Hell Holds No Pets

Meet Some of My
New York Friends

Paraphrasing Mario Puzo, keep your friends close, and the friends of your friends, closer. He may’ve known a thing or two about family sagas, but as far as animals are concerned, not so much. In fact, most of us wouldn’t flinch about harming a pet, even if Hollywood had an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Gentle beasts, they earn from us more than we could ever give friends, lovers, and relatives. So let me introduce you to a few of my acquaintances’ cats, and one tender dog, in the company of whom I satisfy my fix, and sense of loss, since mine left me long ago and I’ve run out of time to outlast new ones.
Life gives us no choice: once time comes, we leave it all behind. Which is fine. But unlike sons and daughters, there’s no telling them, now, go get your own place and pets to tend to. Once you’re together, you’re down for the long, or short, run, or whenever one of you checks out. Try to not to be the first.
For the accidental petsitter like me, it’s always clear which one of us is the needier, and who’s actually providing existential relief. Just like it was when they adopted us. So I tackle my duties like a priest sets up the altar for a mass: everything has to be carefully arranged to assure a safe trip to heaven for all involved.
Things usually follow a natural path, from wearily seizing each other’s out, to lending a tad of trust to the proceedings, to the time when it gets to be all fun and games. Such a progression may seem casual to the untrained eye, but let’s not let looks deceive us. For in the end, we may all feel better for having shared those moments together.

OLD SCHOOL & THE INTERLOPER
Ziggy was once the new kid on the block, but was never as big as his elder brother, who’s left us. When he finally got his shot at the top, KittyKat showed up and won everybody’s heart. Soon, he grew bigger and is now the dominant dude. Ziggy is right to be bitter.
Two beautiful Coons, they’ve got ways to go to get along, if they’ll ever. Most likely, Ziggy will keep on being cranky, despite such a Reggae name, while Kitty gets away with mayhem. And some dare to say that cats have it easy. Life has no patience for fairness. I love these two.

THE MAJESTIC QUEEN GRACIE
There are not enough superlatives to describe this lady, and to keep it simple doesn’t do her justice either. The thing about striking a feline-like balance when writing about a cat proves us how inadequate is our own sense of balance. And how poor. That’s not Gracie at all.
It took me a while to show her I was at her service. For she’d never demand anything. But when she finally vocalized her state of mind, I understood it perfectly. Many a silent sunset we’ve enjoyed together, as I dabbled in her generous name-sake mood. Everything about her speaks of harmony. I look forward to indulge her light again soon.

BIRDIE & SQUIRT, TWIN SHADOWS
These two could be spies, and I swear they like to play doubles. Just when I thought I knew which is which, they’ve proved me wrong. Twice. I’m sure at least one of them flies, when no one is looking. Then again, to wonder what cats do when we’re not around is like trying to build walls of shade. I think they can read my mind too.
Once I dozed off and just before I came to, I had this vivid impression they were staring at my reverie. But when I’ve opened my eyes, neither Birdie nor Squirt were anywhere to be seen. I’m sure they know something about me I don’t dare to imagine what. Next time, I’ll wear a disguise.

LULU TRAPEZIST & PRINCESS FURBALL
Lulu is the girl next door, who flirts with the string I flicker in front of her paws, and then disappears in the back. Princess came after, her beautiful fur covering up her round body. While she hardly moves, Lulu entertains dogs of all sizes. They both live in a pet store, you see.
Lulu‘s the one I seek when I need a quick cat fix. She won’t let (more)
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New York Bites

One Bridge For Sale, the Train
Savant & the Churchyard Sheep

Self-confidence is the New York currency. That’s why stories about the city and its citizens are borderline hyperbolical, lest no one be accused of being meek. No wonder; with 27,000 people per square mile, one needs all the distinction they can muster. Even if involves tall tales.
At least, eight million of them, as the 1948 classic Naked City claimed. Then as now, all are outstanding. Heard the one about selling the Brooklyn Bridge? Or the guy who went to prison for stealing the subway dozens of times? But fear not, the sheep are coming back to town.
Big Apple; city that never sleeps; top of the heap. New Yorkers are so fed up with slogans, sobriquets, and movies about their town being destroyed. Specially since it’s now far from the lawless wasteland some still expect from it. Just don’t try to sell cat hair, of course.
But urban myths about sewer alligators, or rats the size of cats, die hard. And so does the belief that residents are rude – they’re not, Ok? gotta a problem with that? – or getting rich just by mining the streets. The thing is, the real New York stories are much better than these.
So, yes, you hear this place is the greatest of this and greatest of that, and self aggrandizing is a competitive sport. But you’d better back up what you say or you’ll get your behind kicked before you can say, trump. As for that orange sleazyball, don’t worry: we’re working on it.

