Mohawk the Starling–Contact Across the Veil

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by Sean Arthur Joyce

1. Mohawk the Starling Gets Personal

Today I met Mohawk the Starling.* He lives—for now—at Carol Pettigrew’s BEAKS (Bird Emergency and Kare Society) in a small neighbourhood known as Blueberry, just steps away from the banks of the Columbia River near Castlegar, British Columbia. He was brought to the shelter by caring people when they discovered Mohawk’s mother had died. So they brought him and his siblings to Carol—an extremely lucky break for these birds. Shortly after the starlings were released, Mohawk—named for the stripe on his head when he was brought in—returned to BEAKS and has remained there since.

Anne and I were invited to step into the tiny room where smaller injured birds recover—a robin, siskins, an evening grosbeak, a snow bunting, a violet-green swallow. And Chester the Robin—more about him later. ** (see Part 2) At first I found the concentrated smell of bird droppings overpowering. Gradually this olfactory shock eased, but meanwhile my entry had caused quite a stir amongst the birds. I took my hat off at Carol’s request as apparently this can upset them.

Right away Mohawk flew to Carol and landed on her shoulder, chattering excitedly at her ear. He flew between her shoulder and his perch a few times. But then he landed on my forearm and began chattering at me. At first I found the sensation of the bird’s feet on my bare arm a bit disconcerting. But I knew instinctively the thing to do was not to flinch, not to give in to fear. When Mohawk began ‘preening’ me or prospecting for bugs in the folds of my shirt and in my glasses case in my pocket, I had to master the same urge to flinch. I felt that cold tingle we sometimes feel on the back of the neck when we’re surprised by something. But I held steady.

As if sensing that I was safe, Mohawk stayed on my arm, sometimes moving to my shoulder to prospect behind my ears, but always staying close. And the excited chatter! It was as if a small child, suddenly realizing it has someone eager to listen to its tale, talks non-stop, telling its story freely and openly. And the sheer range of vocalizations! Carol said Mohawk is so smart that “what he hears today he’ll repeat tomorrow.” And he did indeed make a sound that was suspiciously like Carol’s laugh. She tells me he even says “ridiculous,” a favourite expression of hers.

After a short time Mohawk and I were on intimate terms and he looked right into my eyes as he chattered and sang. We played a game—he would make a sound, I would imitate it, then he’d make a different sound and I’d imitate that, as if he were testing me. Then the game was reversed and I made clicking sounds or birdlike whistles, waiting for him to imitate. He wasn’t quite as fast a learner as I am but I could hear him getting some first drafts pretty close. As a writer and aspiring musician I can tell you that’s pretty damn good. As Carol reminded me again, Mohawk will have it down by this time tomorrow.

I wish I’d had the foresight to bring my digital recorder because I can hardly begin to describe the range of sounds this bird made. Some were typically birdlike trills and snatches of whistling song. Yet other sounds were inexplicable in a bird of this kind. A purring sound. Guttural sounds rolled like pebbles in the throat. A sound something like a cross between a baby bird and a kitten. Snatches of words he’s picked up from his human caregivers, words I couldn’t quite make out, or that had yet to fully form. Corvid biologist John Marzluff, in his book Gifts of the Crow, writes: “When we overhear crows singing softly to themselves, we wonder if they derive pleasure simply by listening to the sounds they can make. So much of what we hear from crows or ravens is inexplicable. They ring like bells, drip like water, and have precise rhythm. They sing alone or in great symphonies. Some of their noise could be music.” It’s possible exceptional birds like Mohawk are doing the same.

I began to realize that this bird was not about to let me leave easily. His attention span was concentrated, focused on me. He might shift position, from one arm to the other, or to my shoulders for a quick reconnaissance of my ears. But always he came back to looking up at me and continuing his dialogue. I kept my body still throughout, partly of course to avoid stepping on injured birds unable to fly yet. But mostly I wanted this amazing moment not to end. I wanted Mohawk to know that he was safe; he was heard. And did he ever know it!

I had found a friend. I only felt guilty that I would very soon have to leave him. I joked that he was trying to adopt me. That he was telling me the whole story of his mother’s death, his siblings alone and hungry, of the kind people who rescued them, of getting to know Carol over the past winter. An audience! Exactly what any storyteller wants—needs, even. But was it a joke? Or was he in fact reaching across the veil that normally separates us from the animal world?

I’ve often wondered these days if animals aren’t reaching out to us. And reaching across other species barriers to cooperate. Almost every day on the Internet someone posts a video or a Facebook entry about animals who are normally enemies forming friendships. Like the crow who became playmate to a kitten, rolling and tumbling together in the grass. The two became inseparable. And like the doe who saw me looking at her through my window and came over to the house to ask for a treat. I’d been putting out some of my old apples from last year’s harvest so they wouldn’t eat the birdseed. That deer knew immediately, not only was I no threat, I’d feed her.

It’s as if birds and animals are sensing that our world is in a critical situation right now. And saying to us: ‘We’re not so different, you and I. We have families. We struggle to survive day after day, as you do. We have feelings. Some of us even feel grief when one of us dies. Can’t we get together to save our world?’ Just as author Marta Williams says in Learning Their Language—Intuitive Communication with Animals and Nature: “The Hopi prophecies for our time suggested that if people could experience a shift in consciousness and reconnect with animals, nature, and spirit, much of the predicted destruction could be avoided.”

