Butte County Jail

I saw my first jail in the early fifties with Cub Scout Troop 3588.  Mr. McDowell—who later turned out to have a daughter too fine to shit—took us.  I don’t remember much except the gloom and the astonishing thickness of the bars.  It was just the lockup at our local police station at 93rd and Cottage Grove, but for eight- and nine-year-olds, it was San Quentin.

I next saw the inside of a jail nearly twenty years later with Pudgy Thompson in Chicago on a tour of the Cook County Jail.  It was huge, grimy, dark, and loud.  Pudgy knew Winston Moore, the notorious warden who took us around, and we got a good look at whatever he wanted us to see.  The bars didn’t seem as thick as they had when I was nine, though plenty thick enough to contain any human.  It once again occurred to me that whatever else I might do in life, one of the main things I wanted to do was stay the hell out of jail, and I consider that one of my major accomplishments to date.

I recently got a look at the Butte County Jail on a tour with the Butte County Behavioral Health Advisory Board.  I was surprised.  First, there ain’t any gloom in the Butte County Jail, other than the occasional attitude, I suppose.  It’s bright everywhere.  All of the walls and ceilings are light-colored and everything is brightly, fluorescently lit, and spotless.

The decor and spaces are Institutional Bland, which is understandable and unimaginative.  I wonder what, say, Frank Gehry might do for a jail.  Meanwhile, I’ve got to say that the Butte County Jail seems to be doing a reasonable job, given what the job is.  Of course, everybody had known for a month which hour that Wednesday we would be there, so there wasn’t gonna be any blood on the walls.

Lately I had been thinking that locking people up is mostly a racket fed by biased prosecutors and judges and seen to mostly by bullies, goons, sadists, and now corporations.  Now I’m not so sure.  I thought there was a better way to deal with human transgression, and I daresay there might be, but I don’t know what that is.

We didn’t know what anybody had done to be there, although we did learn the code that determines what color clothing an inmate wears, fashionably orange more often than not.  We saw a lot of inmates in various stages of their stays, intake and assessment and solitary and the protected populations alone and together.

I’m hardly ever afraid of anything or anybody, but when I saw one inmate in a little cell with his face at the glass and got close enough to look in his eyes, I was immensely grateful that he was on the other side of a serious steel door.  He might be a genius or a budding saint, fine, just don’t let him out just yet.  I’m real sorry he’s in that little room.  That couldn’t be helping him much, except maybe keeping him from being hurt or killed by somebody who saw him coming and was in a position to do something definitive about it, but meanwhile please keep him behind that door, thank you. Don’t hurt him and don’t let him out.

We can’t know what it’s like for inmates with various mental illnesses.  We heard mostly how things are set up and how the process works.  It all made sense, of course, the way they explained it.  We had several professional whatnots, a few lieutenants, a captain, and the sheriff his own self, and they all know how to explain.  We even got a few words from the guy who owns California Forensic Medical Group, the company we—and twenty-six other counties—pay to handle mental health issues at the county jail. This guy’s got at least twenty-seven contracts and gets to Oroville about once a quarter.

I’m sure the Butte County Jail could be better and worse for people who’d do better as mental patients than inmates, and I think that’s more people than we know.  I hope the Board can help institutional evolution along and get people with a mental illness what makes sense for them, courtesy of Butte County.  Did you know that Medi-Cal stops when you go to jail?  That’s absurd.

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Unlimited maternity leave

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Forough Molina

I first saw Forough Molina (fuh-ROO mo-LEE-nah) when she asked for my support at the Farmers’ Market one morning, and I promised to look her up online.  I liked her, although she looked me right in the eye, an old trick.  I once met a governor of Illinois who was later convicted of some shenanigans, or maybe folderol, and I most remember his piercing stare.  It was nearly hypnotic and he was a thief and a charlatan the whole time.  Molina didn’t seem like that, just direct.