ONE BRIDGE IN GOOD CONDITION
Speaking of con men, and dealers who can’t close a deal, there’s a New Yorker who truly may’ve been the greatest of them all, or at least, one of the first of a long line of pretenders and liars: George C. Parker. Yes, he did ‘sell’ the Brooklyn Bridge at the turn of the 19th century.
Not once, but twice a week, for 30 years. He was not the only one to try, but seemed to have beaten the competition. His scheme even inspired the Mae West‘s 1937 vehicle, Every Day’s a Holiday. By then, no fraudsters of that ilk were still alive, only their legacy.
It’s survived to this day in the Nigeria‘s sudden riches Internet hoax, and, somehow, in the U.S. presidency. The set up, and the bill of goods involved, may change, but two core elements are still around: snake oil salesmen, and the gullibility of get-rich-quick believers.

THE SAD TALE OF THE TRAIN MAN
Darius McCollum may be many things: impersonator, trespasser, lawbreaker. He also has Asperger’s syndrome, and his feats flared up New Yorkers’ imagination – hey, his train was always on schedule. But one place he does’t belong to: Rikers Island.
And yet, he’s spent half of his 52 years in prisons like that. His deed: invading the subway system and conducting the train, without working for MTA. Or missing a stop. He did that many times since he was 15, and also tried his able hands on LIRR trains and a Greyhound bus.
Many believed he should’ve gotten the job that’d have saved him. Instead, the agency with an ugly record running NYC (more)
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Running on Fumes

The Scent With Power to
Make You Dream Or Run

Some of us like perfumes. Others, stink too much (you know who you are. Maybe). Some use one to cover up the other, to widespread annoyance. And yet, for all we know, the primeval sense of smell may be the scent that has saved our species from extinction. Maybe.
The odor spectrum is radically split into two realms: one transcends us to heaven, if not to sweet remembrances of the past; the other tosses us into the very bowels of hell, all gagging included. But without rot wafts, we wouldn’t know how appreciate so much a whiff of lavender.
Or to breathe into a room full of old books. To some, that’d be the one to bottle and carry around at all times. Humans are partial to jasmine, to myrrh, and to citruses, too, not just to the primeval smell of milk or food in general. Our taste for pleasant smells is its own reward.
A familiar smell can stop people on their tracks, and thrown them into deep reverie. Often, a memory floods the mind even before it can recognize what triggered it. Similar to an old song, a scent can transport anyone to an elusive mix of recollection and comfort feelings.
No wonder the sense of direction has been linked to the nose. It’s where scientists found traces of magnetite, a crystal we share with birds. Of all the places we stick our noses in, or point them to, guessing correctly which is the way back home can be a life saver.

FOR A FEW SCENTS MORE
We should also thank the stars for the nose to point forward and far from what’s better left behind (and unsaid). But either for a matter of survival, as when one smells a fire, or a rat, or for sentimental reasons, it’s hard to imagine organisms depleted from such crucial ability.
But some people are, either by accident or freak of nature. And most are doing just fine, thank you very much. So there you have it, how lucky you’ve been and hardly noticed. And don’t go around saying that nobody told you: you just have. You’re welcome.
Within the vastness of what flares the wings of our nose (beside anger and derangement), two traces are particularly close to us: body odor (you knew it was coming); and city smells. Each or combined, (more)
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Moon Shadow

