Why our new cat chose to stick around


Last Thursday morning, our 16-year-old son took one look out our front door and said, “Better get Mom.”wpid-wp-1413459917007.jpeg

He had the right idea.

Cute balls of fluff are her purview.

Stray animals glom onto her as if she were some sort of Pied Piper. In fact, if it was up to her our house would be so crowded with unwanted cats and dogs we’d be forced to use the garage as the master bedroom.

That’s why he just as well could have asked, “What did Mom bring home now?”

A half-an-hour earlier, my wife woke me concerned about what appeared to be a stray cat. It was preventing her from taking our dog Rodney for his morning swing around the neighborhood. The cat, no more than a kitten really, was tailing them, and my wife feared it might get hit by a car. She wanted me to somehow distract the cat long enough for her and Rodney to get on their way.

I rubbed my eyes and dutifully did what I always do in a crisis — I reached for a snack.

In this case, I settled for a small bowl filled with a handful of our cat Skitty’s food. I set it outside, figuring breakfast was what the kitten wanted and was, in fact, desperate for.

I sat on our front stoop as the sun came up that morning watching that cat gobble down Skitty’s food. It was a very young, little male Tuxedo, a cat whose coat is black on top, contrasted with a white belly, chest and feet. And it was incredibly friendly.

I figured I was looking at a new family member. Our daughter and I even started arguing about what to call him.

She wanted Artemis because she’s enthusiastic about the Greek gods thanks to the Percy Jackson series of books. She’s a fangirl.

But I’ve been a Star Trek fanboy longer than she’s been a fangirl of anything. I wanted to name him Spot because that’s what Data called his cat on ST: The Next Generation.

I’m going to pretend I won (I didn’t) and, for the sake of clarity, use Spot as the cat’s name.

Spot spent the day hanging out at our house, hoovering up food and drink as if he were a journalist. (As a general rule, journalists don’t turn down free food, perhaps because we’re often one step away from being strays ourselves.)

I kept Spot’s belly full that day. I even briefly reintroduced him to Rodney, who was predictably overenthusiastic. The two seemed like they would eventually get along.

I wish I could say the same about our cat Skitty.

I had cautioned our daughter not to let Spot inside the house for fear of Skitty’s reaction. So of course, Spot somehow found a way in while I wasn’t looking. But at least our daughter had the presence of mind to quickly scoot Spot back outside before the cat fight escalated beyond Skitty’s maniacal hissing.

You’d think Skitty would feel some sympathy for a fellow feline down on its luck. After all, Skitty was looking at the vagabond life herself before being snatched by our daughter shortly after she was born beneath our neighbor’s ground-level deck.

She remained, however, steadfast in her meanness in the face of Spot’s amiable cuteness.

After his encounter with Skitty’s hostility and Rodney’s relentless inquisitiveness, I suspect Spot questioned the wisdom of sticking around our house. He disappeared that night and was gone for most of the next day.

My wife worried about that cat for a solid 24 hours, but she needn’t have. Spot was back in her arms Friday evening. And now he’s adopted our “Laundry Basket of Misfit Socks” as his refuge from Rodney and Skitty.wpid-wp-1413810642456.jpeg

I’m not sure because Spot’s not saying, but I think I know what brought him back. While he was gone, he must have stumbled upon an article The Journal newspaper published last week. It was about the stray cat problem in our region, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. According to the article, feral cats are cramming into shelters around here at twice the rate of dogs.

Given the choice, Spot has apparently decided that putting up with us is a much better option.

Don’t look a stink bug in the mouth


The point is moot.

Last week, I posted online an open letter to October that prompted a brief exchange of opinions on whether to call a potential World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles the “Beltway” or “Parkway” series.

One reader (the only one, for all I know) suggested I should have called it the “Parkway” series.  She apparently took the view of those who say “Parkway” makes more sense because the Baltimore-Washington Parkway actually connects the two cities, while the two beltways don’t have much, if anything, to do with each other.

The debate over what to call such a series was fun while it lasted, but it hardly matters now. The Nationals have been knocked out of Major League Baseball’s postseason, leaving me to conclude once again that October is a capricious month.