We are at least breaking the falsehood of animals and birds as Creation’s automatons, the Cartesian duality that sundered us so tragically from Nature. It stands to reason that every creature on this Earth carries in its bones the wisdom of thousands of years of evolution and experience. We too as humans are not just in the environment, we are the environment. When we grow up in a certain landscape it becomes a part of us. Even if we don’t live there still, it remains with us. In order to function in a material world, creatures need a nervous system to warn of pain, give us cues for eating, drinking, etc. In other words, that creature must feel in order to survive. And while there are differing levels of feeling just as of intelligence, the fact is that animals and birds are feeling—and intelligent—creatures with us in this world.

And so it pained me to have to leave Mohawk. Yet I know that even Carol will have to say goodbye to him too. Just as she has had to do hundreds of times in her decades of caring for injured birds. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Shakespeare wrote, and death is part of life. We have to learn to let go or we suffer, we remain trapped. The last thing I want is a bird trapped in a cage—neither a literal one nor my spirit trapped in a cage of my own making. As the Buddhists say, the condition of being is suffering. To fight against that fact is pointless. If only I had the decades of spiritual practice to fully absorb that spiritual gem. But I’m working on it….

~§~

*Starlings are not native to North America—they were introduced by well meaning Europeans to New York City in the 1890s. They have since spread across the continent. Always a dangerous strategy, introducing non-native species often leads to them becoming invasive species that can decimate an environment and cause other species to decline.

2. Breaking the Language Barrier and The Wisdom of Play

In the meantime, Mohawk the Starling will bask in Carol’s almost round-the-clock care, even as Carol herself struggles with emphysema. Determined soul that she is, the oxygen tank she’s forced to drag around isn’t stopping her, even as the bills pile up. Donations these days just don’t seem to be keeping up with expenses. The hurt of four-plus years of the Great Recession is finally hitting home and charities everywhere are suffering. Her assistant Lynette is young and energetic and must sometimes work at her paid position at BEAKS even when the money runs out. It’s a constant struggle for Carol to continue rescuing these birds.

She tells me she had quite the battle with naturalists in the early days. They told her she was foolish for rescuing birds; that they should be allowed to die in the wild and provide food for other animals. “I said to them, they are not dying in the wild. They’re dying from cats—our cats—from highways, from power lines, from windows. We have a responsibility to them.” It is we who have altered the environment to suit ourselves, and thereby created things that distort the normal mortality rates of birds and other animals. Hundreds of thousands of birds die every year simply from crashing into office tower windows. Many are disoriented by our electromagnetically saturated urban environments—birds navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field. Overlap that with the thousands of other signals we’re shooting around and no wonder they often can’t navigate properly anymore. Our fascination with wireless technology is creating another layer of pollution that is hazardous not just to birds, but to all life.

In Rachel Carson’s now legendary book Silent Spring, she mused on the strange horror of a landscape where no birds sang because it had been poisoned by pesticides. Already we have driven thousands of species of various kinds to extinction. And with climate change, we will drive many more to extinction. The savannahs of Africa once were black with herds of millions of animals. The same with the North American prairies. Now these herds are a tiny fraction of their historic size. As ecologist Allan Savory points out, this may in fact be driving desertification as much as climate change. All those animals pounding across the savannah didn’t destroy the soil, they broke it up so seeds could take root. First just one, then another, then another…. And soon the bare plain is no longer bare but lush and green.

The Hopi injunction to reconnect with animals, birds and Nature generally is thus given added resonance. Of course, people who work with these creatures on a daily basis already know that. Carol Pettigrew has worked with bird rehabilitation in some form for 40 years now. She is a naturalist’s dream, just waiting for some canny biologist to pick her brains. Carol is quite aware of the risks of some birds ‘imprinting’ on their human caregivers, particularly if they are brought in as babies. She’s had a few birds ‘imprinted’ or bonded with her, including a crow named Muffin who has never left the facility and has become a devoted companion. This is not unusual with crows, according to Marzluff’s research. “She became madly in love with me instantly and it was mutual,” says Carol. “I have to be careful with crows because they imprint so easily.” Mohawk the Starling, on the other hand, is an exception to his kind. “I’ve never seen starlings imprint like Mohawk has; it’s the first time in 40 years I’ve seen that.”

Ravens by contrast are far less likely to bond with humans. Yet Carol recalls getting to know a raven who eventually felt safe enough to land on her shoulder. It was from this raven she learned what she calls the ‘eye language’ many birds use. “First you close both eyes, then your right eye, then your left eye; it’s a trust exercise,” she explains. “When you do all three steps you can do anything with that bird.” Carol says any bird that ‘beaks’ (‘kisses’) will respond to eye language. That includes flickers, red-tailed hawks, ravens, crows and eagles. She once proved it to a sceptical naturalist who brought her a red-tailed hawk that was soon—literally—eating out of her hand.