I saw her the next time at the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters in the Chico Silly Council room, and then she and I talked on a bench at One Mile.  I was thinking of writing about her candidacy, but for the hour or so we sat there and the week since I haven’t thought up words to do her justice.  She’s a benign tsunami, kind and warm and relentless.  I bet she’s a tough teacher.

Here’s where I get to mention Miz Richie, an English teacher I had at the end of high school.  We knew Miz Richie was immaculately dressed and accessorized and made-up, and looking at my yearbook fifty years later I realized she was also mighty fine, though just out of range for sixteen-year-old perceptions.  Miz Richie has nothing to do with Forough Molina, except she was a tough teacher, too, and I wanted to give her late props.

Molina asked me why I wanted her to win, and I said because I got a good vibe from her at the Farmers’ Market, and she seemed like a regular person, believable, with manageable neuroses, and tough, too.

Sometime there on the bench she mentioned having raced bicycles, and so what I thought was a certain temper, as with steel, was exactly that.  Bicycle racers are tough mothers. Another snap judgment supported.  She was also riding a 1970s-era Schwinn, my hometown brand.  I’m a certified Schwinn Service Specialist, so her wheels gained her a lot of cred with me.

Molina grew up poor in Chico, which I bet no other candidate can claim and which is reason enough to vote her onto the Silly Council. We didn’t talk about many issues.  She actually knows what public schools are for and that police need better training, and that’ll do for the time being.  Forough Molina strikes me as someone who might not last long as a Silly Council member and who will be a big help while she’s there.

As much as anything, I trust her.  I don’t mean I’d rely on her in all situations.  With my child?  Absolutely.  In a gun fight, maybe not.  I don’t expect to agree with her decisions on the council all the time, though that would be nice.  I trust that how she votes will be because of what she feels is best for ordinary people in Chico.  The wealthy and business owners have plenty of influence on, in, and throughout the Chico Silly Council.  I trust Forough Molina to represent those of us with no business, few skills, half-assed healthcare, and no cash reserve.  When she wins.

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Trophic cascade

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Climate change

I was a climate-change agnostic when I went to see Guy McPherson at the 100th Monkey. I thought Earth might be more subtle and complex than we think, like everything else. I’m leery of numbers that only show up on a machine, even if the numbers represent something said to be important. I imagine some schnook peering in disbelief at a dim red readout and smacking the thing, and the number changes.

I thought I was gonna see Anthony Watts, too, a prominent climate-change skeptic. McPherson and Watts were going to debate, except Watts had a personal emergency and didn’t show, so McPherson gave us a talk, which essentially amounted to we’re all going to die soon. Climate change from human activity has gone so far that nothing we do is likely to make a difference, and all this you see around you is going away. There’s a forty-year lag between the causes and the effects, so the weather we’re getting now was influenced by what people were doing in 1974. We’ve got maybe another generation or so and then that’s it, no more civilization and no more us. Life will go on, just not us folks.

I was stunned. A friend had told me that McPherson’s spiel was a major downer, and she did not exaggerate. I was at first alarmed that my sons mightn’t have as long a ride as I had envisioned. Then I thought that longevity for its own sake doesn’t seem as worthy a goal as service, for instance, and the quality of their lives is up to each of them. I don’t mind civilization going away as long as it takes congress and the banks with it. I don’t mind people dying out either, although I bet a few of us survive, mostly assholes.

Peter Melton showed us a video of Anthony Watts, but it didn’t amount to much, and I looked Watts up later online. Wow, talk about another perspective.

McPherson is a serious man. He lives sustainably off the grid in southern New Mexico and admits that climate change and the end of civilization will affect him far less than it will the rest of us. I like the way he walks the walk. Guy McPherson is not fucking around.

Guy McPherson has also been doing this for thirty years, and his theory infuses his public persona and private life. He’s got all the facts and numbers at his disposal and is as glib as he ought to be after thirty years of practice. He seems like a nice guy, and I liked the way his talks—I also went to the discussion at the Chico Peace and Justice Center the next night—ended with appeals to rely on love and live as well as we can until we can’t anymore. At the end of the Thursday gathering at CPJC we actually joined hands and sang Kumbaya, no shit.

