You can’t Reason with Cats

It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday and a cat is crying on piteously on my porch.
I have lived with cats long enough to recognize the sound of terror versus hunger, versus general surliness. This is fear, the kind that wells up when you realize you’re lost outside and can’t get back home and there’s nowhere to hide.
I’m not very much awake and the cat on the porch is begging to come in, squeaking out her confusion and helplessness, so I shut my cats in the bedroom and invite her in. She acts like she belongs here, crying in relief and skittering into the bathroom. I go ahead and close the door, shutting her in there. She’s huge, orange and white, with long hair drooping from her tail and draping over her body like a shaggy blanket. She’s clean, without scars or scratches, and her teeth (which I can see clearly every time she opens her mouth to squeak out little cat sobs), are nice and clean. She’s not interested in being comforted, but neither is she losing her mind and trying to escape after realizing she’s now contained in my bathroom. So clearly not feral. Someone will be missing her in the morning.

Porch Cat

The animal shelter can check for a microchip to identify her owner, but it doesn’t open for 4-1/2 hours. I tuck towels against the doors to keep her from snagging my heel or spooking my own cats with her snakelike white paws searching under the gaps. Quinn stands guard in the hall long after I turn out the lights and return to bed, just in case the stranger tries to escape. When she doesn’t escape and eventually stops crying, he trots over to the bed and curls up beside me. Clearly he thinks that’s that and we can go back to our normal lives now.
Three hours later I wake and slip into the bathroom. Porch Cat is sleeping on the floor beside the toilet. She stretches and rubs against my legs as I brush my teeth, letting me know she was lonely. Since we’re being warm and friendly I scratch her ears lightly and she pushes her face into my hand. After a few moments of this congeniality, she hops onto the counter making gurgling, chirping noises I take for curious vocalizing—until she growls and slaps my hand away.
Stop. Touching me.
So…not warm and friendly, then.
I have three friends in Austin, and one of them kindly agrees to shuttle us over to the animal shelter (making the trip by bicycle is an ordeal I don’t want to attempt). I leave her alone and get to work making a carrier large enough to hold her. It’s a cardboard apple crate left over from moving that says ‘fragile – crockpot’ on the top. I line the box with a small blanket and venture back into the bathroom.
Porch Cat huffs at me. She wishes I would knock before entering. I try to coax her into the box, first with my bare hands and then donning thick work gloves and Jeremy’s long-sleeve winter biking shirt. She is now positive I’m going to murder her. She becomes an amporphic mass of white fur, golden eyes and lighting-fast claws. She evades my grasp, squeezing impossibly into the crevice between the toilet and the wall. She must be cramped, yet manages to ignore physics and her bone structure, clawing at me from whichever direction I approach.
We agree to take a break. I sit back against the door while she eyes me with one pupil visible over the lid of her toilet fortress. I question my first assumption that she is not feral. I slow blink at her, and after a moment she blinks back. Not feral, just scared. Scared of the human with huge hands who trapped her in this tiny room and keeps grabbing at her.
I can sympathize. I explain the situation to her: I mean no harm, I’m only trying to help her get home. She blinks at me some more.
Feeling better after our heart-to-heart, I approach again but she refuses to participate in any more peaceful exercises. She enters some fourth dimensinon of space, practically disappearing into the wall. She is taking no chances and states her position firmly. Meanwhile, Quinn sits outside the bathroom door, wondering loudly what’s going on and why can’t he come in too.
Fortunately I know where my towel is.
Porch Cat is unprepared for towels, which pop her out of the fourth dimension. She zips up onto the counter, where a towel dropped over her from above ends the struggle. I set her, towel and all, into the box and close the lid. She protests this treatment, shooting claws through every airhole simultaneously. I pointlessly apologize for helping her like this and tape the box shut while she calls me bad names through the airholes.
Once I return from the animal shelter where Porch Cat (who was microchipped) waits for her owner to take her safe home, Quinn meets me at the door, most irritated. I’ve been unfaithful, he claims. I left the house with a strange cat, and he’s always petitioning to go outside and why should a stranger get to go outside and that’s not fair.
I explain the situation and cuddle him and he calms down. But he spends the rest of the week staring at me accusingly. Finally I earn his forgiveness with a tuna offering, and life returns to normal. You can’t explain to a cat, but you can solve most problems with tuna.
Or failing that, with a towel.
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Irish Fest