Here Comes the Darken Sun,
But Let’s Just Say, It’s Alright

So the great solar eclipse of 2017 is coming to America and we, for ones, are only too glad about it. What, with all that’s going on, the thought of spending time with such a fascinating cosmic event surely beats most of everything one’s been watching on the news lately.
By now, however, every media, the Internet, your close friends, and even your deranged uncle Bob, have already told you all that is to know about it, maybe more. So here’s just a few historical and/or interesting pics to entice and inform you. Call it your personal mini visual tour.
Hover over the photos and click on them and on the links, for data and stories. Eclipses have been teaching us since time immemorial, and while many feared that the sun, or the moon, wouldn’t survive the penumbra, others like Edmond Halley, were open to learn. The one in 1919, for instance, proved Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

The one visible in 1966 at the bottom of South America led NASA to launch 12 rockets from a beach some 30 miles from where a little boy risked losing his eyesight to watch it through a photo negative strip. Luckily, that pair of eyes survived to experience many others since.

All ancient civilizations studied and documented cosmic phenomena. Comets and meteors, supernovas and moon eclipses, all had tremendous impact on our history on this planet. But things heat up considerably whenever the sun is concerned, and when the day turns into night, well, that’s not to be ever taken lightly.

We gaze, therefore we are. To many of us, this may be our very last solar eclipse, so we’d better make it good, just in case. Choose well your eye wear, pick a good spot, and make up a decent excuse to be there. Gee, the way things are going, the sun coming back after just a few hours may be the best news we may be getting for a while.

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Bad Manor


The Kid, the Maid
& the Phony Blind

The telephone rang and blew my cover.
I was dreaming, oblivious to the final days of my vacation at the turn-of-the-century Inn where I was told George Washington had slept at. Most of the seasonal guests had already left. The maid, whose family had been keeping the place in pristine conditions for decades, had changed the laced sheets of the Victorian bed and was running around tiding things up.
Who knows what made me decided to play blind? My second-rate performance began on a whim and before long I felt liberated for not having to see where I was going (since she was making sure I wouldn’t hit anything).
Halfway through it I was fully committed to fool the tormented soul, as she charitably whispered advice so I wouldn’t break my skull open against the 1900s bookcase. That being a dream, I should be exonerated of any malfeasance, I thought.
Ah, what a joy to pretend I was heading straight to the antique console full of crystal glasses and fine china. I could see her cold sweat running, imagining that at any moment I could smash the priceless artifacts and drive her family out of business. Some daft footwork helped the devilish intent to grow even deeper within me.
As I directed my blank gaze to the window, I basked on the sound of children voices playing on the manicured lawns surrounding the cottages and the manor house. Autumn was at its peek. The sound of unseen birds racked my rapture. I was truly elated.
Then the phone rang and my 8-year old woke up — I’d forgotten all about him. The poor thing had been sick all morning, and had fallen asleep on an exquisite century-old rug. As he sat up crying, he tells me that the sudden ringing had had a perverse effect on his track: he’d soiled his pants profusely. Still weeping, he also threw up, projecting the half-digested Continental Breakfast out of the makeshift bed I’d prepared for him. Even before he told me that, though, my nostrils had already sounded the alarm.
I immediately broke out of character and ushered him towards the bathroom, a long and excruciating way from the living room. We rushed through the bedroom as fast as we could but he still managed to let another copious wave of vomit to land on the fluffy pillows. And another one followed suit, caking a Federal-style trunk.
When he finally sat on the toilet bowl, I turned back to see the thick, smelly track of organic waste that lined the floor from the foyer to the bathroom’s door.
As I feared such a pious old lady could turn into a murderous rage, I was glad to wake up.
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(*) Originally published on Mar. 28, 2011.

Some Girls

When Medieval Badass Ladies Had
to Crossdress to Survive the Times

It’s unlikely that they’ve ever heard of each other. Or imagined they’ll be featured together on an obscure blog post of the future. Yet, these remarkable women left a mark for their sheer independence and fiery personalities. (And for being luckier than doomed heroine Joana D’Arc.)
Ching Shih ruled the Chinese waters. Caterina Sforza almost killed a pope. As a man, Catalina de Erauzo was a warrior. But like Chevalier d’Eon, she was actually a lady. These fab four may have had to kill or bed many men. Some did it both. But none owed their outstanding reputation to any of them, or had to take what they didn’t choose.
Gender does say something about the foursome, but not all. Yes, they all led bloody lives, and many perished on their wake. But the odds they’ve faced for not being male, and having to conceal that fact, turned them into formidable characters who rose high above the fray.
Besides the ever present foes of women’s right to independence, such as religious zealotry, class barriers, and society prejudice, they had to survive typical Middle Ages threats, such as the Inquisition and burning at the stake. No wonder they were all sharp fencers (swordswomen?).
They’ve achieved more than most, and their lives did rewrite the rules of was expected from women, then or at any time, regardless the body count. Theirs were partial paybacks for what many of their gender didn’t live long enough to collect, despite earning and deserving it.