Doomsday might be coming right up, and it might be just the ticket. We don’t know where to yet, but we know it’s one-way. Whatever; I’m not sweating it.

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Anthony Watts

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Local politics

I haven’t paid much attention to politics the last few years. Actually I’ve avoided it more often than not, but local politicians’ shenanigans interest me, and I went to the candidates’ forum done by the League of Women Voters in the Chico Silly Council room last week. The place was packed.

I went to see Heidi Hall and Dough LaMalfa, who are running for the House of Reprehensibles, and I accidentally hit the jackpot. I didn’t know about any other participants until I got there and found that the League of Women Voters had included candidates for the Chico Unified School District Board and the Chico Silly Council. Mark Twain allegedly said, “In the first place, God made idiots.  That was for practice.  Then he made school boards.” He said that a long time ago, too.

I got to sit for three hours listening to mostly blather, and even when it wasn’t blather it sounded like blather—and now and then, drivel—because everybody used the same frame of reference and agreed on the basics.  Some of them seemed sincere, which I know can be practiced, and some of them were obviously full of it, or maybe themselves.  They all believe in the essential goodness of the system although they think it’s broken in some way that they can fix. My kind of politician is anybody who supports eliminating the body to which she wants to be elected.

Three candidates for the Chico School Board showed up, as did seven candidates for the Chico Silly Council. What a bunch. There had been four candidates for the CUSD board, but one of them withdrew her candidacy, perhaps the wisest of the lot.

Dough LaMalfa is not one of us, unless you’re him.  He said, “I’m from the neighborhood.” but I don’t think he was talking to you.  He’s fine with fracking—never mind all the water used and the poisons involved, it makes us less dependent on foreign sources. Saying that Dough LaMalfa might be simple might be libelous, so I won’t.

LaMalfa’s also not so sure about this global-warming flap, temperatures have always varied, et cetera. I can’t argue with that last bit. Some talk about climate-change deniers like heretics and, like Ms. Hall, cite numbers to back up the notion that people have made the Earth hotter. I don’t put much stock in numbers on a little screen, no matter what they’re supposed to mean. I think that’s part of my fogeydom, and I’m delighted.

I don’t care whether Earth is warming up or not. Nor do I care what role people played, and I definitely don’t care that an organization of Catholic bishops has agreed to blame global warming on us—small potatoes next to original sin—which Ms. Hall thought worth mentioning, along with the concurrence of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.  It must be so. All the experts say so.  What flavor is the Kool-Aid™?

I think the adjustments thought necessary to counteract global warming make sense and seem mindful of the effects of materialistic capitalism and capitalistic materialism.  That’s why I recycle and don’t let the water run while I brush my teeth.  I don’t care what Homeland Security says, or ninety-seven per cent of the scientific climate-change experts in all of Creation, for that matter.

You want to be careful voting for the candidates for the Chico Silly Council, because a couple of them are a little loose around the edges, not quite tucked in all the way. They would liven things up, though, which would be worth the risk, and they can count on my vote.

Where the hell are the socialists when we need them? Or any other “-ist,” for that matter, including communists—communism didn’t fail; the Soviet Union failed—though no damned “-arians,” except vegetarians. I’d vote for a vegetarian.

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Simon Amstell

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Two years

My wife, Janice, died two years ago, and that’s mostly what I think about. There’s a picture of us on the wall maybe eighteen inches to my right and a little print of her passport photo in the corner of my keyboard. I use a photo of her as an icon on my computer desktop. There’s another photo of her on the kitchen table and twenty-seven more in the living room, in addition to a self-portrait from many years ago.