While I still look forward to the cooler temperatures and the browns, reds, yellows and golds of autumn, October has left my 16-year-old son and me without a dog in the MLB hunt.

It has also brought the enemy back to the gates.

Stink bugs.

I found one hanging around my front door last week. And since then, a few have broken through my defenses and have attempted to set up camp inside my once tranquil home.

I like to think of myself as a mild-mannered sort of fellow, but stink bugs bring out The Terminator in me. They are to me what squirrels are to our dog Rodney, something to be mercilessly chased out of our back yard.

But since my bark is not quite as startling as Rodney’s and since my wife would likely object if I armed myself with a shotgun like Arnold Schwarzenegger does in the movies, I have to make do with a spray bottle filled with soapy water. A spray bottle may not have the same kick as a shotgun, but at least it’s not as messy.

Our exterminator (as opposed to Schwarzenegger’s Terminator) told me a few years ago that soapy water is about as good as anything else at getting rid of stink bugs. It’s supposed to clog up the bug’s pores and suffocate them.

Once doused, I generally toss their little stink bug carcasses outside or flush them down the toilet, but after what a friend recently suggested, discarding them so carelessly seems wasteful.

He said I should throw them in a frying pan and eat them as a snack as people do in other parts of the world. Apparently, they “taste like bubble gum.”

Bubble gum?

I didn’t need to know that.

But come to think of it, maybe harvesting stink bugs makes more sense than flushing them.

I’m told they are full of protein. I could even use them to add an unusual flavor to the pot of chili I’m thinking of whipping up this weekend. And better yet, I could save some money on snacks for our always hungry son.

He probably won’t notice, anyway. He’s still distracted by baseball’s postseason.

On stink bugs and baseball: An open letter to October


Dear October,

I just thought you should know that our relationship is fraying.

If not for Major League Baseball’s postseason, I worry you’d leave me with nothing to look forward to but a cough I can’t shake, deer to dodge on the commute and, worst of all, stink bugs.

Don’t get me wrong, October. I still adore the cooler temperatures you bring. I love turning off the AC and throwing open the windows. You’re a welcome change from the heat and humidity of a West Virginia summer.

And, the browns, reds, yellows and golds of the season you usher in are simply spectacular. You make me thankful I live where the trees show their colors in such awe-inspiring fashion.

But the change of seasons isn’t enough anymore.

October, you’re in danger of becoming too much trouble.

My opinion of you began changing with the snowstorm you brought in 2011. My front yard still carries the scars, or more to the point, the stumps.

We used to have four gorgeous Bradford Pear trees. They never failed to brighten my day when they bloomed in the spring. But the storm you sent spelled disaster for trees that were still sporting leaves. Two of our Bradfords couldn’t handle the pressure and came crashing down.

I got to know my chainsaw pretty well that year.

Thanks October for leaving me paranoid about a similar storm knocking down our remaining Bradfords.

And, thanks for leaving me constantly clearing my throat.

I know September started it, but you’ve kept the air around me stoked with allergens. They are driving my mucous membranes crazy.

Thanks October for the post-nasal drip. I can’t stop coughing.

And, thanks for encouraging the deer to cross my path during my commute. If they were any more active, I’d have to drive a tank just to make it safely to the office.

And, thanks October for bringing one of my other enemies back to the gates of my home.

Stink bugs.

I found one hanging around my front door this week. Upon further inspection, I discovered he brought along some of his buddies.

You should know, October, that when it comes to stink bugs, I have the mindset of a Dalek – those murderous, plunger wielding tin cups who vex Doctor Who on the venerable science fiction TV series. They are intent on ANNIHILATING everything that stands in their way.

I’d like to annihilate stink bugs, but they seem impervious.

October, I’d appreciate it if you stopped bringing them back to my house each fall.

In fact, October, if it wasn’t for baseball, I’d spurn you.

But you’re redeeming yourself. You’ve brought the tantalizing potential for a Beltway World Series.

So I’ll make you a deal, October.

Grant my wish. Put the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. In return, I’ll gladly live with your faults.

In fact, I’ll never say another bad word about you.

Just please, do something about those stink bugs while you’re at it. They’re not helping your reputation.