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ralph robert moore

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Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.

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the seventh white styrofoam bowl
october 1, 2008

So, it's been a strange past month.

In the middle of it, I went through a week where I really felt like the writer I've always wanted to be.

I worked more on my fifth novel, The Angry Red Planet, speeding along at sixty miles an hour, but then hitting that "here comes the end" stretch where things inevitably slow down, maybe because you're reluctant to leave that world you've lived in so long, crashing into the orange, water-filled drums of the final pages, forehead heading in slow motion towards the windshield of the last sentence.

That same week, I edited the publication proofs for not one, but two, of my stories: Grappling With Urine, which will be appearing in Chimeraworld, and Strangers Wear Masks of Your Face, which will be appearing in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction. That's a great experience, to go over a story of yours, line by line, in the columns and headings and page numbers format in which it will be printed, to prepare it for publication.

I received print copies of Midnight Street and Grasslimb, with stories of mine in them (Rocketship Apartment and Damp, respectively).

I also heard from the Artistic Director of Emerging Artists Theater, an off-Broadway company, letting me know that out of over 300 submissions by playwrights, my play (the first I had ever written), Duck Eggs, had made it to the finals.

Sunday, September 14, my play, along with the other finalists, was read before the entire company (actors, directors, set designers, etc.), to decide which play the theater would produce for the Spring 2009 season. The Artistic Director sent each of the playwrights still in the running a copy of the day's schedule. I was pleased to see that Duck Eggs would be the final performance of the day. Sometimes, that's a good sign.

Unfortunately, Duck Eggs wasn't selected.

Which is okay.

I remember when I decided, as a lonely kid, that I wanted to be a writer. It seemed so glamorous and impossible a profession, like being an astronaut. But now I can say that in addition to all the other modest successes I've enjoyed as a writer, on September 14, in a theater in mid-town Manhattan, I had a group of theater professionals read my play out loud, to other theater professionals, some of them award winners, and consider it for production.

That's a great feeling.

The past month was also speckled with minor and major problems, more so than most months.

The weather having cooled, Mary and I started working out in the garden again, but then one of those afternoons, coming back inside, sweaty, Mary discovered a huge bug bite on her forearm. What kind of bug bit? We have no idea. But the infection from the bite spread, until her entire forearm was inflamed. We had to go to the dermatologist, for a shot and prescription salve.

Then our steering wheel started vibrating.

I figured it was a tire problem, since it only happened when we were driving, not parked. We went to a tire store, and sat in their waiting room, watching TV we would never, ever watch, for hours, while they replaced all four tires. And the problem went away.

We have a Kenmore Elite side by side. The ice from the ice maker started to smell, then the water from the dispenser, then the entire interior of the refrigerator.

It was a ripe, acidic smell, which made me wonder, with dread, if a line had broken where it was dispensing Freon into the interior (I know refrigerators no longer use Freon, but whatever the comparable gas would be.) Finally, working my way down the shelves of the refrigerator, we isolated the problem. A bag of lemons in the produce bin, all the lemons perfectly yellow except one, which was as black as a tumor. As soon as we smelled it, we immediately recognized the bad smell from the ice and the water.

Then, worse of all, one of our cats, Athena, started to lose weight.

The thing about something bad entering your life is that it rarely happens all at once, like a car crash.

Badness is usually more subtle. Insidious. Like a leak. One day you notice a drop of water on your kitchen counter, wipe it up with the top pad of your thumb, don't pay it any more attention. A week later, it's a little pool. Where'd that come from? Then you notice the discoloration on the ceiling above the counter, then you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a frightening crash, like burglars in raccoon masks breaking in, race out to the kitchen with a pillow as a weapon, and see the upstairs toilet lying on your stove under a huge, dripping hole in the ceiling.

So it was with Athena.

Was she hopping up on our bed less often?

We didn't notice.

Eating less?

Like you, we're easily distracted.

But one day, I don't know why, I did look at her, and she seemed thinner than the others.

I called her over, petted her, moving my fingers down her back bone, and instead of that wide band of meat, I could actually feel the small knobs of her spine.

A moment of dread, like lazily scratching under your arm and discovering a hard lump.