What would this grief have been like, say, two hundred years ago? I would have no photographs of Janice and, unless we were well-to-do, no images of her at all. Would that be better? I tend to think that having no images of each other is a more natural state somehow. If the last time I saw her face was when she died in 2012, rather than a few seconds ago, would I even remember what she looked like? Beats me, and I’m not about to get rid of pictures of her to find out, although I’m thinking about storing some.

I have sound files, too, which I enjoy. She had a good voice, smooth and musical; so does her brother, Jeff Perry.  We had some good talks near the end about difficult subjects, and I like remembering what those were like. We had been through a lot already, especially her. Aside from the open wound in her chest the last two years of her life, before she was diagnosed I had been enough of a cad for her to go live somewhere else for several months. I’m retarded.

It turned out that I used to hold some anger at Janice, mostly because she wasn’t how I figured she ought to be without me actually saying much of anything useful for her. It was good to learn what life was like not living with her. She didn’t go far or stay long, and once we went two weeks without talking.

While she lived with Erin and Jeff, we still saw a lot of each other, except only when we both wanted to. After the novelty of not living with her wore off, I found that I still wanted to see her. I liked going out there to see my wife, especially riding the S curves along the creek. When she got sick to her stomach that night, she called me.  I might have been an asshole, but I was a reliable asshole. I was honored to come over and hold her head and clean up.

Later, I was glad to hold her head and hand when she tried chemotherapy. I found a thrift-store ottoman for her to sit on while she retched into the toilet, and now it’s something else I can’t get rid of.

I recently listened for the first time to Janice and me talking in the fall of 2011 about my former lover.  Boy, we came a long way. Very loving and honest. May you be so blessed.
— 30 —

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Doma India

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I’ve long been a snob for various reasons. I used to be an intellectual snob based on school performance and being assigned the highest intelligence quotient in my cohort.  I was quick to spot a dummy—and still am, for that matter—and probably insufferable. I don’t think so much of witty sarcasm as I did, nor so much of thinking and knowing stuff.

I’m still addicted to thinking—so are you—and at least now I know it and can sometimes slow it down or stop it altogether for a time. I think I’m sometimes kinda smug about that.

I’m mostly a language snob. When I read text with misspellings, bad grammar, and silly punctuation, I deduce imagine things about the person responsible, sincerely and erroneously.  I don’t expect most people to be experts in English, and I expect them to know that they aren’t and to get help when they need it, which they seem seldom to do, naturally. Most of us don’t know how wrong we are.

Organizations with missing or misplaced apostrophes must do without my custom or participation.  If the parking lot’s sign says “. . . at owners expense.” I don’t want to park my car there, even legally.

I don’t mind the occasional typo or even poor usage, but there’s a level of technical sloppiness that will cause me not to read something, not an easy task because I want to read enough to know whether I want to read the rest. I’m always pulling for the writer because I’m the reader, and I want the best experience the two of us can manage.  The writer is done with it, so whether I understand it or not I’m not getting any extra help. It may be drivel, but my deep desire is that what I’m reading not let me put it down. I want to be swept away. I don’t mind waking up in the wee hours because I’ve got sixteen volumes of P. G. Wodehouse within reach.

I have no truck with silly writers who won’t capitalize words or eschew punctuation. What ninnies . . .

That’s how far I had got when I realized that I had been straining.  Last year I noticed a quality about the light that seemed to make me sad. It’s back, and I didn’t care about snobbery, even my own.

All summer the overhang outside my bedroom blocks direct sun so the various crystals hanging in the window don’t have much to do. Now the sun is low enough to put spectra on the wall over my bed and on the duvet we bought at Ikea just before we picked up Ade at a BART station in Berkeley. That’s the kind of stuff I think about, how much I say “we” about what happened.

Janice Porter left us to our own devices almost two years ago, and I still don’t know how she can not be here. How can she be gone forever? I dread sounding like a weepy old man, although that’s clearly what I am.

