Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gardens in Glass Houses

During a trip to Ikea for a bedframe and a bath rug, I crossed paths with a tiny greenhouse called a “Socker.” Inspired by impulsive thoughts of upgrading Angelina’s terrarium, I tracked one down in the garden section. One month later, after puzzling together all of the essential parts of the apartment, I constructed the flimsy glass structure only to realize that it had no base. Nonetheless, I may be able to fill it with potted plants.

I have placed it on a Socker-sized ledge in front of the window above my sink, where the former tenants kept a large microwave. It will not do much good to put plants in it now as the window is obscured by wood planks. In the meantime I will have to be satisfied with wilted cilantro.

After a month of complaining about the lack of natural light in my apartment, I received a very useful Christmas gift from my mom: An Agrosun Dayspot 60 watt grow light kit. Now I can illuminate the shadowing corners where my plants will dwell and allow them to believe that this tiny lamp is the natural sun that its species evolved under.

Perhaps I should set the light up beside the Socker to create the ultimate underground gardening paradise. I have not plotted what plants to pot, but right now I’m leaning towards herbs. As much as I would enjoy a greenhouse full of flytraps, but I’d really like something I can cook with. For practical reasons, I will not attempt to grow melons.

The aforementioned wilted cilantro was obtained yesterday morning from the produce section an Italian grocery story. So far, I have found local grocery store herbs incredibly underwhelming. In Stop and Shop, I find the herbs shriveled on their death beds torpidly bleeding their last drops of chlorophyll.

At the Italian grocery store, I find the herbs drowning in torrential rains produced by a sprinkler mechanism installed above the shelves. Most grocery stores mist their leafy greens to make them shiny or whatever, but the Italian grocery store sprays theirs every other minute. Three times while I was standing in the produce section a recording of a summer thunder storm emitted from the speakers and a shower of water poured onto the produce.

I picked up the cilantro with two fingers and shook it for a minute or so. To create the same heavily-moistened effect, they might submerge the herbs in a swimming pool and have pool boys in swim trunks fish them out with nets upon customer request.

Cilantro is number one on my list of things to plant, followed shortly after by parsley.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fit for a Fungus

Before I moved into the new apartment, I bought a rosemary bush that was shaped like a Christmas tree. I had every intention of stringing it up with lights and beads like a Christmas tree. Then December came around and I had a brown, spiky bush-skeleton shedding its needles on my windowsill. It wasn't as festive as I had hoped.

What went wrong?

My apartment is in a dusty basement. The last renters were eyeless mole-people. Prehistoric insects creep out of the cracks in the molding and the spaces where the pipes go through the ceiling, the wiggling ancestors of the centipede and mutant spiders that I catch in old ricotta cheese tubs and shake onto the driveway.

The windows are small, but at least there are windows. My landlords left wooden planks stacked in front of the kitchen windows to make me feel like I live in an 1850’s tenement, so very little natural light shines in. I have become a mole-person.

Yet I am not bereft of hope. Angelina, my pitcher plant, is thriving in the window beside this very desk, in full view of a creepy boarded-up garage. The little hairs that are springing up on her lips - her mustache, if you will - remind me of the tiny flesh-scraping hooks on a cat's tongue.

The day I moved in, I announced that I wanted to immediately procure a plant. Having a plant gives me the illusion that I am a responsible adult. “What could you possibly grow in here?” my mom asked.
“Mushrooms,” I declared.

I may have suggested mushrooms in jest, but now I’m completely serious. I stumbled upon this mushroom kit from Back to the Roots. This mushroom garden, which resembles a happy meal for gnomes, purportedly produces a sprawling mass of oyster mushrooms in ten days and produces at least two crops. The spore-filled soil inside of the happy meal box is made of recycled coffee grounds.

The process seems fool-proof, even for one prone to causing small forest fires in terrariums. You spray the coffee ground soil with the spritzer and mushrooms will grow. I may have found the ideal plant (or in this case, fungus) to grow in the dark.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Communicating With Cats

I love you, but I also want to eat you.

I once read that cats have the I.Q. of a two-year-old child. That’s fine with me until they begin acting like a two-year-old child. Like many toddlers, my kitten Olive tends to think that all attention is good attention and all repetitive actions are a game. We’re trying to train Olive not to jump on the table when we are cooking and eating, not to bite, and not to claw the tiny ottoman into to a pile of glistening, red polyester fibers.

Yesterday morning when Dave got out of the shower, Olive latched onto his ankle with the force of a small, furry predator. Innocent, zealous ankle-licking quickly transformed into an impulse to devour Dave’s flesh. Claws and teeth were unleashed and Dave gave her a stern talking-to. For some reason, a freshly-showered Dave really whets her appetite. Perhaps she has the archetypical paradox of loving us, yet wanting to eat us.

Shortly after, we found ourselves huddling around my laptop asking the Google how to train cats. This led to a Wiki-How or Ask.Com page about communicating with cats, complete with a how-to video. (Not that we aren't experts in speaking cat.) Soon we were immersed in the world of translating meows with a phrasebook and deciphering meaningful feline body language.

