Friday, April 27, 2007

Send Small Lizards

A couple weeks ago, one of our Speech teachers caught for me two baby glossy snakes. I took pictures pictures of them to show off because they are so dang cute. They look like bleached-out gopher snakes, with very smooth, almost "glossy" skin.

Apparently, glossy snakes are notorious for being persnickety eaters. They won't eat crickets and turn up their little snake noses at pinkie mice. They will only eat juvenile lizards. Nothing else.

I guess the Speech teacher figured that THESE little specimens would be exceptions. HA! You can practically sense the derision with which they meet my meager offerings, laughing at my feeble attempts to nourish their little bodies.

Well, when snakes are hungry they start "cruising." They meander about looking and sniffing (with their tongues) for something to eat. Since these guys are so tiny, I never in a million years figured they could get out of the cage I set up for them. Well, HA! Last night my son woke me up yelling about one of the baby glossies sliding across the kitchen floor.

The escapee was quickly corralled but our relief turned to despair when we used our counting skills and discovered that the OTHER glossy snake was missing too!

"He must have followed the other one out," D said very seriously.

I doubt that baby snakes think that rationally, but it's as good an explanation as any, since both of them managed to bust free and go looking for food.

So now - instead of hiking way away from civilization to release the snakes this weekend, I will hike way and away from civilization to release ONE snake this weekend. The other one remains at large, cruising my house in search of lizards.

I've never seen any lizards in my house, ever. I do see, somewhat regularly, my cat, who is amazing torked at me right now because we are fresh out of Fancy Feast and he is forced to eat (gasp!) dry food.

This is the same cat who "liberated" my Rosy Boas one Christmas vacation when I was away from home. Rosie, thank goodness, survived and hibernated in a book case all winter. The baby boa, however, wasn't so lucky. The mummified remains of his carcass were discovered months later when we replaced our dishwasher. (Otis must have felt guilty enough to hide the remains.)

So. I am on the lookout right now for one baby glossy snake and one overly satisfied, revenge-seeking cat.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lost But Never Found

Today, out of sheer curiosity, I counted the items of clothing left at school and sent to "Lost and Found." There were exactly 51 sweatshirts, fleece shirts, sweaters, jackets, and one 'hoodie' shirt.

My school, like many others, has a process for these things. The first stop is always the Lost and Found barrel in the cafeteria. Items in that barrel get heaped up and tamped down and stirred around whenever something new is added. The clothing develops a distinctive musty odor after awhile.

Then, somebody gets fed up with the overflowing stack of unclaimed clothing and dumps it outside on the walkway across the quad area. The logic behind this action is that the kids will walk by the jackets and sweatshirts and see something that looks familiar and pick it up. It makes sense, theoretically.

The 'dumper' usually doesn't return later - which means the sprinklers will come on or it will rain and the unclaimed clothing will become wet. Then the smell is more on the "ripe" side. Mildew and musty together don't win friends and influence people.

Then, the groundskeeper shows up for his weekly mowing session. He doesn't want to ruin his lawnmower, so he shovels all the clothing back into the barrel. His nose crinkles up while he does this.

Several days later, the whole process starts up again.

Now, with a student body of at least 600 students (520 if you subtract kindergarten), you would think the zippered sweatshirts, pullover fleece shirts, and pink Tinkerbell hoodie would be claimed. Especially if they are laid out along the sidewalk and all 520 children walk by them and over them and ON them every single day for a week. At least 10 percent of these kids are missing a piece of their wardrobes - but no. Nothing gets picked up or examined, nothing is returned to its rightful owner.

You would also think that the parents would notice. I mean, how big is a child's wardrobe in a Title 1 school, anyway? That Scoobie Doo sweatshirt was no bargain the last time I saw it at Target, and the jackets run at least $30 each. You'd half expect some slipper-wearing mother to leave her car running one morning as she stomps over to the walkway to find her daughter's SHIRT for gosh sakes. It never happens.

Does the family even MISS these items? Where do they think that blue hooded sweatshirt ended up? Does nobody miss the little hot pink zippered sweater with two front pockets and a tassle on the hood? Doesn't gramma at least ASK what became of the green denim jacket she bought Junior for his birthday?

