Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tale of the Texas Bobtailed Cat

©2013 by LeeZard
Everyone thinks their pet is the cutest, the smartest, the funniest, etc. And, everyone is right, of course. To quote Rod Serling, I submit for your consideration Tex the Texas Bobtailed Cat.
Both of my faithful readers will remember that Tex adopted me several years ago at a cowboy wedding near Cleburne, TX. He is indeed a bobtail, a breed called “Pixy Bob.” I’m not very pixy oriented so I call him the Texas Bobtailed Cat. My research told me they are boisterous – Tex does have a lot to say – and very athletic. One website calls them “the sports car of cats.”
All of about 10-11 pounds, Tex’s hind legs are slightly longer then his forelegs with very muscular thighs (do they call ‘em that on cats?). He’s amazingly quick and jumps like a kangaroo. His build also gives him this jaunty little walk that absolutely fits his personality. He sashays around with "cattitude;" he knows how cool he is.
Like any pet (or human for that matter) Tex has his quirks. For one thing, sometimes he thinks he’s a dog. We have two Golden Retrievers but Tex grew up with Trooper, who was a puppy when I brought Tex home. They are pals.

I first discovered Tex’s canine aspirations one night when I was lying in bed. He jumped up and dropped one of his little stuffed toys on top of my blanket and looked me right in the eye. Instinctively, I knew he wanted me to toss it. Toss it I did. My Texas Retriever brought it right back and dropped it on the blanket. It was no fluke; I tossed and re-tossed only to have him return it every time for another throw.
His canine envy started to show in other ways. If he is outside, every time I walk the dogs Tex will either follow or lead us. Sometimes, when the dogs stop to lift a leg, Tex will stop with them, dig a little hole and do his own version of leg lifting. He loves to ride in my rig. For a while he’ll hang with the dogs in the back. Then, he’ll come up front and settle in my lap purring. Thankfully, he is not Toonces the Driving Cat.
I later discovered that Tex’s absolute favorite toy is a “hair thing.” You know, one of those elastic things that people with long hair use to get it out of their face. Tex LOVES ‘em. Even though he’ll turn almost anything on the floor into a toy, the hair thing drives him into ecstasy. For him it is the feline Hunger Game. He’ll bat the thing across the floor and go into his predatory hunting crouch. Then, as if shot from a cannon, he’ll spring onto the hair thing, bat it again and sometimes get up on his hind legs while doing so.

One night, Tex hopped up on the bed with a hair thing in his mouth and dropped it in front of me. I don’t think I’d thrown one of those for him yet but, clearly, that’s what he had in mind. The rest is Textory!
I attempted to toss the hair thing over his head and it looked like I was successful until Tex jumped about two feet in the air, did a half twist and snatched the hair thing with his paws and mouth. Of course, he nailed the landing on all fours and came trotting back. I was astonished, tossed it again, same result. It’s become our favorite bedtime game until he tires himself out and crumps like a little puppy, hair thing between his paws.