We learned that a low, deep MRRRRooooowww is a sign of displeasure and a high Rrrrrooooowww! is an expression of terror. Subtle differences in the angles and movements of the tail may reveal anxiety, excitement, and aggression.

The subject of clawing and biting was most important to us, so we scrolled down. The article informed us that “a cat will drive his/her claws in and out of you as a sign of happiness or playfulness.” It continued to say, “Either way your cat knows and loves you.” The phrase “drives his/her claws in and out of you” brings to mind more of a stabbing motion with adamantium claws. I’m actually quite glad that my cat doesn’t know and love me that much. I considered editing the article so that it would be less stupid, but then I realized that ninety people already did.

His body language indicates that he knows and loves you.

As far as disciplining a fighting, biting kitten goes, we were advised to shake cans of pennies at her, squirt her with a spray bottle of water, and pick her up by the scruff of her neck and growl in her face like a bear. I have many spray bottles lying around but they are all full of caustic vinegar. “That’ll show her,” thought I.

The idea behind the penny can and spray bottle is that you sneak up on your criminal kitty, catch her in the act, and assault her with loud noises and a shower. We don’t have any cans to put pennies in, but we do have a huge glass fish full of spare change that is Olive's best friend. We considered turning the fish against her and shaking it in her face when she claws the desk chair.

Since the fish is always in the room, whenever she considers leaping onto the table to knock off a plate of poached eggs, she would look back and think, “I can’t do this now. The fish is watching me. The fish is always watching me…”

Today we dropped her into her cardboard carrier and brought her to the veterinarian. The entire car ride was accompanied by the seething sounds of a screaming kitten. At the office, we scooped her out onto a cold steel table. The veterinarian stuck things in her ears and poked around her eyes. He told us that our kitten has conjunctivitis and that there’s only a 95% chance of recovery. Then he said that some cats get a strain of the virus that never goes away and they walk around for fifteen years with trailing eye mucus behind them like hairy snails.

“Any tips for teaching a kitten not to bite?” I asked.

“You’re not encouraging it, are you?” he asked. “My brother used to play tug-of-war with his cat, and now the cat is insane.”

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

“I would pick her up by the scruff of her neck,” the vet said, snatching Olive up by the neck-skin. “And I would shake her and say, ‘Good kitties don’t bite' in a sterner voice than I’m speaking in now. Because that’s what a mother cat would do if Olive bit. The mother would pick her up by the neck... and throw her.”

The vet decided that today Olive would get a rabies shot. Olive panicked and looked for an emergency exit as the veterinarian produced an enormous syringe and wiped an alcohol pad across her back. She desperately moved towards the carrier, probably trying to communicate something to us through meows and body language: “Okay guys, I’ll get in the carrier! I love the carrier! Look at me! I want to get inside of the carrier now…”

The vet called in his assistant, who grabbed Olive by the scruff of her neck and, once again, began to shake her.

“The kitten might cry a little,” the veterinarian said as he plunged the syringe into her back. Once again, the kitten screamed. I quite nearly screamed myself.

When the vet and assistant released her, Olive stumbled towards Dave. He lifted her carefully into the cardboard carrier. I comforted her with my shrill female voice that cats love all the way to the apartment. “We’re almost home. Far away from that bad, bad man who kept shaking you and sticking needles into your skin. What a bad, mean-spirited person.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Hole in my Ceiling Where Drills Escape

"Groovy pad," said the construction worker.

I thought the loud roaring above me was merely the construction that has been going on upstairs for the past several days. It turned out it was a drill coming through my ceiling.

The landlady and construction workers paraded down to our apartment door. They suspected that they had drilled a hole through the ceiling. I led the crew inside. We meandered around the coffee table and the bookcase to the bed, which had a little pile of paint chips and plaster.

“See that?” said the handyman, pointing upwards. “That’s a drill coming through your ceiling.”

The landlady jokingly said that she hoped we wouldn’t notice, but we probably would have noticed a threatening, protruding spiral of silvery metal gleaming above our heads as we slept.

They decided that the best thing to do would be to fix it right away, in case dust and liquids leaked out of the hole as we slept below. I agreed. Before I knew it, the crew was stripping away the comforter and pillows, carrying my mattress into the kitchen, and pushing the bedframe against the wall. They draped a plastic sheet over the bookcase and taped it into place.

“Groovy pad,” said one worker, looking from the psychedelic rug to my tie-dye rainbow leggings. I was walking around dressed comfortably because I had anticipated a long day of kitten cuddling and quietly copywriting. It was not meant to be.

Olive, our kitten, encroached upon the scene curiously as people came in and out to survey the damage. Then the drilling began and she dove behind the mattress. This happened several times. Once the drilling stopped for good, she ventured quietly into the construction zone and pattered through the plaster dust. A worker found a pile of her dust-coated toys that were under the bed and tried to throw them to her.

