Friday, May 20, 2016

Introducing Findus "Baby Cat" Bitey Beau

Meet Findus, a.k.a. Baby Cat, a.k.a. Bitey Beau, formerly Fargo, adopted April 25 from APS of Durham. After three days quarantined in the upstairs bathroom, he emerged to help Schroeder begin a new exercise program. He spends his waking hours snarfing food and harassing Schroeder ("c'mon, hit me, hit me, I dare you!," he says, gnawing on Schroeder's head; to which Schroeder replies "happy to oblige." Two pots broken so far, one per cat). He spends a huge amount of time sleeping every day, which makes E jealous. We thought Schroeder was a bitey cat, but Findus bites much more. He'll occasionally open his fanged jaws wide even when he doesn't immediately need to bite, because a bitey cat can never be too prepared--though on such occasions, he's usually happy to receive a tooth massage. He managed to get us to adopt him by kissing all of us repeatedly, nose to nose--his preferred form of human contact other than biting. Below are photos of the two cats sharing some tender moments of not beating each other up.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Third generation is the charm: reflections on cherry pie and slide rules

When I was a kid, my siblings and I would ask my mother to tell us bedtime stories about her childhood. "Tell us a story about the Olden Days," we would say, night after night, and she would oblige with sepia-tinted tales about life on the Indiana farm or in Hyde Park, Chicago.

The stories that stuck with me most were wonderful adventures foiled by tragedy, like the time my mom and a friend decided to make a cherry pie, so they picked the cherries from the tree on the farm all by themselves, and they made a pie crust all by themselves, and they filled up that pie crust and baked that cherry pie all by themselves, and then no one in my mom's family would even taste it.

(Years later, when I brought up the story and wondered how her family could have been so callous, she said "oh, didn't I mention that the cherries were full of pits and worms, and I'm sure we didn't add any sugar, and we made the crust from flour and water and it was like grey paste? I didn't even eat any of it." I had somehow deleted all of that in my childhood indignation.)

Then there was the story about when my mother, as a little girl, got her very first helium balloon. This was after World War II, because during the war, all the latex was going to the war effort instead of to wonderful frivolous things like balloons. As she was crossing the street, with the balloon tied safely around her tiny wrist so it wouldn't float away (or so I imagined), that wonderful very first balloon popped. Popped! O cruel fate!

(Years later, after I had a child of my own, my mother observed that unlike my own son, my siblings and I had always cried and cried when balloons popped, and she had never understood what was up with that. I asked how we could not have cried, in light of her poignant story of post-war balloon loss. "It was just a balloon," she said.)

One memorable story was less tragic and less sepia-toned, at least to me if not to my mother. As I remember it, the story went something like this: "once upon a time, long ago in the olden days, when my sweet-sixteen birthday rolled around, I hoped for the usual things a 16-year-old girl wants for a birthday present. A pearl necklace, or a new bicycle, or maybe a pony. Something pretty or fun. But I didn't get a pearl necklace, or a new bicycle, or a pony. Instead, my parents gave me a slide rule."

Perhaps I am mis-remembering, and I didn't hear that story until my own sixteenth birthday was approaching. In any case, because my mother has a sense of humor, I too received a slide rule when I turned sixteen: a six-inch long ca. 1936 Keuffel & Esser Ever-There No. 4097D in a slim leather case. Fifteen months later, when my sister had her sixteenth birthday, she too was gifted with a slide rule ("only because it was tradition," she confirmed last night via email).

My sweet-sixteen Keuffel & Esser Ever-There No. 4097D

I am proud that the coming-of-age slide-rule tradition began with women, passed from my mother, as the first recipient, to her daughters. Family lore does not record whether my mother's brother received a slide rule for his sixteenth birthday, and as far as I know, my older brother's slide rules were not affiliated with his sixteenth. (Yes, "slide rules," plural. He reports, "I think I was given more than one because I think I lost more than one.")

My mother broadened the tradition to include menfolk and rites of passage other than birthdays when I married S. She felt it was important to properly welcome my husband into the family, so she gave him a big, fancy, vintage engineer's slide rule with a sturdy leather holster to call his own: a 14-inch long duplex Engineer's No. 1510 in fashionable plastic-coated bamboo, made in Japan, presumably by Relay/Ricoh, for the US market, no date.

S's hefty Engineer's No. 1510 is more than twice as long and twice as thick as my diminutive Keuffel & Esser Ever-There. Surely there's a Master's thesis waiting to be written about slide rules and gender.

My father was a math professor. He owned a slide rule and knew how to wield it. When I was young, I enjoyed playing with its smoothly gliding bars, but by the time I was old enough that a slide rule could have helped with school math, the world had begun its shift to TI-30s and wasn't looking back.

Neither my sister, my husband, nor I ever learned how to use our slide rules. My sister's probably migrated to my parents' attic decades ago. For the past 20 years, S and I have kept ours in their leather cases, tucked away in a desk drawer (his) and in a box in a closet (mine), unused.

Until last week. My son, just thirteen months shy of his sixteenth birthday, is learning about logarithms at school.

"Logarithms?" I said brightly, when he told me. "Let me show you something."

I opened the top right-hand drawer of our roll-top desk and pulled out his father's marital slide rule. We removed it from its holster, and E and I went online to learn how to use it.

"This is SO COOL," E said, as he figured one square root after another to within two significant digits; "when the power goes out after the Zombie Apocalypse, I can calculate numbers without a calculator! Let's do another!"

He asked why we had such a fascinating object. I told him about his grandmother's sixteenth birthday, how she had wanted a pearl necklace or a new bicycle or a pony, and how she had gotten a slide rule instead, and then I fetched my own sweet-sixteen slide rule.

"That is sooooo cute," he said, picking it up.

"Yeah. It's not as fancy as papa's though," I said.

"But it's really cute. It's so small!," he squeaked in admiration.

I put an arm around my delighted child, pointed to the two slide rules on the table, and quoted from the Woozy Works: "Someday, son," I said, "all this will be yours."

And thus it came to pass that a questionable gift for a bright-eyed girl on the cusp of womanhood almost sixty years ago is finally bearing fruit, two generations later. This metaphorical homemade cherry pie will not just be tasted: to paraphrase Sir Francis Bacon, it will be chewed and digested. And thirteen months from now, my son will receive a slide rule to call his own.

"One day, son, ALL THIS WILL BE YOURS." My grandfather Mitch shows my uncle Bob the splendor of the junk in the barn; from Woozy Works: The Nearly Complete and Mostly Unexpurgated Writings of the Blue Spanch (1996).