New discoveries in the study of birds, particularly corvids—the crow and raven family—are showing that they often engage in play. As Marzluff explains in Gifts of the Crow, just a couple of decades ago the very notion was ridiculed by scientists. Unless it served some evolutionary function, a bird or animal would not waste energy on play. But then as we studied humans and got better at mapping the neural circuits in the brain, we realized that play activity in human children was indeed creating vital new neural pathways. Best of all, it fosters joy, which is far more than the sum of its chemical and neurological parts. Why not birds and animals too? “Many birds play,” explains Marzluff. “In a third of all orders of birds, voluntary, novel, immediately unnecessary, repeated, stress-free movements, interactions with objects, or games among individuals have been recorded.” Carol says in her experience it’s the female crows who are the most active and playful. “The females need to be busy all the time.”

As Anne is always reminding me, why could a bird not simply sing because it feels joy in the warmth of the spring sun? The myriad choirs of birdsong I hear in the spring, in every key and mode bounding from the hillside, make me believe she’s right. And might Mohawk the Starling indeed have been overjoyed to have someone to hear his story, even if I couldn’t understand it?

The point is, to be there, to listen, and offer what we can of ourselves.

~§~

** Chester the Robin is another of BEAKS’ resident birds. When brought in to Carol 12 years ago, his wing was broken. Although his wingbone was set by a veterinarian, Chester was not able to recover the ability to fly. But he developed a unique ability instead—a kind of trauma counsellor to other robins. When young robins come in—especially those like him who are unable to fly—they are often traumatized by having to remain on the ground. Chester interacts with them and soon their frantic cries diminish, helping them adjust to their new environment while they heal.

About the Author: Sean Arthur Joyce is a well-known writer, poet and journalist in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. Joyce has been a freelance journalist since 1990, and currently works as a reporter/editor for the Valley Voice, one of the last independently owned newspapers in the province. He is the author of two books on local history and two books of poetry. Joyce lives in the small village of New Denver, BC near Valhalla Provincial Park on Slocan Lake.

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The Richiebird Takes Flight

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by Scott Porter

 I’m convinced there is a spiritual message somewhere in this true tale. I wonder if anyone can put their finger on it for me. The only one I can find is my middle one. Warning:  You may want to don your Depends.

Now I must preface the following series of events with some facts.  We share rooms here at the nursing/rehabilitation center. Each room has two beds and two TVs.  While some privacy can be achieved by closing the curtains between beds, both of us can see each other’s TV.  Standard TVs with standard remotes.

The TV starts around 5:30 in the morning, EVERY DAY.

The TV is NEVER muted.

The TV will be on at all times when he is in this room.

The TV might get turned off around 2:00 or 3:00 am when he’s asleep, never by him.

The volume is almost always too loud to allow any other audio source to be heard.

Management was made aware of these problems and a request for room change the first morning after the move here was management’s idea, not mine.

Headphones were suggested to him; I already use them.

The universal remote arrived Wednesday.  I got it set up while anus was at dialysis, and last night I started having fun! I think changing to a religious channel in the middle of a basketball game will be fun too!

I turned his TV off last night at 10:45 pm and would have had a good night’s sleep, except I kept waking up coughing. Damn cold. This too shall pass.

Last night began with his volume mysteriously dropping every 10 minutes or so. After doing that from 9:30 to 10:45, his channel would jump up a couple of channels. He finally turned it off in disgust at 11:30.

Now he’s out for dialysis. Maybe they’ll add a quart of battery acid. One can only hope.

At 5:30 am, the TV went on. I was ready. I had my universal remote still close by after last night’s battle. And due to his insistence on keeping the curtain drawn between us, he couldn’t see the whole picture. I turned it off. A minute or so later, it was back on. I turned it off. This exchange went on at least 15 times until he gave up at 5:55.

At 6:15, the ambulance guys showed up to take him to dialysis. He asked one attendant to use his remote and turn on the TV. The attendant did and asked him, “What next?” “Wait for it,” was the reply. Nothing happened. The attendant said, “What happens?” Richie said, “It turns off, but now it won’t.”

Meanwhile, I’m behind the curtain (picture the Wizard of Oz controlling his empire and saying, “Ignore the man behind the curtain”) trying to contain myself.

Now all this guy has to do is turn the TV off between 11:00 pm and 7:00 am, mute commercials and keep the sound at a reasonable level. But he’s a bit thick and I’m determined.

This morning was similar to yesterday, except he complained to his basketball loudmouth aide that his TV wouldn’t work before 6:00, it turns off by itself, gets louder, changes channels. He mumbled something about computer control. I think 7:00 is a better time. I also think after 11:00, it should be shut off. He wants maintenance to come.

March Madness will take on an entirely new meaning.

Last night at 11:00, it was 74-72 at the end of the third quarter, when they came back from commercial to blah, blah, blah….click. When he tried to turn it back on, he dropped his remote….shift change….no personnel for at least an hour…too bad.

At 5:30 the next morning, he got his remote back. TV only on for 5 seconds. Click. His loudmouth basketball buddy came in to check it out. It worked until he turned his back. Click. He unplugged it to reset the processor and said he’d be right back. At 6:00, he comes back, plugs it in, watches for a minute. As he starts to walk out the door, click. So they agree they’ll call maintenance.