On Thursday we arrive at the festival grounds early and walk around, looking at vendors and food carts before heading to the dance pavilion. The dynamic here is different than at the weekly dance nights. Blurry confusion from the surrounding festival seeps into the open tent. Spectators watch from picnic tables around the dance floor. We’re still early, and for a while it’s just us, a couple out-of-towners, and a handful of the core Milwaukee group.
Some of us get up for the ceili dancing which precedes the set dances. We do Haymaker’s Jig and then a set dance I’ve never heard of before. I try to dance lead for a blond preteen girl. We mess up a lot but she’s laughing and loving it. She mirrors my spirit, a young dancer doing what she loves and who cares if she’s doing it wrong. Not her and not me.
It grows dark outside the tent and the sky above Lake Michigan is a stripe of blue beneath a cap of night. RiRa, the first band of the weekend, takes the stage. Sets form on the dance floor before anyone knows what the first dance will be. We walk onto the floor, joining the giddy assembly, and a set forms around us. We’re runners on a starting line, ready for the call to get ready. The set is Clare Plain. RiRa plays the opening notes, putting everyone on their marks—and we’re off.
We know this set and don’t need it called, calling it quietly to ourselves through the figures. It’s the first dance we learned, a whole year ago, and we’re dancing it now at the first set of the first night of Irish Fest.
We do great.
After a few more sets, just a few to open the weekend, everyone gathers at the tables to talk with old friends, getting reacquainted, meeting new ones. People come to us and shake hands and introduce themselves. They’re from Seattle and Toledo and Chicago and Ireland and Detroit. They are a gentle, polite kind of friendly, ready to dance, ready to sit and talk, ready to enjoy themselves. We talk until the floodlights dim around the tent. The sky is all black now, the lake invisible in the dark.
After the festival closes for the night we go to a friend’s house for a late potluck. We help set out food on the L-shaped patio: quiches, pulled pork tacos, quinoa salad, melons, pretzels. We pile meat on small tortillas and carry them dripping to folding chairs set along the patio.
More people come by and introduce themselves and we talk about beginners’ dancing and contra dancing and how we learned about set dancing.
Sometime after midnight, I’m getting cold and sleepy. Remembering that I have to drive home, I tap Jeremy’s arm and he’s ready too. Our host hugs us and walks us down the neat garden path around the side of the house, past soft glowing lamps in the foliage and flocks of plastic flamingos, to the gate where we say thank you and goodbye.
“Safe home,” he says. It’s a thing they say: safe home. I like it. It’s fitting to this group.
Safe home; tomorrow we dance.

I Saw Her at the Riverwalk

There is no way to capture, in fullness, a very great day.
I try to, when I wake up on my birthday and see a warm June sky out my window and know it’s finally summer.  I try, as we walk out into the bright blue morning and drive into the Third Ward.  We park on a side street and pass people walking to work and go inside an elderly marble building to buy a dozen donuts from Holey Moley. I try to hold onto the moment, fix it all perfectly in my memory. I almost try too hard and anxiety creeps in.
Back off a little, I tell myself. Let today just be today.  Things will happen and you will enjoy them. That is all you need to do.
My breath comes back and I’m better.
We drive to Liz’s white house with the clover-filled yard and bounce on the steps at the back door waiting for her to let us in. We make coffee and tea and pour glasses of milk, eating the donuts. We post pictures and everyone is jealous.
We sit outside, celebratingGlorious donuts the first perfect day of the year and new patio furniture, Liz and me crisping in the sun, Jeremy cool in the shade.
We plan an excursion into Milwaukee and go to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. We buy All The Cheese: brie and gouda and cheddar horseradish. Cheese with balsamic, cheese with chives.  Cheese flavored by itself.
We walk the Riverwalk, passing men in suits, women in business-casual lounging on patios that bulge out over the river.
We lose time in the Public Market, wandering from stall to stall. Looking (again) at (different) cheeses.  Discussing Wisconsin paraphernalia; long socks advertising COFFEE; the surprising recommendability of Harry Potter; mussels on the half-shell eaten raw. We show Liz the glories of flavored balsamic vinegar.
I Saw Her in the Library
I Saw Her in the Library – Print by Emily Winfield Martin
We buy a baguette and walk down the construction-ravaged street to Hot Pop, me carrying the baguette like an awkward stick and waving sheepishly to the lady at the counter. Welcome to Hot Pop, the gift shop of the Internet. Baguettes allowed.
I find there are a few prints left of I Saw Her in the Library. I’m delighted.  I carry one around the shop with me, wanting to get it but talking myself out of it at the last moment. Liz buys it for me, and I buy her a Totoro lens cleaning cloth.
Now it’s all our birthdays.