It wasn’t moving. None of the cats had come around to the back of the house yet. They were waiting. They knew how that raccoon got there.

I assumed the raccoon was dead but I needed to be sure. I touched the end of the log that was resting alongside the animal’s face. It didn’t stir. I went inside to put on some gloves. I grabbed the dead raccoon by one back foot and flipped it over. He had his front paws over his face. He had died with his face pressed under the log, his paws over his eyes. He had an expression of utter terror. There wasn’t a mark on him. No cuts. No bites. No claw marks. He was just dead.

I’m trying to imagine what happened? The water dish was full of water so the raccoon had not had time to drink any of it. These cats will kill chipmunks and squirrels and mice and voles but I have never known them to attack anything larger than that. Here was this dead raccoon and it was obvious that he had literally been scared to death!

Why didn’t he run away? Was he surrounded by all these black cats? After all, it is October. Did my sweet little cats encircle him last night and frighten him so badly that he had a heart attack and died of fear with his head burrowed beneath that log?

I removed his carcass and took it out to the bean field for the vultures to have their brunch. When I returned I called the cats and they slowly assembled at the feeding station. Their behavior was unusual. They had returned to the scene of their crime, a murder by fear alone, and this was causing some apprehension. Two of them would not eat. I inspected the four who will allow such a familiarity on my part. There wasn’t a mark on them. No bites. No scratches. Nothing.

This is my October murder mystery. A dead raccoon. Five cats who are not talking. As I am writing this Wibbles is asleep in my lap and Patch and Dolly are sleeping at my feet. Girls, what do you know about this? They continue to ignore me.

Halloween came early this year.

May 2 / Vick Mickunas

Half a lifetime ago

Today is May 2, 2018. 31 years ago on May 2, 1987 I had just finished hosting my late night radio show on KBLE in Des Moines. I was heading home on my bicycle. The streets were quiet and dark. I was riding along the back streets because I wanted to avoid traffic.

When I got to an intersection with a four way stop on Crocker Street I paused then proceeded to pass through the intersection. The street was slightly wet from a light rain that had fallen earlier in the evening. As I went into the intersection a Subaru came flying toward me along Crocker. It went right through the stop sign without stopping.

The driver stopped when he heard his vehicle collide with me. There was an after wedding party happening at a house on the corner. They must have heard the sound of the collision, too. A guy in a pink tuxedo had come out and was trying to prevent me from climbing onto what was left of my bicycle to try to ride away. I kept trying to get back on my bicycle and didn’t seem to understand that it wasn’t in any condition to ride.

I wasn’t heeding this fellow’s requests that I calm down and wait for the ambulance that they had called. Finally this fellow in the pink tuxedo was able to get me down on the ground but I kept trying to get up. At that point he sat on my chest to deter me from trying to rise up again and hop on my bike to ride away. I might have been in shock but I still remember looking up at this fellow who was sitting on me. I might not have been in any condition to ride away but I still recognized him. He had been on my Little League team when we were eight years old.

I looked at him as he was struggling to keep holding me down and I said “hey, you’re Steve Holcomb. We were on the same baseball team, the Senators!” That was back in the days when the Washington Senators still existed. He looked down at me and replied: “WHO, the FUCK, ARE YOU?!”

I don’t remember much more from that night. Apparently the ambulance arrived and took me to the emergency room at Methodist Hospital. By an odd coincidence it was the same place where I had been born. Someone called my mother and she came down. I don’t remember being at the hospital but I apparently never lost consciousness.

Later my mom told me that I kept repeating the same things over and over again. Every couple of minutes I would ask: “what time is it?” And whenever there were medical personnel around I would tell them” “I think I have a subdural hematoma.” I have no recollection of doing that.

There was a resident physician on duty who was doing a residency in plastic surgery. Apparently the ER is a good place for emergency plastic surgery situations to arise. I was one. I have no remembrance of anything that happened at the hospital. I am told that he took lots of photos of my head injury.

I had been scalped. I wasn’t wearing a helmet. The top of my head had collided with the front fender of the Subaru. I was told later on that if I had been wearing a helmet I probably would have broken my neck. Because I wasn’t wearing a helmet the soft fleshy tissue of my scalp and forehead absorbed the impact. I didn’t fracture my skull or get knocked out but the impact had stripped away a large piece of flesh and the flap was hanging down over my forehead. It is no wonder that I wasn’t recognizable to my former teammate in the pink tuxedo. I apparently looked like something from a horror film.

The resident plastic surgeon did the repair on my scalp and they sent me home. The next day I spoke to the doctor on the phone about my surgery and the after care I would require. He seemed very excited. He told me that it had been quite a rare opportunity to do that particular type of plastic surgery. I asked him why it was unusual? He explained that 99% of the time if someone had an injury like that surgery was not done because the person who had sustained that sort of horrific wound was usually already dead.

I consider today to be my 31st birthday. I probably should have died that night. I guess it wasn’t my time? I had been born again. Really. Every day that I have lived since has been a blessing. Extra days. That was half a lifetime ago.

I have always been rather hard headed. If I had been wearing a helmet that night I might have spent the last 31 years in a wheelchair. I didn’t even fracture my skull. But I understand that I put quite a nice dent in his Subaru. With my bare head.

Feb 9 / Vick Mickunas

During 2017 I did not write a single post

Too depressed. Donald Trump. It isn’t getting better. But hey, I just wrote a post!

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.