THE PIRATE WHO RULED CHINA’S SEAS
History books tell that Ching Shih was a prostitute before reaching command of the Red Flag Fleet. That she only climbed to the top through murdering the powerful pirate Zhèng Yi, who kidnapped her as a whore and made her his wife. Only to be betrayed, etc. History books were probably written by a man.
In fact, she expanded the fleet and redefined how it’d manage its riches, and did so out of a keen business and strategy acumen. And unlike most male pirates we’ve know of, she negotiated a pardon for her and her charges, who all retired with a comfortable keep. She died at the ripe age of 69.

THE HUSBAND & WOULD-BE POPE KILLER
Much briefer, if no less intense, was Caterina Sforza‘s life. Infamous too, thanks to no other but Machiavelli himself. He wrote Cesare Borgia-based ‘The Prince,’ so it’s not hard to guess whose pope she had a rift with, and came out singed by history. Alexander VI, a.k.a. Rodrigo de Borgia, was Cesare’s dad and his own patron.
She did bury a few husbands, but the anecdote that survived Sforza was that she exposed her pregnant belly to the sword of an enemy: Go ahead, she said, slay my baby. I can make more. Whether (more)
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Paper Planes

404 Pages, Old Hoaxers
& Staying Dry in the Rain

This being Summer Solstice time, it seems appropriate to bring you these stories, each with a temporal slant. One would not be possible a few decades ago; another no longer makes much sense; and yet the other one is ageless. So, no sweat, we’ve got you covered.
On the Internet, no one knows you got lost; or that you landed on a ‘Not Found’ page. The Society Against Quackery would not tolerate such nonsense 130 years ago. And yet, since time immemorial, there’s been Virga, a special kind of rain: the type that doesn’t make you wet.
What? Didn’t they use to count paper planes on New York City streets? Or holes in Blackburn Lancashire? Indeed they did, so it shouldn’t shock you if we pick the odd or the unusual for a summer read, rather than the bloody or the bombastic. For there’ll be plenty of that too.
There’s a new Pride Flag with a welcome element of racial tolerance. And, yes, the season’s proverbial love stories already abound, along those from the 1967 Summer of Love. And the breeze, and that girl from Ipanema, and all cliches about heat and hurricanes.
Since warm days go by faster in the north, they’ll still be filled with talk about ice cream and beaches, parties and drought. Just as Earth will keep on getting warmer, and this sort of conversation feels like sand inside one’s swimming suits. Blame us for wanting you to take it easy.
THIS CALL CANNOT BE COMPLETED
So what’s wrong with searching and not finding? Not acceptable these days. See, even when one lands on uncharted territory, it’s no longer an excuse to avoid making assumptions. Or post your cluelessness on Facebook. No opinion should be spared. Thus the 404 pages.
Which is now as entertaining as if you’d reached a site about scientific curiosities. Museums, institutions, companies, and individuals, all jockey to come up with clever ways to cushion your crushing results. It’s Ok, the image and wording seem to say. Here, see how funny this is.
As for the code number, like a lot of what still compounds our journeys online, it had a nerdy origin, such as some room number in a building once fully occupied by an electronic brain, as it was know. Or it was by chance, depending of who you find still wondering in the space formerly known as cyber.
THE OLD FLIM-FLAM DEBUNKERS
Way before Tim Berners-Lee was born – the World Wide Web inventor just turned 62 last week – or there was need for Snopes, a group of Dutch skeptics recognized the potential harm hidden behind human gullibility. And decided to mount a defense against those who’d gladly take advantage of it.
If the Internet metastasized the power of deceivers, in 1881, snake oil salesmen, mystics, end-of-the-world profiteers, and an entire array of their ilk, were already doing irreparable damage out of others’ (more)
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