At this point the clothes are now molded into one stiff and unforgiving postion and it will take a shovel to scrape them back into the barrel. The barrel will be placed OUTSIDE.

Somebody will eventually donate all these clothes to Healthy Start. They will be washed, dried, and placed on the rack by size for the annual clothing sale.

Some young mother will be happy to find a pink Tinkerbell hoodie for a quarter - exactly like the one her daughter lost last Fall.

Lost Backpacks

Michael is one of two students who often "lose” their backpacks. Sometimes it is "at his dad's," or "in the car," or "at mommy's work," or "on the table." There are also times when Michael just doesn't KNOW where the backpack is - the giant and much-feared BackPack Fairy apparently swoops down and steals it, in order to ensure Michael's misery and my continued frustration.

Then there is Alex, who just forgets where he left it. Which isn’t surprising, since every single morning this school year, Alex forgets that he has it ON and has to be reminded to hang it up. On the hooks. In the back of the room. Where they always go.

“TEACHER! I can’t find my backpack,” Alex will often wail when it is time to locate it. “Somebody took it!”

Nobody wants Alex’s crusty, reeking backpack but that doesn’t prevent him from accusing somebody of making off with it – as if anybody wants three weeks worth of returned homework, one dirty mitten, a toy truck, half a bottle of last Tuesday’s juice, two empty milk containers, and a half dozen of his sister’s Tinkerbell crayons. He also has several moldy apple cores from lunch last week, so he can “plant the seeds.” Any minute now I expect his backpack to sprout an apple tree.

“Alex, I will say patiently, “Your backpack is exactly where you left it.”

“But I can’t find it,” he exclaims, with the panic rising in his voice and his eyes wider than quarters. He stands there looking up at me, utterly helpless and desperately trying to look needy.

So then I engage in the stupid-teacher trick of getting into a circular conversation with a 5-year old. The fact that his backpack cannot simply “disappear” is completely incomprehensible to him. He is five and developmentally delayed in the logic department. He believes Ethan is a monster at recess simply because Ethan says so.

No matter what I say or which questions I ask, the backpack is always where he left it, which is one of two places. Once the inevitable discovery is made, he looks rather surprised and says, “Oh.” He hasn’t figured out humility or embarrassment yet.

Sometimes he tries my patience too much and the “lost” backpack is left on the floor sprouting seeds under the jacket he couldn’t seem to find. This leads to panic as I shoo him to the waiting school bus. Within minutes I get a phone call from his mother wanting to know if I know where Alex’s backpack is. I assure her I do. Everybody in the class knows. It’s Alex who can never figure it out.

Michael owns two backpacks. The original backpack lasted a few months and then was mysteriously "stolen" with much wailing and carrying on. Since wailing and carrying on works well at Michael’s house, Michael's father bought him NEW backpack. This NEW backpack was also misplaced - but then the old one showed up again. So now Michael alternates, although there are days he shows up with his brother's backpack, because the wicked fairy "stoled" both of his backpacks. At the same time.

The problem with the brother's backpack is that it looks EXACTLY like Carlos's backpack. And, of course, Michael forgets this often enough so that when Carlos's backpack shows up missing, we know exactly who has it. Although Michael swears to goodness on a stack of Dr. Seuss books that it wasn't him. Amidst all this the second backpack showed up. "It was at mommy's work under the counter!" Michael reported with much enthusiasm and excitement.

“Imagine that!” I said wondrously. The whole class agreed. It was truly remarkable.

Today, like many, many, days this year, Michael responded to my direction to "pack up the backpack to go home" with the plaintive and angst-ridden cry, "I don't have my backpack." He then looks suitably dejected. This way, he is sure, I will feel sorry for him and give him a bag. Michael's mother must have all the grocery bags from my last two trips to Von's. She won't need plastic bags or brown bags with handles for years and years.

Since he hasn't had his backpack most of the week, I asked in my most put-upon teacher voice “Just where IS your backpack, Michael?"

"On my bed," responds Michael in his smallest, most pitiful voice.

"Michael," I say patiently, "How in the WORLD can you lose your backpack ON YOUR BED?"

He brightens, feeling much better. "It's easy!"

Alex nods with complete understanding.

“Yeah, teacher – it’s EASY!”