Now the ambulance guys show up to take him to dialysis. It’s relatively quiet till they bring him back at 11:00. Wondering, if I tweeted this, it might be a good thread. Aw, he had the shits at dialysis, so he was back at 8:30. Eureka. So this morning, he tells a couple of aides the TV goes off at 11:00 pm and won’t stay on before 7:00 am. They say they’ll talk with maintenance, makes no sense.

Makes perfect sense to me!

Gee, they called someone about shutting off the automatic sleep function. They can’t find it. Tee Hee. Maintenance guy is here looking at his TV, scratching his head, looking at menus. I’m ignoring the whole thing, trying to maintain a poker face.

“I gonna get anoder one, I no unnerstan,” says Jose from maintenance.

Stand by, or if you prefer, ROFLYAO!

Took me 45 seconds to program my remote for his “new” TV.

All set for March Madness!  Snicker Snicker. I shall try to keep my horselaughs silent.

The new TV works better than the old, at least for ME! The IR detector is much more sensitive. I don’t have to move my hand around trying to find the sweet spot. Just lay there under the sheet with my hand uncovered.

So last night at 11:00, Click.  Back on. Click. Off.  Back on. Click. Off.  Hmph.

Next morning, at 5:30, he asks Fred to try it.  Fred is standing at the edge of the curtain. On. Click. Off. Never even noticed the man behind the curtain.

Rich says, “They must have it in the computer.”

Fred says, “I’ll check it.”  He tries several times.  On. Click. Off. On. Click. Off. On. Click. Off.

Hey, Richie, it ain’t Bill Gates, it ain’t the CIA.  Maybe gris-gris? A witch doctor?

The next morning, it is William who asks, “What do you do, watch TV?”

Richie says, “The thing shuts off at 11:00 at night and goes back on at 7:00 in the morning. Somebody’s fucking with it! Sonofabitch!”

Fred comes in.  Richie says, “Call the cable company. I was watching Syracuse and Villanova and it went off!”

Fred and William confer in Nigerian, trying at 6:15 am to make it work. Each time, it goes off. Fred wants to call maintenance.

Good luck. It’s Sunday.

Richie says, “It’s doing the same thing as the old one!”

Syracuse is in Sicily, isn’t it? Maybe the Godfather can help?

So while I’m lying here contemplating the patterns of dots on the ceiling panels and listening to a seemingly endless Grateful Dead jam, I notice a used colostomy bag and my mind drifted back to the seventh grade and how ahead of the times some of my classmates were. While using the facilities in 1965 at good old PVRS, I read, “Flush hard. It’s a long way to the kitchen” scrawled among the witticisms and advertisements on the wall. It now occurs to me that the colostomy bag should be delivered to the gourmets sweating over our meals. Recycle for the good of all of us. Imagine, recycling was proposed at PVRS in 1965. If we did that right now, maybe we could reverse global warming.

“Why this is nothing but a bag of shit!”

But it’s really good shit!

Roll me another one just like the other one.

This whole Facebook thing brings to mind another piece of literary wisdom, penned no doubt by a future valedictorian of Princeton or Harvard, that I read on the wall of PVRS lavatory, that went something like this:

Some come here to shit and stink,

And read the writing on the wall.

I come here to sit and think,

And write the wisdom on the wall.

It somehow seems ironic to have a Facebook wall to scribble on.

So the social worker came in and Richie says he wants to know why his TV goes off between 11:00 and 7:00. He says it’s a conspiracy and he wants his sports and movies back or he’s going to call his congressman. She told him she’d have the unit manager look into it in the morning. These are, by the way, the same two idiots I spoke with before I ordered the remote.

Lots of luck!

I think he also threatened a lawsuit. I bet Jim Sokolove would just love to help.

Last night he was watching Ben-Hur. The chariot race had just ended, Marcelus had died, Juda’s trying to find the way into the Valley of the Lepers. Click.

This morning he didn’t even try until 7:10.

I have been trying to decide, now that he’s gotten the 11-7 idea, what will happen when THEY change the clocks? If THEY get it right, it would give me an extra hour of sleep the first night. If THEY get confused, maybe it could start going off at 10:00 pm and the other end messes up the other direction and waits until 8:00 am. And then gets stuck like that. Hmm, decisions, decisions.  Is it an H.G. Wells (The Time Machine) version of Three Days of the Condor?

So not to have suspicion cast my way, I go to sleep around 10:00 that night and ignore all sound input until at least 7:00 in the morning. So when my alarm starts beeping (I have a wound-vac attached to the dressing on my butt that gets loose and whistles with the air leak, causing an alarm to sound an obnoxious beep every couple seconds, which continues until the vac is reset or the nurse fixes the seal and does a reset) and whistling (I may try to teach my butt to whistle Dixie), it irritates the crap out of him. One good turn deserves another, or as Mom used to say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, or something like that. Last night I let it beep from 10:00 pm to 6:30 am, when someone came in the room and reset it.

On the noon news, a woman from somewhere in New Hampshire was talking about the power outage. She said, “Every now and then, the TV goes on, I don’t know why.”

Maybe it’s at 11 and 7!!!