But Tex is also a little scamp, and a brazen one at that. Very early in our relationship Tex revealed his tendency to surf the kitchen counter, a table, an open refrigerator, any place there might be food. Sure, all cats do that, you might say. But, Tex being Tex, takes it to the limit; he is fearless. He has advanced to the point where he won’t even wait until I’m gone. He’ll jump up on the table while I’m eating and try to snatch something looking as cute as he can along the way. That usually earns him a little flick on the snout. Same thing if we are preparing food in the kitchen. But, Tex being Tex, came up with a plan.
We are not one of those households that feed our pets from the table or a dinner plate. When we have treats for them, we put it in their dish. House rules. If Tex gets lucky, and he’s so quick he often does get lucky, he’ll grab a morsel from a plate or the counter. Instead of running and hiding – because he knows Wende will hunt him down and shake him upside down to get the food back – he runs to his dish, drops the stolen goody into his dish and looks up as if to say, “See, it’s in my dish. Now I can eat it.” It’s hard to keep a straight face when we confiscate the stolen goods.
Tonight Tex tried to pull another stunt that started out scary and ended up just – poignant.
Tex fancies himself The Mighty Hunter. In fact, he’s pretty darn good. We live on a lake near forested wetlands and Tex brings us everything from mice to (yuk) rats, birds and the occasional small rabbit. Tonight Wende found a dead gopher in the driveway and figured Tex partnered on the kill with Tuxie, our other cat.
A bit later, I was sitting here at my keyboard and I heard a strange “screech, screech.” At first I thought it was a dog toy but they don’t squeak like THAT. I got up to look for the source of the sound.  I had the rear door open to cool the house at the end of an 80 degree day and just as I looked, here comes Tex marching into the house with something in his mouth, obviously still alive and not happy about its circumstance.
At first I thought it was a mouse. I know Tex’s modus operandi; he was going to take his prey somewhere and play with it until he got bored, then he’d eat it. NO dead varmints in our house. I took off after Tex and guess where he went. Yup, right to his dish. When he saw THAT wasn’t going to work, he grabbed his victim and headed for the bedroom.
When I got back there, Tex was lying on the floor with his catch between his paws. I didn’t know if it was still alive but I noticed it was not a mouse; it was a baby rabbit maybe three or four inches long.
For some reason Tex didn’t flee this time. He’d been out all day and maybe he was just spent. He let me pick him up by the nape of his neck. I hoped he’d bring the rabbit with us but when I looked the rabbit was not in his mouth. I let Tex down to the floor and hit the bedroom again, closing the door behind me. There was no baby rabbit.
The bathroom door was ajar and I peered in. There, huddled and trembling in the corner by the shower stall, was the kit (real name for a baby rabbit – ironically short for kitten). I scooped it up and quickly looked for wounds or blood. S/he appeared unscathed and so I held her in my palm and against my chest while scratching behind its ears until the trembling eased.
After a brief conversation with Wende, the all-animal whisperer, I reluctantly took the kit outside, walked far from the house and set it free in the bushes. “Good luck,” I whispered as s/he scampered away.
When I returned to the house, Tex and Tuxie were sitting at their dishes waiting for dinner, just another day in Mr. Tex’s Neighborhood.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