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Smack the Pony

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At this stage of my life, the number of things I realize that I’ll never do steadily increases. I don’t know when I began to notice the deadlines that were slipping past except it was years ago. Some things could still happen, and I’ve given up anyway, as a precaution I suppose.

By the time I discovered bicycle racing it was already too late for me to be in the Olympics. I won’t be a sprint or points or roadrace champion. I’ll never run a 4-minute mile either, or a 10-minute mile for that matter. My six-and-a half-minute mile will have to do.

I’ll never play for the N.B.A. or the N.F.L. or the the N.H.L. or major league baseball. I’ll never win Wimbleton or the Masters. I’ll never get a black belt in anything but a thrift store. I’m probably never gonna climb a mountain, unless I could do it over a period of weeks.

I’m never gonna win a Nobel prize or save a child from drowning or rescue a damsel in distress. I’m never gonna be with a woman more than twenty-two years. In fact, I may not be with another woman at all, a most depressing thought since I seem to be part dog.

I’m not gonna be a hero to anybody, although I realize that the phenomena I know about are few and probably trivial.

I’ve forgotten his name now, but soon after we moved to Chico, I took a workshop with a guy who talked about people wearing metaphorical sunglasses that filtered out some wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, so that we simply aren’t aware of some things. I’ve discovered enough of my filters to think that I’ll never know about all of them. Giving up on perfect knowledge is a relief and seems to go along with a willingness to accept whatever shows up without any particular expectations or prerequisites for happiness. Following a star doesn’t mean you expect to get there, just that you’ve picked a direction.

I’ve also abandoned the idea of being a grandfather, which not long ago was a life goal for me. Grandfatherhood is clearly beyond my influence, much less control. Our eldest son recently became a father, but that doesn’t count. Although I call him my son on Facebook, that’s only because there’s no “stepson” option, and he and I have long been clear that he has a father, and it ain’t Anthony.

I’m also never gonna win an Academy Award for anything, having stumbled on those possibilities way too late to start such a journey.

I don’t suppose I’m ever gonna explore much beyond my inner life or discover anything important past my eyelids, which seems to be quite enough, thank You very much.

And I’m never gonna get used to Janice not being here. I try now and then, and occasionally I think I’m moving on, but only for a little while. Sometimes it seems like she’s everywhere, but mostly she’s just not here with me.

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Money and Debt: Crash Course World History 202

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When I was a photographer in the ’70s I spent a lot of time trying to shoot young would-be models nude. Of course. As an incentive I’d shoot head shots or whatever she wanted and give her prints for her book. It worked fairly well. I didn’t ask just anybody, since just any body wouldn’t do for my purposes. Her body didn’t have to be wonderful, it just had to be what I wanted.

At first I had only the vaguest idea what she would look like naked, and I shot several who turned out to be a waste of my time—she got good prints, I got nothing I could use. This was the era of pantyhose and pushup bras—evil technology. I’d have her undress as soon as she got there, because it takes a while for skin to recover from the constriction. I learned the differences between a clothed body and that same body without clothes, and my percentages improved.

I’ve been imagining what women look like naked since forever, and I’ve had a few chances to compare what I expected to what they turned out to be. For me, breasts are the toughest to predict. They’re usually cradled one way or another, and if they’re free they’re usually covered loosely, making a careful examination impossible. And nipples are hopeless.

I’ve been trying to get to Topless Day in Chico for years, and last Sunday I remembered and actually went. My hope was that some of the women I know would show up and I’d get to further my research with some eyeball verification. I had no sexual interest, really. Although I remember getting hard as Chinese arithmetic just seeing “breast” in print, I’ve now seen enough breasts that the thought of random bare breasts holds no interest for me, except as a visual experience, like cloud formations or a landscape.

I love breasts along with the rest of the human female form and still recognize that breasts are for babies. The rest we made up. I grew up in breasts’ heyday—Joi Lansing, Jayne Mansfield, Rita Hayworth, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors, and many more. I figured the prevalence of breast worship in the media was because of the immaturity of the average white man. I was just guessing, though.