The unit manager came in and Richie railed at her about the cable conspiracy and told her all about it and the new TV doing the same thing. She said she didn’t understand, wasn’t a technical person, but she’d find out.

Yeah, Rich, Bigfoot will get it right, just like she made you turn down your TV, wear headphones, move me to a more compatible room, maybe get supplies ordered before they run out. Let’s all sing along with the bouncing ball now, and in four-part harmony, FEELING!

Maybe we should just stand him on his head. Oh, now it’s morning! Oh, he’s no fun. He fell right over.

10:40 pm – I’m playing possum. He’s watching an old Rockford Files.

What’s that sound? Silence? Hmmm. OH FUDGE! It’s 12:20 am, TV is off, and I fell asleep playing possum.

5:15 am – Richie tells Fred, maybe it worked. I told her to call the cable company and take me off the computer. TV goes on. Click. Off. Shit! Back on. Off again. This continues until 6:00 am when Rich needed the bedpan right away. Rich was late for dialysis. Shit.

Sorry I fell asleep, but maybe it heightens the suspense.

10:30 pm – The nurse comes in, parks her cart in front of his TV, flushes his catheter and changes his dressing. The game is over, the post blah, blah, blah is over, and the sports recap blah, blah, blah is over. He switches to TCM for a movie.

10:40 pm – The nurse now comes to change my Hoover. I’m facing the wrong way for control.

11:05 pm – She’s finally finishing up, doing last minute futzing around, Rebel Without a Cause is starting. I can’t control, her cart blocks the signal.

11:06 pm – As she moves her cart, I do a bank shot off her butt. Click. Phew!

The next morning at 6:10, Rich says to Fred, “The fucking TV won’t work.” Fred:  “Again?” Rich: “I was watching the Celtics and it went off! I’m gonna complain again today. I told Mary Jane (Bigfoot), but she didn’t do anything. I’m gonna call my congressman again.” Fred: “You call congressman”? Rich: “A week ago. I’m gonna call him again. He owes me a big favor. I’ll call a lawyer.”

Right, I’m SURE that will do it!

At around 9:00 am, things got a little noisier than normal. Seems Richie was trying to slip into a diabetic coma, but a nurse got wind of it and said not on MY shift. So while they were yelling at him to eat and trying to force ice cream down his throat, I muted the TV. I waited until 11:00 pm to shut it off.

This morning he didn’t bother with the TV while getting ready to head to dialysis. So except for the idiot that decided to weigh me last night and screwed up my sheet, tubes and johnny beyond repair, I think we made it. Happy hump day.

Michelle (the aide from my old room) delivered my breakfast and said she overheard Rich a few days ago say he thought Bigfoot or his new roommate or SOMEBODY called the cable company to have his TV shut off at certain times. She grinned, said he ought to get the idea and just live with it. Then she said, “Bon Appetit” and left.

This afternoon they sent Hector up to check it out. He played for a half-hour and couldn’t find anything. Rich insisted in a voice rising in volume that somebody at the cable company was shutting his TV off at 11 at night and it wouldn’t come back on until 7 the next morning. Hector says there’s no way to do that, the cable would go out for the whole building. Rich yells at him to be here tonight or tomorrow might get interesting. The cable company could shut down the signal to the building, Rich, but your TV would still be ON showing either a blank screen or snow.

During the evening, I decided the pattern was too rigid. So we’ll vary it. He’s still hollering for maintenance, which says it can’t be the cable company.

They could put a screen in front of the TV to block the IR signal or, hey, try a new roommate!

Last night was random changes he reversed each time till it went off at 11. He went out to complain at 6:30 the next morning, but he didn’t turn the thing on till 7:00. The next night was routine. The Silence of the Lambs isn’t, and neither is 12 Monkeys, but at eleven, Click.

At 6:15 the next morning, he was off to dialysis. TV was still off.

Saturday night/Sunday morning went well. It’s absurd that he watches the Stooges while reading his paper and complaining, yet fails to see the humor in this.

Wake up and go to sleep!

At noon, Bigfoot, Rich and Jonathan, an aide, are discussing the TV as they’re taking Rich for an appointment. Rich says, “They gave me a new TV. It must be the remote.” Bigfoot asks, “Jonathan? Any ideas?” Jonathan deftly brings up the menu, goes to sleep timer and sees it is not set. Not wakeup either. They left the TV on and left. I waited ten minutes and turned it off.

I didn’t know it HAD a sleep function! What a novel idea!

The scuttlebutt is that Bigfoot asked the staff to keep alert. The only two in the know had a hard time not laughing. At 4:15 pm, Jose from maintenance comes in. When I took out an ear bud, he asked if I had a headache. No. Then asked if he could use my remote. Sure. He played with the menus and checked for interactions with both TVs, found nothing.

Nothing the next morning except the normal pre-dialysis doo-doo. The nurse was concerned he hadn’t eaten much. Richie says between the coughing and eating, he didn’t want to choke.

Gee, Rich, if I hear anything unusual, like silence coming from behind the curtain, I’ll ring for help. I promise.

She reminded him they didn’t want his sugar too low.

A nice glass of ethylene glycol, Rich?