Michael likes the brown bags with handles the best.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Cat Otis is Getting Old

About five years ago, we started teasing Otis because he whined for a stool to help him get up to the counter to eat his food. His food has to be on the counter - otherwise the dogs will eat it, razor claws or no razor claws - dogs will be dogs.

This was the cat who killed a bird a day until we got smart and built contraptions on the fence so he couldn't get up there and help himself to the buffet that was the neighbor's bird feeder.
This was the cat who wandered down the street to sit on the roof with Dotty, the world's orneriest cat, and to tease Randy, the world's stupidest dog. His Randy shenanigans earned me several phone calls from my neighbor, who couldn't believe Otis could sit, or lay, or loll around JUST out of reach of her dog. Basically, she told me indignantly, Otis was flipping her dog the bird. And giving HER palpitations with all the barking and whining.

I picked Otis out of an animal shelter cage. He was a speck of a kitten and full of attitude. I watched as he basically pounded the snot out of every kitten in the cage. I knew this was the cat for me - I needed a cat who could hold his own with hyperactive toy fox terrier.

Max and Otis hit it off from the beginning. Max had been badly beaten up by the evil Dotty on several occasions, so he was a a bit leary about this new gray kitten at first. But soon enough, they made friends and Otis would brighten Max's morning by laying in wait at the end of the hallway. And Max would fall for it every single time.

When we got Augie Doggie as a puppy, Otis began the process of making this new dog understand the rules. Augie returned the favor by adopting Otis as his own personal chew toy. We would laugh in amazement as Augie would grab a hold of the cat's neck with his chops and then drag Otis around the slick kitchen floor - with the cat yowling epithets and the dog steering clear of the life-threatening claws - which remained sheathed every time they played together.
Otis would often come into the bedroom when the dogs were settled, under the covers, for the night. He would jump stealthily onto the bed and then WHAM! BAM! pounce on the sleeping dogs and run like hell to safety while the dogs were still trying to get out from underneath the blankets.

The stool became more and more necessary but we thought little about it - thinking Otis was just becoming lazy and spoiled. After all, this is the cat who comes upstairs virtually every single morning to let me know, in case I forgot, that he is - well - hungry. Just in case. As if he's ever gone a day of his long life without food.

When Max died at the age of 16, I let Otis examine his body. I don't know why I did this. I guess I believed that Otis needed the same kind of closure I did. He sniffed and turned away. Cats show grief differently, I guess. He watched while we buried his old friend. He looked uninterested. But he does, on occasion, go over to that spot in the planter and sit down. Sometimes he will go into that cat crouch - not quite laying, not quite sitting, front legs curled up underneath his chest, just watching.

Lately, Otis has been having trouble even reaching his stool. He is sleeping more and more during the day and his catting around is limited to our backyard and the living room.

Today, as I sat in his favorite chair at the computer, he came over and made clear he wanted to get up on my lap. This is rather unusual for him - he is not especially affectionate. I encouraged him and he sat there. Finally, he mewed. Not a demanding meow like morning food time. Not the 'put upon' yowl of Augie pestering him with his endless dog energy. But a simple mew. Asking for a favor.

So I lifted him up and he sat with me for awhile. He purred. He sat, spreading the first shed of his winter coat all over my pants and up my nose. Then he got down and went to lay in the middle of the livingroom, free from the dogs because they are banned from that room forever. He washed his back paws.

And he is sleeping. And I am watching him, counting up the years since I rescued him from the pound cage because he was so feisty - while my best friend adopted the other three - because they were not.

My cat Otis is getting old now. Birds no longer interest him and he plays with Augie less and less. But he still comes up in the mornings to tell me in no uncertain terms, that he is hungry - lest I forget.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Snake in the Grass

It has been wonderfully warm here for Spring Break and I have spent a couple days working in the yard. All the animals are acting a bit spring-feverish and I figured the snakes are no exception.

I don't pretend to know what my snakes are thinking about most of the time. They have reptilian brains which are supposed to be pretty rudimentary. If they had language, they would probably think in sound bites - stuff like, "find food," "get warm," "get not-warm."

And yet - they have temperaments. Rosie is calm and docile. She moves slowly and takes her time. She seems to burrow close to me which often leads my students to say things like, "Aw... she loves you!" I don't have the heart to tell them she is just seeking warmth and she knows my smell so she knows it's safe. IF she even reasons that far.