I liked the assortment of breasts at the Topless Day observance near One Mile in Chico, from perky to floppy to barely there. Everything was very easygoing and loving with good food and great vibes. You should go next year.

I had hoped for a lot more women I know. That’s who I want to see. Of the ones I did know, I was on the money.

Among all the equality and camaraderie and skin that hardly ever sees daylight, one pair of breasts was the clear winner, and yes I know I made that up. So what. They were exquisite. If you were there, you know who I’m talking about.

I feel obligated to say that Janice’s mid-nineties breasts were magnificent. God is great.

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David Mitchell

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Pet care

Some years ago a Gentle Reader took me to task for not sterilizing a family of cats that had appeared under our deck. Not only did I not have their sexual organs removed, I even gave them water, though not food. My position at the time was that if it was my responsibility to sterilize the uninvited cats, I should also sterilize the equally uninvited squirrels, the occasional raccoon, and perhaps the possum next door. I was unwilling to maim another species and didn’t do anything, and the cats eventually moved out intact.

Spock, our late dog, was unfixed to the end. Spock’s life was no doubt affected by his whole genitals, and I have no reason to think the experience was anything but positive. I’ve certainly enjoyed having my genitals on me at all times—I think a little empathy warranted here—and I expect Spock did, too. I know he did at least once, and the puppies were stunning.

Now I’ve got this kitten, see—Hobbes. My son got him from a guy with three of them in a cardboard box at the Farmers Market. I’m the grownup, though, and I feed Hobbes and maintain his litter box, and it was immediately clear that if Hobbes is to have any care beyond cuddling I’ve got to do it.

My son thinks shots are unnecessary, and of course he’s right. Hobbes might do just fine with no shots. I guess that’s what my parents thought about Tag.

Oddly, I’m not crystal clear about what went on when I was nine or so, after Penny, our Cocker Spaniel, had puppies presumably sired by King, the Alpha free dog in our neighborhood. Anyhow, Penny whelped and I ended up with a puppy, Tag, who was black and white and managed to look a lot like Tippy, a stuffed animal from earlier in my saga.

After several weeks Tag stopped eating, his eyes got rheumy, and the vet in Roseland said it was distemper and there was nothing he could do for Tag but put him to sleep. He said that all Tag had needed was a shot and he would’ve been all right. He never got the shot, though, and the vet said we probably picked up germs on our shoes or something and the germs made Tag so sick that it was better to kill him than let him suffer, and he was gonna die either way. We left him there on that steel table, and my father stayed while my mother and I went out and waited in the car.

Janice and I resisted inoculations for the boys for a few years, until the system wore us down, and we gave in. I think human inoculations far more likely to be vehicles for totalitarian mischief than cat shots, and I remember the heartbreak of leaving Tag on that table in that room, so I got Hobbes the recommended injections. He may be a zombie for the government, but he’ll be a healthy zombie. Sterilization is a separate issue. I hear that males’ spraying is fairly stinky, which sounds unpleasant and yet may be bearable. We’ll see.

I have six lines in the Butcher Shop Theatre Festival at eight pee em August 29, 30, and 31, 2500 Estes Road, at the end of Normal Street at an almond orchard near the creek, just follow the road.  Free parking for bicycles.  Look at http://www.slowtheatre.com/.

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The Soul Stirrers

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My son and I were talking not long ago about his brother’s mental illness, and it came out that we both had noticed unusual and unfortunate behavior last year and said nothing because we didn’t want others to judge him harshly, which seemed inevitable to us and still does. I just wanted whatever was making him act like that to go away. I still do.

I understand the stigma of mental illness. It doesn’t make sense, and I still get it. When somebody seems unreasonable and unreasoning, many of us think “Crazy.” Over the past year or so, many, many times out of frustration I’ve reacted to something my son did or said by thinking, “Have you lost your mind?” or “Are you nuts?” Ordinarily I would have asked it aloud, but now I know that such a question is still rhetorical, although now the answer is “Yes,” rather than “No.”