I scooped my brave little kitten up from behind the construction worker’s back and eventually barricaded us in the kitchen with a drawer unit and a tiny ottoman. Olive is not thrilled about our current living arrangements. As far as she is concerned, all of the things worth playing with are part of the construction zone. When she gets bored with her feather toy she tentatively bites my foot an act of revenge.

Not so long before the drill broke through the ceiling I was sleeping off a terrible headache and Olive kneaded my shirt to wake me up. If Olive hadn’t roused me with her cuteness, I might have awoken to a silver drill bit spirally relentlessly above my head, spitting a snow of plaster and paint chips. PTSD and nightmares reminiscent of the better Saw films would have likely followed.

The construction worker that is here now says that he will be another twenty minutes, and then the rest of the crew will return to patch the hole. The patching process will continue for another forty-five minutes. Perhaps I should follow Olive’s example and take a nap on a kitchen chair. It’s going to be a long afternoon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kitten Sunday

Yesterday was Kitten Sunday, the day that Dave and I designated specifically for adopting a kitten. Our apartment is full, but there is a kitten-shaped void. We picked up two friends and went to a local animal shelter to enjoy some feline company and find our match.

I got the feeling that the volunteers really didn’t want to give us a kitten. We told the receptionist that we wanted to adopt and she tried to talk us out of it.

“Are you sure? What if your landlord doesn’t want you to have pets? What if you break up? Are you just going to bring the cat back here?”

But we are no cat novices and already took these things into consideration. She reluctantly slid a clipboard with a questionnaire reminiscent of, but for cats.  Then she directed us to the cat rooms. In the first room, we played with black kittens and temperamental tiger cats. I was quickly horded by adult cats demanding my attention. The volunteers in the room paid us no mind, ticking the kittens with Salad Fingers gloves.

The second room contained several adult cats that didn’t get along. A white cat got comfortable between my feet and tailless black cat nuzzled my leg, and they proceeded to fight. The other cats wanted looked on with indifference.

The third room contained the cats in cages, pacing and roughhousing and slipping their paws through the bars of the cage. Some of them came to greet us and others didn’t give us the time of day. The volunteer in the third room told us that we could play with individual cats that we liked in another room.

We went into the visiting room and waited for the first kitten that we wanted to get to know better – a fluffy, gray boy-kitten. The volunteer released the kitten onto a chair and quickly shut the door behind her, leaving the kitten in a new environment with four enormous strangers.

The kitten all but wet itself. It leapt off of the chair and darted to the safety of a carpeted cat-cave. The kitten was not amused my attempts to lure it from its hideout with a furry tail on a stick, seductively spiraling just within its reach. Nor was it thrilled when one of our friends attempted to scoop him up. When I tried to pet him, he slinked to the door with a panicked expression.

The prospect of adopting a kitten that was terrified of us was just too sad, even under reasonable circumstances, so we moved onto a gray girl-kitty with huge greenish-blue eyes. She seemed a little frightened when the door closed behind her, but soon she started brushing against my legs. We took turns dangling the furry tail on a stick in front of her and she played along. She found a chair cushion in the back of the room and maniacally kneaded it with her claws. When Dave picked her up, she purred and crawled onto his shoulders and ran down my back.

We were unanimously sold on kitten #2, but I wanted to give an affectionate adult kitty a chance, too. The volunteer brought us a third cat. It turns out he was seven months old but the approximate size of a Shetland pony. He seemed agitated out of his cage and allowed us to pet him for a while, but he mostly appeared annoyed and ready to return to the comfort of his cat cushion and the predictable bars. Before he left, he also maniacally kneaded the cushion. It’s his cushion now and nobody else’s.

After a thorough hand washing, followed by some absentminded kitten petting and some more thorough hand washing, we returned to the front desk. We told the receptionist the kitten we wanted.

“We need to see a copy of your lease before we can give you this cat,” she said.

I wish we had known about this before we spent hours playing with them. So we drove home, grabbed the lease, begged our landlord for a letter of recommendation, and quickly returned. The receptionist and other women who worked there looked it over carefully. They discussed the adoption in doubtful whispers. Then one of them went to the third room.

When she returned, she said, “You’re going to have to choose a different cat.”

In saying this, she ripped my heart from my chest, trailing behind it other important “feeling organs.”

“This cat hasn’t been spayed," she continued.

Well, yes, she was only a baby and cats can’t be spayed until they are six months old and fertile. I don’t know what to make of it. I hoped that we could work out a deal, or put her on layaway, or arrange a betrothal between us and our kitten that would go into effect on her six-month birthday. Fortunately, Dave was able to reason with the receptionist and we needed to provide the information for a veterinarian that has Dave on file. Hopefully that really is all we need to bring this time, and not our birth certificates and records of our whooping cough vaccinations.

The vet was not open on Kitten Sunday, so we must wait. Perhaps today is our day.

UPDATE: The next day we went to the shelter again and they gave us cardboard carrier full of kitten. "Is this for real?" we wondered. The sound of screaming kitten confirmed it. Olive is all ours, our squeaking and crotch-nuzzling bundle of joy.