They Don't Make Teargas Like They Used To

©2013 by LeeZard
“So, what DOES pepper spray smell like?” It was a timely query because I was running through heavy clouds of the stuff in downtown Seattle, fighting to clear my eyes, nose and head while glued to my cell phone, airing a live radio report.
“I’m not sure I can describe it, Dave. I’ve never smelled anything like it before. I can only tell you that it stings and burns like acid. I do know, though, I will never forget what it smells like; I feel like it is filtering through my clothes and soaking through my skin.”
It was the end of November 1999, mid-afternoon on the first day of what was supposed to be Seattle’s “coming out” as a world city. We were hosting thousands of international delegates to the World Trade Organization (WTO) -- a summit to set the agenda for international commerce. We also were hosting thousands more anti-WTO protesters — labor, environmental, political and ethnic groups from all over the world.
Months of anticipation and planning had all come down to riot police, anarchists and peaceful protestors squaring off in the conflicting glows of the season’s first Christmas lights and garbage fires started by rioters at downtown intersections. Rubber pellets fired from police guns indiscriminately dispersed protestors and innocent bystanders. The Battle of Seattle was underway.
I had a front row seat as part of a team of reporters for KIRO NewsRadio, the city’s leading News/Talk station. Because of the station’s format, I merely dialed whatever talk-show host was on the air whenever I had something to report. I was on the air plenty.
Even as I willed myself into cloud after cloud of pepper spray to stay on top of the story, I kept thinking to myself, “This is NOTHING. These people should’ve been around in the 60s. Now THAT was some hard ass teargas.”
Yes, unfortunately, during my 20-years as a journalist I experienced both pepper spray and the high-priced spread  - now used primarily by the military and SWAT teams. There’s a huge difference between the two. Pepper spray is debilitating. Your eyes tear up blurring your vision to the point of near blindness. It gets in your nose and throat bringing with it a nasty sting. The good news is, once you get out of the cloud, all symptoms promptly disappear.
Not so with teargas. Join me now as we relive those thrilling days of yesteryear.
It was November 1969. I was a brash 22-year old correspondent for Metromedia Radio News, a fledgling national network based in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam War was raging and so was the Anti-War Movement. I was part of the team Metromedia sent out to cover more than 500,000 protesters marching on the nation’s capitol.
I’d convinced my managers to let me rent a small motorbike so I could quickly weave through the traffic and crowds from action point to action point. For most of the day it worked smoothly and brilliantly although there wasn’t much “action.”
Yes, this was the largest anti-war demonstration in history but, amazingly, it was a peaceful protest – almost to the end. You might recall the scenes of the demonstration from Forrest Gump. The speechmaking centered at the base of the Lincoln Monument and the vast crowd was spread along the almost two-mile National Mall between the monument and the U.S. Capitol.
As the day wound down, one group, “The Yippies”, decided it was time to stir the pot and they grabbed a very big stick with which to stir.
 “Who the hell were The Yippies?” a younger reader might ask.
Abbie Hoffman
 “Term created by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in the mid-1960s to refer to members of the Youth International Party (YIP!). The YIP! was dedicated to merging New Left activism and the hippie counterculture to create a revolution that would be both personal and political--as well as fun. Yippies rejected all -isms, including socialism and anarchism, in favor of the motto "Do your own thing"--i.e., don't conform to a specific system of belief but rather be an individual. At the same time, collective action was at the root of Yippie activism. The Yippies' most famous actions include the attack on the New York Stock Exchange (when Yippies threw money to the floor and watched as those below fought for it) and their involvement at the violent 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, at which they nominated a pig for president. Yippies understood the power of the media and sought press to disseminate their revolutionary messages with a pointed disinterest in the accuracy of the stories told about them.
 Abbie Hoffman's Revolution for the Hell of It! is an excellent source for more information on the Yippies.”
As the speeches ended, a group of about 50 Yippies split off from the main body of the crowd. The “stick” they grabbed was a utility pole they toppled in front of the old FBI headquarters across the street from The Mall. Hearing the commotion from afar, I gunned my motorbike to the location and positioned myself right next to the attacking line of Yippies, microphone in hand.
Old FBI Headquarters
The building had two huge iron doors at the entrance, nearly two-stories high. Turning the utility pole into a battering ram, The Yippies began charging the doors. After one or two charges – with the doors hardly yielding – Metropolitan D.C. Police mobilized between the battering ram and the building. At the head of the riot gear-clad police was their infamous, newly appointed and Left Wing-baiting Chief Jerry Wilson.
I could almost see the glint in Wilson’s eye behind his plastic face shield as he tossed the first teargas canister – which landed and exploded right at my feet. OH MY GAWD!
Within seconds my head was spinning, my stomach was churning and I could feel myself losing control of – EVERYTHING. Thank goodness for the planners who put hundreds of Port – A – Potties along The Mall. I dashed for the nearest one and slammed the door just as ‘stuff’ started pouring out of every opening in my body except maybe for my ears. Understatement; it was one huge mess. I cleaned myself off as best as I could – thankfully, my BVD’s contained that mess – and wiped down any of the remaining garments I could still wear. Needless to say, my day was done. Now THAT was some hard ass teargas.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tom the Barber

