Monday, August 3, 2009

Orange Jack


Jack wasn't orange, and the orange character pictured above wasn't named Jack. The remarkable intertwining of their lives, however, convinces me of the need to conflate the two; to believe Jack's existence to be eerily similar to what I learned from Pumpkin, our cat. Pumpkin was a cat of exemplary size, a prolific sleeper and non-violent to a fault. His favorite (only, save the normal duties of bodily function) activity was purring, uttering sweet nothings in a treble rumble, and enjoying being pet. His magnanimity in the face of the unknown knew no bounds. I loved that cat, and if it doesn't bother you, I don't mind saying it either.

As a kitten he enjoyed lying on my chest, vibrating with sound as I pet him for hours in a contented stupor. The windows had no shades and light streamed into the small room, bleaching the sheets on the bed with midday glare and letting in jagged rectangles of blue sky at regular intervals. Thoughts swirled with oblivion as the days turned quickly to purple-hued dusk in the 3rd Ward. We sat on the porch and saw neighbors and heard the Texas Southern marching band at night. The cat grew from a tomato to a grapefruit, jumping across the room at string, and eventually grew to resemble a cantaloupe, if the color on the inside was on the outside. We moved back to Austin Street, where Tish had gotten Thor, the vicious tiny grey cat who ruled the dust bunnies of the giant apartment like a minuscule lion on the Serengeti. Her companion Pumpkin began to resemble a water buffalo in this world, and his slothful bliss bothered her to no end. That orange cat, plump with love and victuals, sat in our laps, on our projects, in our books, on the newspaper, on our heads in bed and occasionally between our knees.


Pumpkin was alwas a judgeless character, but befitting his candor he was a scardy-cat as well. He would seek affection from any and everyone who crossed his path, delighting in rolling over onto his back and stretching out like an unfurling inflatable raft for Stuart Little and his entire extended family. His tangerine and cream stripes stretched out and bunched up on his neck, back and haunches. He looked like a plump grocery store pumpkin, teetering between the ones you decorate with and the ones you eat. He only knew love, and he grew up to be a character of undue devotion and whimsy.

In his final days Pumpkin developed a jaundice that turned his skin a sickly yellow. Under the orange fur it was terribly tough to see, and truly our first notion that he was ill came when he emerged from the back of a closet last Sunday night. He was possessed of two gooey clear jowls of spit, his hair matted and dirty. His eyes stared a thousand miles away. We pet him cleaned him up, put water in front of him and tried to feed him- to no avail. The next morning we brought him in to the vet, where he was quickly whisked away to a clinic when his prognosis was beyond immediate diagnosis.

Jim Love, Jack, Menil Collection

Monday morning brought back the chocolate grinder of the workweek and with it a tinge of paranoia about the fate of our happy, fat cat- last seen hooked up to an IV and being force fed, as he had neglected to eat or drink on account of his afflicted liver. With time after work and a will to take my mind off of darker things, I slow-cooked pork ribs, a particularly lean and tough bit of them. After three hours and a lot of barbecue sauce named after a football player they were delicious, and the cartilage was buttery and gelatinous. I tossed a chewed bone in the yard for Claire, a particularly territorial Corgi and Pumpkin's best friend. Three minutes of concentrated silence erupted in a din of barking that shook us from our chairs, but there was no real threat to be alarmed about. Instead a short black dog stood at our gate, hungrily sniffing the air.


Jack, as he came to be known, was very hungry, ravenous even. Tish, softhearted as she is, brought the dog bowl after bowl of food and water and he ate it all. He wanted to play, he was young and affectionate. I sat inside worried that we had just inherited another dog that we didn't have the time to house train and take care of. Undeterred, she made a bed for the dog out of my old bathrobe and stayed in the yard with him. She said he was sweet. I wouldn't see him.

In the morning I went outside to see if the dog stayed the night. Jack had dug himself a hole under the butterfly bush and found a cool spot to rest during the day. He slowly came out from under the ground, his head down and his blue eyes sparkling. My hesitance melted away. He stared at me, silent, and seemed to only want affection.

Jack stayed for two days. We fed him and hung out with him, but wouldn't let him in the house. He never barked, but graciously accepted whatever we would offer him and was content with what he had. We visited Pumpkin at the animal hospital every day, hoping that he would pull through. The entire month of July had been a messy, stressful terror. As we waited to see if the insurance company would process Tish's application for carpal tunnel surgery, they decided to inject her wrists with cortisone, causing immense pain and immobilizing her. A relative came into town to undergo treatment for liver cancer. I was embroiled in balancing work and art projects like the A/V Swap and public art for Summerfest. To top it all off I have been engaged in a vain attempt to find a position as a history teacher in one of the worst job environments in decades. The stress gave me hives, and we were both on edge. The dog just stared up into your eyes with his eerie blue eyes looking like the ice on a frosted window.