Patty, being a King snake, is quick-moving and very active most of the time. She is constantly checking out her surroundings and "on the hunt." Her rapid movements make some people a little hesitant to pick her up - which is fine with her since I don't get the idea she cares one way or the other. A pragmatic snake, my Patty.

So yesterday, taking a cue from the cat who was lounging in various postions all over the yard, I decided to let the snakes play "Snake in the Grass." Rosie has always enjoyed this game - the the extent that Rosie can enjoy anything. She likes to crawl languidly through the grass. Once, she found a bug and ate it. This was the highlight of her day, since she usually gets pet store mice.

Patty can't play "Snake in the Grass" with Rosie because, as a King snake, Patty would hunt Rosie down and eat her. This would cause much sadness and consternation on my part, since I've had Rosie for 10 years now. She's survived several escape attempts and a "liberation" at the jaws of my cat - who wouldn't hesitate to try it again. I love my Otis, but he is SUCH a predator.

So, after putting Rosie back in her enclosure, Patty got to come out to play. She is as quick as Rosie is languid. Watching Patty zip across the grass to the back planter was amazing. How DO snakes move so fast, anyway? Once she reached the planter, Patty began prowling behind all the plants - checking for mice, I am sure. She crawled up into an agapanthus and, finding no rodents, crawled back out and headed for the next one.

And then - out of nowhere comes THE CAT. Otis has been lax lately in his hunting of birds. He seems to have lost some of that instinct to kill and carry the prize into the house to leave on the floor as an Offering to That Lady Who Feeds Him. But catching sight of the black and white King snake brought out something predatory in Otis and in true cat-like fashion, he was next to me in a flash, watching intently as Patty navigated the deep woods behind the agapanthus. Knowing this little scenario could not play out well, with the cat cuddling up next to the snake and both of them sleeping behind the bushes, waiting for a bird - I snatched up the oversized feline and saved the life of the erstwhile rodent hunter.

But Otis is nothing if not intent. There was no way I could set him down and "order" him into the house the way I wish I could with the dogs. So I called for Dustin, who was on the computer taking a test for an online class he is taking (and hating).

Hollering for Dustin DID indeed bring the boy running - but it also brought out the dogs, anxious to find out what the cat did. Usually anything the cat does means a treat for them. In their younger days they would convince the cat to get up on the refrigerator and knock down the bread and bagels. This the cat did because the cat is a mercenary.

To the collective canine delight, they discovered the cat caught a SNAKE! This was of unending interest to them and they began sniffing wildly. This made the snake understandably nervous.
"What is it mom?" asked Dustin and of course I had to yell that the cat was ready to pounce on the snake and then all heck broke loose because I have new neighbors behind me and heaven knows I didn't think they were out there but the word SNAKE unleashed a torrent of expletives and the loud movement of lawn furniture.

So there I am, moving the dogs back with my feet, holding a squirming cat bent on destruction, and trying to keep track of a snake who is visibly unhappy about the dog paws so close to her head. (Snakes don't like anything near their heads. Unless it is food. Go figure.) AND.. and! The neighbors behind me are saying things like "Oh $!@#!," and "What the %$#@?" while Dustin bounds across the grass to take the cat and order the dogs to "get BACK in the house!" (They listen to him. Go figure.)

I pick up all four feet of wriggling Patty, who is rather annoyed, just in time to see a head peer over the wall.

"Don't worry, she's a pet," I say holding her up for what I am certain will be admiration. I thought the guy was going to recoil backwards off his ladder.

"Does she escape often?" he asks and something evil in me deadpans, "No...Well. I USUALLY find her pretty quickly."

I guess I'm going to have to go over there at some point today and try to explain about "Snake in the Grass."

Meanwhile, the cat is up early this morning - checking out the agapanthus very, very, carefully

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Augie Doggie's Tumors

A friend of mine was complaining the other day that her dog had to have minor surgery and wear a lampshade. This will keep him from overlicking the wound. I am sorry about all this. Especially the lamp shade. NO dog with any dignity should have to wear a lampshade.

When Augie Doggie had surgery, he didn't have to wear a lampshade because I didn't make him. I just nagged him a lot about licking his incisions - and I made everyone around me nag him too. The poor dog never got in a good lick when I was around.