©2013 by LeeZard
NOTE: I’ve written before about growing up in Laurelton, NY ( but the piece was about a specific spot in Laurelton and the high school to which we all went. This story is about one man, a small almost anonymous man, and the large impact he had on us all.
Sometimes the mind wanders. Recently mine was wandering down memory lane, back to the section of South Queens in New York City where I grew up. My mind takes me there often. It’s called Laurelton and to those who grew up there it was a magical place. I can’t tell you why but I do know that many of the friendships born there endure to this day.
Located in the southeast corner of Queens, Laurelton was, and still is, a working middle-class area with mostly small well-kept single-family homes and a strong sense of community. Maybe that was the source of the magic; we were closely knit and we all cared about the place and its people. Whenever I go back to visit New York I always drive through the old neighborhood and I know for a fact many of my contemporaries do the same.
When I was growing up in the 1950s-60s Laurelton was predominantly White, evenly mixed with Jewish, Catholic and Protestant families. The kids never noticed who was what and we never cared. We played softball in concrete-covered schoolyards, stickball, punch ball, handball, “potsy (hopscotch)” and endless pick-up games of sandlot baseball and football. In the summers we migrated to Beach 34th and 35th Streets in Rockaway and recreated the neighborhood by bunching 10, 20 or more towels and blankets together in the warm white sand.
I Played Infinity Number of Softball Games Here
Regrettably, there was an ugly time in Laurelton shortly after my generation graduated high school and began moving away to colleges and eventual adulthood. Our parents were part of the post-World War II migration to “the suburbs” in the late 40s and early 50s. In the 1970s Black families began to follow that same suburban trail and many discovered the magic of Laurelton. I am not proud of our parents’ response and the subsequent White Flight that ensued.
I am pleased to report, however, that the new and more diverse population of Laurelton, after some rough times with higher crime and drug trafficking, endured and restored the neighborhoods to their neat and well-kept middle-class status.
Laurelton is bisected north and south by the large east-west commercial thoroughfare of Merrick Road (as we called it; it is officially Merrick Boulevard). Not only did we do most of our commerce there, it was also the nexus of our young after-school social lives. Of course there was The Corner, where we usually gathered before dispersing to the next social “event.”
The Itch
We had a choice of several amazing Italian restaurants and pizza joints, two excellent Chinese restaurants, the kosher deli, a couple of luncheonettes and the diner where you could get great burgers and good odds on races at the nearby Belmont and Aqueduct race tracks. We had bakeries, a candy shoppe with homemade ice cream, Woolworths, Zuckerman’s Hardware, Buster Brown Shoes and the Laurelton Movie Theater, lovingly called “The Itch.” I have no idea why.
Two doors north of Merrick, on 226th Street, was Tom’s Barber Shop. Just three chairs and, on Saturdays a shoeshine boy (a first job for many of us), Tom’s was one of the most popular places in town. There was another barber shop in Laurelton but just about everyone I knew had their hair cut at Tom’s and the main reason was Tom himself.
Tom Giaccone didn’t live in Laurelton but it didn’t matter; he was definitely one of us. Standing only about 5’7” and weighing no more than 140 pounds, he still looms large in my boyhood memories.
His chair was the one closest to the big window that viewed 226th Street. If you were in Tom’s chair for a haircut you sat patiently while he stopped every few snips to wave with his scissor-holding hand to someone either driving by or stopped at the traffic light. Tom seemed to know everyone in town and, for my money he was one of the most beloved of all Laureltonians.
It wasn’t only the endless supply of Bazooka Bubblegum he kept in the cabinet under the wall-length mirror (“Grab as many as ya want, Lee” was my favorite post-haircut sentence!). Nor was it the perpetual, deeply sincere smile that made his eyes crinkle with joy. What made Tom so special and what made Tom such an important part of Laurelton was what he did besides cutting hair. Tom more than loved Laurelton, he gave back so much more than he took. He cared and Laurelton loved him for it.
In the spring and early summer months, there was a little blackboard leaning in the window of Tom’s shop. It listed the changing weekly standings of the American Veterans Committee Teen Softball League and that week’s MVP. I’m certain Tom also contributed as a league sponsor. I’m not as certain, but always suspected, that Tom often contributed to some troubled kid’s wallet if he deemed it a worthy effort.
Not Ours But About the Same Year/Model
Tom’s greatest and most lasting contribution was The Laurelton Volunteer Ambulance Corps. The nearest hospital was in Jamaica, about 20-minutes away if traffic was light and you got lucky with red lights. Tom recognized the need and spearheaded the effort to form the corps. He helped raise the funds that purchased an older used Cadillac ambulance. Painted bright orange and blue, it became the most-recognized and appreciated vehicle in town. He never took credit, was never publicly recognized and probably didn’t care. That was Tom.
For many years after, when I visited, I would always stop by Tom’s for a big hello and a bigger hug (and some Bazooka Bubblegum). Finally, one year, his long-time chair number two (Rocco) was stationed at Tom’s chair. He’d retired. I never saw Tom after that but I will never forget him.