When he came back, he was short with his aide. She wanted to know why was so mean. He said he had to go out for 3 ½ hours yesterday, then this morning and then again this afternoon.

Sorry you missed Let’s Make a Deal, but it was better with Monty Hall, even though there was a reason it went off the air years ago: it got OLD! The reason it’s back on now? No imagination!

He got back at 2:30; TV was on before the EMTs were out the door. Guess he couldn’t find his call rope because I heard him yelling for help at 3:05. I let him yell increasingly frantically (Yes, Mrs. Peters, I know I shouldn’t have used that phrase, but WTF!) for 15 minutes before I pulled mine and said, “Sorry Rich, I couldn’t hear you through the music.”

He should keep his moanings consistent. He tells totally different versions of events to each person that has the misfortune to run into him. It’s okay, though. Most don’t have the nuances of English mastered, so they don’t realize what’s inconsistent with what he’s saying.

Off at 11:00, still not on at 7:00.

Anyone that would suffer through Shemp ought to be put out of their misery. He’s nearly as bad as Joe and Curly Joe! Curly WAS the Stooges. Now, if Rich only liked silent movies.

I turned off his TV at 11:00; we were up again at midnight with him coughing and complaining about life and sorry care. But he didn’t turn the TV back on, nor did he try in the morning. He did tell Fred the sons of bitches still haven’t fixed his TV, he’s gonna call his congressman, maybe he’ll make them do something. He says he told “the guy” (maybe the maintenance guy?), but the guy said he couldn’t do anything, maybe Cam (who is Cam?) can make them fix it. He says he can’t watch basketball because it goes off in the fourth quarter.

That only happened once, Richie, like yesterday you saw two basketball games and switched to Space Cowboys for the third, at least, time this month.

After Richie came back from dialysis, he started complaining to Jonathan that the TV was still doing it and it must be the remote. Jonathan explained how it couldn’t be. Richie was sounding like he was pleading. Jonathan said maybe someone in another room or down the hall was pointing their remote at a mirror or something.

I took an unscheduled nap again last night until 11:25! But it turned out he did too, so he never knew it went off late. This morning he had it on at 7:00.

The next morning, he tried turning it on at 6:00, but nobody had changed our clock on the wall so it wouldn’t work till 7:00. Or was it 8:00?

Click. Click. Click. Click.

I do wonder what the battery-powered clock on the wall has to do with it. They did set it ahead, though, at 9:30 am.

The battery-powered clock turned him off at 11:00 and on at 7:00 for Fox News and Baby Face on TCM with Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent by Darryl Zanuck from 1933.  So you see, Gaslight would be his cup of tea. Next was another from 1933, Female. Then he found the Stooges.  At least it was a Curly one.

Why don’t I screw with his TV during the day? Someday someone might figure out all they have to do is place a small piece of paper so as to deflect my IR signal but not his.

So he had Bigfoot in again with Jonathan. It goes off at 11:00 and won’t go on until 7:00. They gave me a new TV but not a new remote, it still does the same thing, he says. He wants a new remote and Jonathan is going to set the timer to reset in a five-minute period. Rich just wants his games back, he says, but I haven’t shut a game off since that first one in the third quarter with the score 72-74. He has watched two games some days, but all but one ended before 11:00. Bigfoot checked my remote to look for interactions and asked if it was universal. I shrugged my shoulders and looked dumb. Bigfoot’s going to have the nurse here at 10:55 tonight.

Like she’s got time to stand guard.

I did say I was ready for March Madness, didn’t I? Watson, the game’s afoot!

Next was the new Let’s Make a Deal, then the new Price is Right. Noon news, Millionaire (like that would help either of us), Rachel Ray, Barefoot Contessa, Quincy (with Carolyn Jones), The Addams Family, four reruns of the newest resurrection of Family Feud, Deal or No Deal, Bonanza (he napped through most when not coughing or griping), then back to more TCM with A Penny A Peep (a short from 1934), Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, then he found a basketball game starting at 8:00. NO MUTING EVER.

Ever try to carry on a conversation over commercial drivel? Your mission, Mr. Phelps, if you choose to accept it, is to give this guy a clue. Goodbye, Peter Graves.

Well, it probably won’t be Fred (he wasn’t answering Bigfoot’s calls), but the nurse and Bigfoot want a voicemail tonight. I wonder if she’ll notice the man behind the curtain.

Well, sports fans, if I was married to this guy, I’d get a divorce. Oh, I’ve had two and he’s divorced. I wonder why?

At 10:50, Renee comes to watch and chat, Rich fills her in. At 11:00, it goes off. She wants to see it. Rich turns it on. I turn it off. She thinks that’s odd and has him do it again. So do I.

I stump into the Last Chance Saloon. Gimme some more of that third red eye, Barkeep. I was challenged to a game of 7-card tarot with Pentangles wild, when I saw him deal a high priestess from the bottom of the deck. I said, Rich, there ain’t enough room in this life cycle for both of us. I faked left, turned right, and shot a beam from my third eye right at his TV.

Apologies to Firesign.

All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else. Buddha?