AES+F, Defile

We went to the vet twice on Saturday. The first time Pumpkin was hardly mobile. It took a good 5 seconds for him to respond to the sound of your voice. I tried to feed him, force-feed him a slurry of water and wet cat food, and he gave me a look that broke my heart. After an hour I left convinced that while not every day is a good day it was not a good reason to give up. An hour, two phone calls and a test later we were not so convinced. Immediately after Tish hung up the phone the doorbell rang. Her aunt had driven from Austin and arrived at that precise moment to take care of our sick relative. We left quickly and drove in silence. Pumpkin was purring when we saw him that afternoon. Still unable to stand, we could at least see that he was content.

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Dealers in the U.S. “cash-for- clunkers” program are disabling trade-in vehicles with a chemical under new rules to prevent those who take the government subsidies from reselling the cars.

Dealers must replace the oil in the “clunker” with two quarts of sodium silicate solution and run the engine, permanently disabling it, according to rules released today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington. Sodium silicate is a substance found in dishwasher detergent and used to seal exhaust leaks in repair shops. The silicate causes the engine’s parts to freeze and ensures it never cruises the highway again.

After Pumpkin passed away I took a picture of him, morbidly. I thought about Napoleon's death mask and how it felt taboo today to take a photograph after someone has died. I'm no more morbid than a Russian, though, as AES+F proved in their show 2 years ago at The Station, with their series of cadavers dressed in couture, Defile. Their photographs hung life-size on the wall, as if they were about to walk down a well lit runway. Other work included in the exhibit focused on the potential of death or the capability of murder. But these contented souls, Who met their ends in peaceful means, seemed the most alive- an embodiement of human frailty that overwhelmed the emotions in exactly the opposite way a portraits of teenage girls arrested for murder or nymphic youth in an epic and ultimately bloodless set piece film.

Paper Rad

Like the Paper Rad performance behind Brazil a few years ago I had an hour of experience that heightened all my senses and all my phobias. I puked in the parking lot. There was a dead and bloated weimereiner in the street. We drove past fields of concrete barriers stacked up past the trees. Time stretched on, plodding like techno. The sky turned grey and it started to rain. I came home and talked to Jack about my problems, he stared at me without judgement. I gave the dog a bath. He didn't fight it and it killed a lot of fleas. I pet him and he put his head on my lap. When I went back inside he wriggled under the fence and walked away. We haven't seen him since.

Danil Adame, what is love, 2006
Westheimer Block Party

Daniel Adame's performane at the Westheimer Block Party a few years ago really seems to illustrate how I feel right now. Dressed in denim work clothes and steel toed boots, Adame arrived at the festival with a 100 pound block of pink chalk and a harnass. At the corner of Westheimer and Taft he began by wandering into traffic, an unseeing and determined look in his eyes. He wove through traffic, up onto the sidewalk back out again. It's not every day that a man carrying a massive block of chalk is blocking your lane and many drivers found their impedance so out of the ordinary they stared and slowed to a crawl behind him. On the chalk, scrawled in script, read "what is love". He won the competion for Best in Show that night, crowned by judge Katy Heinlein.



I would like to remember Pumpkin like this, as a member of a family and a fixture around the house. A part of every day. All I can do now is pet invisible cats and daydream. I think I will make something to house his memory for me.


Nothing as large as Charlie Robets' MAMBO JAMBO at the Rice Gallery last year, but a wunderkammer just the same.


I already think I've spilled enough ink in this post to feel like Sean Landers.


I'll miss that cat.




Robert Boyd said...

Wow. That was a weird and moving post. Sounds like you lost one hell of a good cat.

Anonymous said...

I miss my kitty. This was a beautiful tribute, baby. Love you.

Vanessa Tanith VanAlstyne said...

I had to put down a cat who had bad liver problems 6 months before I moved to Houston. Stupid as it sounds, it really makes you feel powerless. Death, You can't stop it. Death, It seems to pointless in such little things like cats. Can't pets just live on forever, neutered, loving, kind, and not need to blink out of existence and suck a hole in your heart.

I still have kittens till tomorrow or Thursday, if you want a band aide cat, let me know.

Anonymous said...

Much love, Sean. That was a beautiful tribute.

Anonymous said...

One for the Old Boy

he was just a
a dirty white with pale blue eyes

I won't bore you with hi
just to say he had mcuh bad luck
and was a good old guy
and he died
like people die
like elephants die
like rats die
like flowers die
like water evaporates and
the wind stops blowing

the lungs gave out
last Monday.
now he's in the rose
and I've heard a
stirring march
playing for him
inside of me
which I know
not many
but some of you
would like to


Charles Bukowski

Brandon said...

Beautiful post. I am sorry for your loss. Love is all we have.