We took her to the vet.

His examination didn't turn up anything unusual. Her kidneys weren't swollen. Moving his hands along her underside, head tilted to one side, he agreed she was bony. His progress under her stopped near the top of her chest, where his fingers listened for a while. "Her heartbeat is a little fast. Even for a cat who isn't used to going to the vet."

He explained the course of tests he'd need to conduct to try to determine what was causing her weight loss. An initial blood test to see how her organs were. If that test showed a problem, he could probably start treatment, based on which organ was affected.

The test showed her organs were fine, but it did indicate she was anemic.

We paid for a second blood test, to try to determine the cause of her anemia (we couldn't begin treatment until we knew what to treat.) This second test focuses on common causes of anemia in a cat, such as parasitical invasions (worms, etc.) or toxins. The test came back negative, unfortunately. (Not that we wanted Athena to have a parasite or toxic substance in her, but at least if she did, we'd be able to start treating her.)

So then the vet took a third blood sample, to have a pathologist, rather than a lab technician, look at it.

Athena has non-regenerative anemia. What that means is her bone marrow is no longer producing red blood cells. At all.

But we still don't know why.

So at this point, Athena is not receiving treatment for her condition. What we're doing instead is treating her symptoms, while we search for the cause of her anemia. "Treating her symptoms" sounds reasonable, but what it means is pulling her out from under the chair where she now lies all day, fur standing up from her emaciated hips like tiny dark gray feathers, prying her mouth open, and, using a syringe, squirting fever medicine and children's Benedryl into her mouth.

The Benedryl is to clear up her congestion, which is blocking her nasal cavities (cats don't eat food they can't smell.)

There are a lot of hard things pet owners do for their pets, but one of the hardest is to take a cat who isn't feeling well as it is, force her mouth open, and force liquid down her throat, all the while her eyes are widening with panic. Not being able to explain to her, like you would a human, that we're not trying to hurt her, we're trying to help her.

Since we're still desperately searching to find out the cause of her anemia, the next diagnostic step is to have her undergo a bone marrow biopsy. Our vet has ordered the needle needed for the biopsy, which should arrive this week.

Hopefully, after the biopsy, we'll have some answers, and can begin treatment.

If not, we move on to the next diagnostic step, sonograms and x-rays.

She's six years old.


I posted a Lately a while back about trying to figure out the recipe the national fast food chain Popeye's uses for its red beans and rice, one of those dishes that are absolutely perfect. Joe Breaux, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and knew the ex-wife of the owner of Popeye's, wrote me to say that the key ingredient to the red beans sauce is minced pepperoni.

Which was a revelation.

Because honestly, I never would have thought of using pepperoni, and none of the clone recipes I've seen on the Web call for it, but it "instantly made sense".

Since then, Joe's sent us a couple of recipes that have really impressed me in their inventiveness, including a shrimp dish that uses shrimp cooked in liquid a long time, to where it's essentially stewed, something that inherently seems wrong to do, but in fact produces a great taste and texture.

So the past week or so when Joe sent me a new recipe he'd developed, for a hamburger that uses gelatin, I was intrigued. Because of the problems we've been having with Athena, we haven't tried it yet, but Joe's recipes have been dependable, so I certainly recommend giving it a try.

Here's Joe's email to me:

Hey, it's been a while.

Here is a very good hamburger recipe I've developed.

The gelatin solution in these burgers makes them wonderfully juicy, much like the gelatin in slow cooked ribs makes them juicy. They can easily be cooked to a higher internal temperature than most burgers without drying out and don't require anything like mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup to add juiciness. The gelatin solution also causes the outside of the patties to brown more quickly so the patties should be cooked on a lower heat and turned more frequently than is traditional.

PATTY INGREDIENTS

1/4 ounce envelope Knox unflavored gelatin
2 teaspoons light brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 teaspoon Wyler's sodium free beef bullion
1/4 cup hot onion water
1/4 cup cold onion water
2 pounds coarsely ground chuck roast--ground once
1 cup finely chopped fresh green onions
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons table salt

TO MAKE THE ONION WATER

In a blender or food processor liquefy two large Vidalia onions. Strain the liquefied onion through a fine metal strainer capturing the strained onion water.