Maintenance came and asked me if I could control Rich’s TV with my computer. I said, “You’d have to be a lot smarter than me.” I showed him my headphones (and offered them and the computer to him) and said I had them in all the time so as not to hear what goes on while listening to music.

He sees me that way every time he comes in here, right?

He wanted to know if the TV bothered me. I told him I complained the first day in this room. He wondered if there was any difference. I told him I didn’t think so and that I tried to go to sleep around 10:00 pm. I doubt that will make any difference. I asked him if he’d like to live like that. He smiled and said no.

An aide said there were systems to control all kinds of stuff. Yeah, over dial-up? And with what interfaces? I suppose it does divert attention from the real culprit. My Mac does not have an IR port, but may have an IR receiver. Should I accuse Rich of making my typing bad? Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that choking chickens with catheters may be dangerous.

Let’s see what the leprechauns bring.

They brought him a new Sharp TV. So far I can’t get my little remote to work. I’m wondering if it is the angle/sensitivity. I’ll play more when he’s out of the room.

Game over maybe?

Well, that was the problem. The TV is tilted a bit too much facing him. If I can get someone to straighten it, I’ll be okay. Otherwise, I’ll have to stretch a lot. I did get it working, just very awkward.

Hope no one notices I got his TV straightened a bit. I turned him off at 11:00. He turned it on and off around 6:00. I slept a bit late, been coughing. Now he’s off to dialysis.

No one seems to have noticed that the TV is straight. It’s still a little temperamental, so tactics have changed to off at 11:00 and intermittent sneak attacks during other times it is on.

Last night at 10:20 Rich turned his TV down a little, about 6 db. He had the aide get him a pitcher of ginger ale. He sat up and he pulled the curtain some more. The dadburn noise of those stupid basketball squeaks and cheering was a little better, but too little too late.

At 11:00, click. He turned it back on. I turned it off again. He waited ten minutes and tried again. Again, I turned it off. About 11:30, Fred walks by and asks Richie how he’s doing. Rich says, “The damn thing shut off at 11:00, it was in the half and it went off.”

Aww.

Fred says, “We’ll see what happens tomorrow.” Rich starts grousing that somebody’s fucking with it, that’s the third fucking TV.

This morning at 6:30, he asked Fred to try it. On, then nothing. Rich says, “Turn it off.” I did. Fred says, “I didn’t do it.” It stayed off till 7:00.

Looks like the rectal tissue has pull. Musical beds again. I’ll let you know when I’m settled.

So, no telephone, which means no internet. My roommate is relatively quiet.

While I’m sure they have no clue how I shut off the other guys’ TV, they by now must know I was responsible for it.

If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out.”

Looks like if I want a phone, I have to pay Verizon or some phone company. I don’t think welfare will allow for that. I also think my hair clippers disappeared. But I lost the aide that cut my hair two moves ago anyway.

I can do rudimentary email on my Kindle and sort of access my bank.

Wow! They wired me up a phone!

The Latin maintenance guy looked weird at me, like I was going to tap into DOD and start World War III!

My new roommate is a sad case. He’s young, had a lot of bucks, invested it and lost it all. After the loss, he attempted suicide three times. He is now non-verbal, fed through a tube and has severe muscle contractions. They change his diaper a couple times a day. I got a good look one day at his face when they were turning him. Only his eyes showed something. I think it was terror. Another case of “Hey, you ain’t got it that bad. Look at that guy.”

So I heard tell a month or so later, Richie was not doing well and had a couple of strokes. He’d been out of the hospital a couple of times. I was not too surprised one morning when I heard a Code Blue over the intercom for that wing. I looked out the window in time to wave to the Richiebird as he flew by my window.

Bigfoot is no longer employed here.

It’s half time, Rich.

It’s not nice to fuck with Mother Nature.

About the Author: On May 29, 1971 Scott was 18 years old. He was riding a motorcycle when he was hit by a car turning left in front of him, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He learned to live life pushing a manual wheelchair. In 1997, Multiple Sclerosis, that had been masked by the paralysis, was diagnosed. The symptoms of MS became more severe, by 2002 necessitating a power wheelchair and making driving a car unsafe. Over the years, both legs, that didn’t work or feel, had been amputated. By 2009, the strength in his upper body had declined due to the MS in spite of constant exercise to the point that he was forced to give up his independence and move to a nursing home.

The Panda Cam

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I’m glad the government shutdown is over. It wasn’t necessary and it hurt the economy. I’m also glad the National Zoo’s Panda Cam is back on, because it’s  been a strange and wonderful part of my life for many years.

I was one of those people who never had a warm, fuzzy feeling about pets in general.  There were a few cats over the years, but I never really formed a strong attachment. We had a dog for a brief time, but to me he was just another responsibility.

And then things changed. In July of 2005, I was self-employed, working out of an office in my home when Mei Xiang, the female panda at the National Zoo, gave birth to a tiny, hairless creature. I was mesmerized. Every morning I would turn on the Panda Cam and watch as this giant panda so very carefully nurtured her tiny baby. It became a part of my daily routine to observe her devotion, never venturing outside to eat for weeks. And as I watched, something was happening to me. I don’t know if it was some strange awakening of my maternal instincts, but a voice inside my head starting saying, on a very regular basis, “Get a dog.”