I went on the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) walk this year, and the theme was “Stomp the Stigma.” I think stigma is a big problem for people with mental illness, in that people’s prejudices and biases adversely affect the way we deal with mental patients. “Stomp the Stigma” strikes me as a silly metaphor for a worthwhile objective. I’m not aware of any stigma associated with diabetes, for instance, and I don’t think arthritis or cancer or heart disease carry the same burden of shame and ostracism. Still, stomping won’t help anybody.

I remember how reluctant I was to see a therapist the first time. Two of my best friends had told me I ought to, which of course made it that much worse. I did it, though. Those sessions didn’t amount to much—I was extremely wary, and my therapist wasn’t good enough to see through me. I was quite pleased, though, and actually stumbled on an insight or two that later proved useful, so I guess it worked after all.

It took me a while to be comfortable talking to a therapist, and it wasn’t until I started working in book publishing that I found my current simile for therapy—a therapist is like an editor. A trained editor can see qualities in a manuscript that the writer can’t, being on the inside, so to speak. Another metaphor: You can’t see what a house looks like to others if you’re inside it. Likewise, a therapist can see things about a personality of which the person inside the personality is unaware. It’s not a shortcoming; it’s just the way it is.

Some mental patients become slovens, some become actors, some politicians. All of them can be hard to be around for long and seem often to be a pain in the ass. They may not observe social conventions that most of us don’t even think about until somebody ignores the little niceties that help keep us from biting each other. If a crippled woman bumps into you, you wouldn’t be angry with her, would you?

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Ruth was an animal freak. The first time she was gonna sleep at my place she asked if she could bring her dog. Dog dander wasn’t as bad for my allergies as cat dander, but it wasn’t good. I had had a tableau in mind for a couple of years by then, though, and I already had the glass vase and the black sheets. I just needed Ruth. God, I LOVE antihistamines.

Being around cats was way worse—my eyes teared and itched, my nose sneezed and ran, and everything wheezed. Once my body recognized a cat house I had to decide if my discomfort outweighed my imagined payoff, which would have to be sex or a really good drug to warrant consideration.

Ruth found some expensive potion said to eliminate the allergic effects of animal dander and rubbed it on her cat and dog to good effect. It got me through the night and helped me add to my trove of pleasant memories, which now can make all the difference.

I’ve never had anything against cats themselves, and some of the ones I’ve run across actually sought me out. I’m a little catlike myself, though not graceful or dignified.

A few weeks ago my son got a kitten from some guy at the Farmers’ Market, and I figured it was fate. After our dog Spock died, Janice and I had talked sporadically about getting a pet, but neither of us wanted anything else to do. I thought of the kitten as therapeutic, and that was enough.

I was right, too. Hobbes has indeed been therapeutic as all get-out and as cute as required. He’s friendly and affectionate and not a bit standoffish, just what was needed.

He also took to his litter box right away. That may be run-of-the-mill behavior for a cat, but I’ve never lived with a cat, and I was impressed and reassured by Hobbes’s grasp of things.

Then there’s the dark side. A woman was the first to succumb to talking baby talk, and then there was no containing its insidious spread to her grandson, though little more than a baby himself, and then to her daughter and everybody around.

I’ve so far resisted talking baby talk to Hobbes, and I should say here that I didn’t talk baby talk to my own babies. To be virtually driven to talk drivel by another species is alarming, let me tell you.

I am not a babbler yet, neither a blatherer nor a ditherer, for which I’m not so much proud as grateful, because I don’t know that we have a choice in such matters. Some do this, some that. I can’t deny my own fall from grace, though, and I freely admit my current state. Recently basking in the satisfaction of not babbling to Hobbes, I noticed my voice sounding remarkably like Miss Moreland’s, my kindergarten teacher, when she read to us. I still don’t babble, but I do coo.

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