Augie Doggie had fatty tumors. There were seven of them and they bothered me. I don't know if they bothered him, but his self-esteem had to be affected when Dustin started calling him Lumpy. Augie knew that "Lumpy" wasn't the same as "Augie." Dogs are smart that way.

I waited awhile and then made arrangements to have the vet look at them. With barely a glance, the vet said they were fatty tumors and even extracted a bit of Fatty Tumor Extract to put under the microscope and be sure. I got to look at it. It looked just like I pictured Fatty Tumor Extract to look like. White and watery and lacy.

So - Augie had a surgery date in order to improve his self-esteem and to make Dustin stop calling him Lumpy. And what do you think the vet discovered while listening to Augie's heart beat? YES! A heart murmur! A real one, complete with danger and mortality.

So - no surgery until the Heart Murmur was analyzed completely. This involved calling in the Canine Cardiac Specialist. This doctor drives all over heck and gone with her portable heart device and takes pictures of dog hearts. Not exactly what I would do after 22 years of vet school, but hey... to each her own, right?

This little "scan" cost $350, payable directly to the Canine Cardiac Specialist. Once this was done, it was determined that Augie Doggie COULD have his fatty tumors removed. Removal of said tumors cost less than the heart scan. I am of the belief that this Canine Cardiac Specialist must be a relative of the regular vet or something. Or there is some kind of "kickback" involved. Very hush-hush and not to be spoken of out loud or in public.

So, all the lumps were removed and I was charged by the minute. All the removals added up to 22 minutes which is pretty impressive when you realize how big those lumps were and how none of them actually TOUCHED each other.

Augie Doggie is the picture of health now. No lumps anywhere.

But Dustin still calls him Lumpy.

The Cellphone

My first cell phone was as big as my face and Dan got it for me when I started working in Rosamond - far away from civilization, as far as he was concerned. I often rode to work with a gal who ran out of gas once - this was all the reason he needed to get me a cellphone. He already had one - attached to the floorboard of his truck with screws and a phone cord. Very fancy.

When the big one died - because they all have a built-in "self-destruct" computer chip that guarantees you are going to have to go back to fancy Cell Phone Store as soon as the "contract" is up, Dan got me a slimmer version that had number keys so small I had to use a toothpick to dial out. Lucky for me I am not much of a cell phone talker because keeping a toothpick on hand sounds easier than it really is. This phone was apparently so bad that I started getting teased about it. But I didn't care - it worked when I needed it. Once, I even had it ON when Dan tried to call me during a Medical Emergency. (Dustin almost had his finger sliced off at work.) And then it stopped working and Dan got annoyed because I was commuting to the other ends of the Earth, Lake Los Angeles, without one.

Now, Dustin had a "fancy" one that I inherited when this cheap one finally sputtered it's last cell*ular breath. By "fancy," I mean that it flipped open.

Then, just like that, it stopped working. Dustin KNEW it was on its last breath when he gave it to me. But he figured I wouldn't catch on for awhile and he was right. He had replaced his with one that flips open to a KEYBOARD. It takes pictures, makes phone calls, wakes him up for work, and does the dishes. (It leaves streaks but hey - what do you expect from an electronic device?)

So, I asked Dustin to go get me a new phone because he speaks Cell*ular and gets along great with the Brittneys and Jasons who work behind the counter at the Great Cell*ular Place, where fingers fly across keyboards and they serious things about contracts, minutes, texting, and the dangers of pedicures from that place at the end of the mall. I was ready for a more "serious" cell phone.

However, SON delegating this job to DAD. Dad knows even LESS about Cell*ular Stuff than I do - having CHOSEN, of his own accord, the cheeepest, and I do mean CHEEESIEST phone on the planet. The one they keep behind the counter and put in a paper bag to give you so nobody COOL will actually see them handling it.

So. Dan gets me the exact replica of his cheeep and cheeesy phone. It will do text messaging but only if the stars and planets are aligned just so. It has ring*tones - but I keep silencing the dang thing just by being NEAR it and can never figure out HOW to make it ring out loud.
People ALWAYS complain that they call me on my Cell and I don't pick up. Well, shoot - I would pick up if I HEARD the thing.

Anyway.. the moral of the story is to not let my husband pick out the phone, that's all I can say.