What? I don’t even like dogs. So I kept on watching the Panda Cam and ignoring that little voice. But it was relentless. So finally, I decided to speak to my husband about it. He was the animal lover, not me. When we were first together, he woke up one morning with tears in his eyes. He had dreamed about a dog he had loved and had to give up, and remembering made him cry.

He was pretty dismissive about my getting a dog, so I kind of let it go. But the voice was still there and I was still doing the Panda Cam thing every day. Now the baby panda, a boy, had a name, Tai Shan, and was getting bigger and bigger by the day. I began going to the local animal shelter, not all the time, but once in a while. I think I was trying to “shake it off,” because it just didn’t make sense for me to want a dog.

I raised the subject again with my husband, and he gradually started to respond more positively. Well, he said, it has to be a female and she has to have short hair. Okay, that was pretty reasonable, I thought. A few weeks later, on a Saturday when Mark was working, I made another trip to the animal shelter. And there, in a pen, were two small puppies. The sign said they were half chocolate lab and half white spitz. They clearly had short hair, but both were male. Suddenly, one of the puppies jumped up on his hind legs, put his paws and his cute little nose through the holes in the pen and just wagged and wagged his tail at me. And in that moment, I knew he was The One.

A short time later, I was on my way home with my new puppy, courtesy of the Panda Cam, when my husband called. Don’t ask me how, but he knew, saying, “You got a dog, didn’t you?”  I could tell he was a little uptight about it. He had never really been 100% on board, but now he had no choice. And he wasn’t happy that the puppy was a male. But I countered with the fact that he had short hair. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing at that point, not sure how this was going to go. But what the hell, the voice in my head had been pretty adamant and I just couldn’t shut that voice down no matter how hard I tried.

So I got some books and began my adventure into actually raising a dog. He became Baxter Reese (I don’t know why, but Mark wanted the Reese part, so we went with it). It was work, but I enjoyed it and never regretted it. Baxter became a part of our lives. I would walk him in the early morning, and then Mark and I would walk him when he came home from work. We sought out places where Baxter could run and play, and we always took him out on the boat, which he loved.

One evening, we were sitting on the couch and I went through another “voice in my head” experience. This one was telling me that when I was gone, Baxter would be a great companion and comfort to Mark. And it gave me a sense of relief, although it almost made me cry. I honestly can’t remember whether I told Mark or not, but I’m thinking now that because it sounded so morbid, I did not.

And then, in 2008, we found out Mark had cancer. But the doctors were very positive, it was treatable and we had nothing to worry about. Besides, I was the one who was going to die first, I was sure. But it was not to be. Mark’s cancer spread, and in August of 2011, after a horrible final year of suffering, he died. We had hospice at home, and yes, Baxter was up on the bed with Mark some of that last day. He couldn’t be kept out.

In the days and weeks after Mark’s death, there were lots of people around. But then everyone went back to their own lives and it was just me and Baxter. I remember thinking, wait a minute, this isn’t the way it was supposed to happen. How’s that for denial? I was constantly looking around for Mark, just part of the process, they say, learning to accept that your loved one is really gone. It takes a while. Baxter, though, seemed to know. A couple of times I said the word Daddy, I don’t know why, maybe just to see what kind of reaction I’d get. He would just look straight back at me, as if to say, “Mommy, you know darn well he’s not here anymore.” He got it even if I didn’t.

For a long time, I had no desire to go anywhere or do anything. I got up every day and took care of the details of life, but I didn’t really want to live without him. Through it all, Baxter was there for me in ways it’s hard to describe. Mostly, he taught me about being in the now. We lived our lives together, he and I, as the world went on all around us. Tai Shan had been sent to China. The Panda Cam was still operational, but no more baby panda.

And then, in the summer of 2012, a year after Mark’s death, there were signs that Mei Xiang was pregnant. And I was beginning to want to go places and do things. My granddaughter Willow was almost three, so I suggested we take her to the National Zoo. Mei Xiang had just given birth, and I had been avidly watching the Panda Cam. I knew we wouldn’t be able to visit the pandas, but that was okay. I remember that day so well, because it was the first time I had ventured out for a whole day and actually enjoyed myself, the first prolonged moments of happiness and pleasure in my life in a long, long time.

A week later, I awoke to the news that the tiny baby panda had died. Thankfully, I wasn’t watching the Panda Cam at the time, but once the watchers heard Mei Xiang crying, they immediately turned it off anyway. I was completely crushed and fell apart. I was feeling her pain at her loss and reliving my pain for the millionth time. I was miserable for weeks, and it was a long time before I wanted to go out again.

I’m better now, and Baxter is right here at my feet as I’m writing. And there is a new baby panda, a girl this time. And the Panda Cam is back on!

Panda Cam

Willow, Baxter and Me

And so it’s Baxter and me, with the present not being the future I supposed it would be. Many times I’ve wished it was that future instead of this one. But here I am, slowly but surely learning to accept the present and live in the now, just like Baxter. I know one day I will have to say goodbye to Baxter, and it’s a future I can’t imagine having to deal with. Maybe it will be the other way around. If anyone knows for sure, it’s probably Baxter, not me.