TO MAKE THE PATTIES

Heat 1/4 cup of the onion water in a pan over the gas grill to about 130 degrees F. Add the gelatin, brown sugar and beef bullion to the hot onion water and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved then add the cold onion water and stir to form a gelatin solution.

Gently, but thoroughly, combine the gelatin solution, ground chuck, chopped green onions, chopped parsley, garlic powder, Tabasco sauce, black pepper and table salt to form a seasoned patty mixture. Form the patty mixture into 6 patties. Cover and refrigerate the patties until ready to grill.

COOKING THE PATTIES

Preheat a gas grill to medium heat. When the grill is ready, brush the grill rack with the vegetable oil. Place the patties on the rack, cover, and cook, for 10-12 minutes turning every 3-4 minutes, until an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F is reached and the patties are done to preference. You can also cook these burgers in a nonstick frying pan on med/medium low.


After I wrote all of the above, we got a call from our vet on Monday, September 29, saying the bone marrow biopsy needle had arrived.

We immediately brought Athena in, her meowing in her cat carrier in the back seat all the way, so we could hopefully get a diagnosis and start actual treatment.

The vet called us a few hours later. Noticing how labored Athena's breathing was, he was understandably reluctant to give her general anesthesia. He took an x-ray to check the condition of her lungs, and the cause of her anemia was finally revealed. She had nodules throughout her body cavity. The cancer was so extensive it was inoperable.

Athena was one of five kittens born to Lady in the walk-in closet off our master bedroom. If you'd like to read about Mary and me witnessing their births, you can go here.

Each of the kittens have grown up with different personalities.

Athena was always a bit of a loner. Didn't socialize much with the other cats.

Every once in a while she'd hop up on our bed, promenading back and forth at the bottom, so that we started to think of the song, Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me, only we'd see it as her singing, Don't You Wish Your Kitty Was as Cute As Me?

Then she'd usually get up on her hind legs by my ribs and start kneading my chest, so that it looked like a church organ lady playing Bringing In The Sheaths.

We also had a song we made up for her, the sort of thing lovers create for their own amusement:

Athena
Sweetest catů
In the world.

Our nickname for her was The War Goddess.

Once we learned about the cancer, and that it was end stage, we decided to end her life.

She was near death, and although she wasn't in pain at this point, that unbearable cancer-pain would start soon.

We picked old clothes off the floor, who gives a fuck about appearance at that point, drove to the vet.

They had us wait in the same room where Rudo, another one of our cats, was put to sleep. Apparently it's a room the hospital reserves for putting pets to sleep. A high, metal table, two chairs, a wooden table between the chairs with the typical doctor's spread of magazines. I'll bet those magazines never get read by any of the room's temporary occupants.

An assistant brought in Athena, swaddled in a large blue blanket with white snowmen and blue Christmas trees.

As always happens, she looked more vital than we expected. But the more we talked to her, the more we could see how sick she was. Emaciated, bad eyes.

After our alone time, the vet entered with an assistant.

A catheter was already taped around one of Athena's front legs, to make the injection easier.

He started by injecting a saline solution into the catheter, to flush it.

After that, he picked up the second needle. "Are you folks ready?"

We held onto Athena, petting her, kissing her, one final time.

As the plunger descended, she lifted her head off the metal table, as if she had heard something.

Then she turned into a rag doll, with rag doll whiskers and fangs.

The vet put a stethoscope against her bony chest. No heart beat. Protocol was to wait five minutes, after which he would check her heart again, to be sure.

After the second listening, he looked up at us. "She's gone."

We have/had seven cats. So we always deal out seven styrofoam bowls on our kitchen counter, fill them with food, lower them to the kitchen floor, amidst all the meows.

Tonight, Monday, after we buried Athena in our backyard, Mary put bowls on the counter for the latest feeding. She looked down, then over at me, sad.

Out of habit, she had put out seven bowls.

We filled six.

The seventh white styrofoam bowl we left empty.

Goodbye, Athena.

Athena (2002 - 2008)
Sweetest Cat in the World