Wednesday, March 20, 2013

In Memory of Figaro - (or Figgero...)

We had to say goodbye today to our Mighty Black Hunter Figaro. (Or Figgero, as Emily spells it.) About two years ago, we found a tiny growth on his neck that at first we thought was just a tick. But it continued growing until it was as big around as a quarter, and about an inch tall. Then it opened up. (I won't gross anyone out with any further description of that...) Since then, we have just lived with it. Or rather, Figaro has just lived with it. We debated whether or not he was in pain. We debated whether or not we could afford $700 to have it removed, with the warning from the Vet that it would most likely just grow back. Mostly, we avoided the thought of saying goodbye. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was petting Figaro when it occurred to me that he was skin and bones. I could feel every vertebrae in his spine, and ever rib in his side. There was no way we could deny anymore that this ugly growth was much more than simply a messy inconvenience. It was sapping the life from our loyal friend. It was time.

Figaro made a couple of appearances in my writing. Once simply as inspiration in a science fiction story and once based (very loosely) on an actual event

In Memory of Figaro, here is the pertinent excerpt:

*      *      *

A plaintive meow came from somewhere in the pile of stuff, and I stuck a finger through the airhole in the cat carrier that formed the foundation of one of the sides of the canyon.
"It's all right Figaro, just go to sleep. We will be in Utah in a few hours, and then you can get out and explore Grandma and Grandpa's house." I had tried to figure out an affordable way to sedate the cat for the trip, but the vet's suggestion of medication was way beyond the budget of a lowly Corporal. So I called my Dad for advice.
"Try cough syrup." He said.
"Cough syrup?" I asked. "What kind? And how do I give it to him?" I was incredulous, and Mariah's eyebrows arched as she heard me ask the question.
"Probably Nyquil, or anything that says Nightime or warns of drowsiness. That way you can be sure it will put him to sleep." Dad sounded pretty confident, so I shrugged my shoulders. "OK, we'll give it a shot." Mariah was not so optimistic.
"You can't just give a cat cough syrup!" Her voice was slightly scornful. However, my newlywed sensibilities were just a bit offended at the way she so easily dismissed my father's advice.
"My dad knows what he's talking about. He grew up on a farm, and has been around animals all his life. It'll be just fine. We'll test it out first, to see how it works. My Dad usually knows what he is talking about." I said, daring her to disagree. She looked at me for a minute, and then shrugged her shoulders.
"OK, give it a shot. See what happens." She said, walking away.
That settled it. I could not let her simply dismiss advice from my Dad that way. I immediately ran to the store and picked up a bottle of Nyquil. I hated the stuff, personally. It tasted to me like a cheap version of Jagermeister, and it never failed to keep me up most of the night with night sweats and confused, frustrating dreams that never fully materialized into something restful. Nevertheless, it was time to show my wife that I was more than capable of solving problems and providing for my family, and I had to at least conduct the test. I found a measuring syringe with some kind of pink substance crusted inside it, leftover from whatever medication we had given the baby last. Apparently whoever used it last had been too lazy to wash it out afterward. I did seem to have a hazy memory of finding some infant pain medicine in the middle of the night and guessed it was probably me. I rinsed the syringe out, then filled it with the cough syrup.
Then, I found the cat.
He already hated me, for reasons we had tried to guess but which generally eluded us. His hatred was generally expressed in the form of urine, which he particularly liked to place on any Army gear I left within reach. I had to be very careful to keep all of my gear up and off the floor, lest it acquire a very distinctive odor which would take several thorough washings to get rid of.
As I approached him with the syringe hidden behind my back, he gave me his normal baleful glare and stalked away with his tail stiff in the air. I decided that a little bit of strategy was in order, and I went to the fridge and got a piece of baloney. I knelt on the floor and tried to be as inoffensive as possible. The cat approached gingerly, sniffing at the outstretched meat. I drew my hand in slowly, drawing him closer until I could reach the scruff of his neck. Then I sprang the trap.
I picked him up by his scruff, and brought the hand with the syringe out from behind my back. The cat was struggling to escape, making angry growling noises deep in his throat. I thrust the nozzle of the syringe between its slightly open mouth and quickly depressed the plunger all the way. The results were, to say the least, spectacular.
Figaro climbed up the arm holding him, and down my back, then ran full speed into the wall behind me. He turned about forty five degrees and took off full speed again until he hit the wall, this time at a glancing angle. He continued this bumper car routine as I followed him, frantically trying to catch him and keep him from injuring himself. It was lucky that the movers had already taken all of the furniture, and that the house was empty. Otherwise, he would have caused even more chaos. Eventually, I stopped pursuing him when I saw the futility. Instead, I just stood there, watching and imagining ways to dispose of the body without the ASPCA finding out what I had done. Mariah was also watching, laughing out loud.
"That sure calmed him down! He won't make a peep during the whole trip now!" I glared at her while dodging the cat which streaked past me, now dangling strings of slobber from its mouth that looked like shoelaces. I tried a new approach to catching him.
"Here kitty, come here, I am sorry, sorry for that, let me help you with that slobber..." visions of our cleaning deposit going up in smoke as the strings of slobber left their tracks across the carpet.
Eventually, the cat calmed down enough that I could catch him and wipe the drool from his mouth. He seemed no worse for the wear afterwards, though his hatred of me seemed doubled.
So it was no surprise that as I tried to comfort him through the airhole, he responded with a hiss and a snarl. I snatched my finger back quickly, and muttered my wishes for his quick demise under my breath.
*      *      *

Good-Bye my friend. Rats and birds the world over may rejoice at the news of your demise, but we your humans will remember you with fondness.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Job Application...

Good Afternoon,
I must first apologize for two things: Missing that requirement in the job posting in the first place, and secondly for taking so long to respond. I can offer some lame excuses for the first, but the second was truly a bit more difficult mentally and emotionally. I can honestly say that I am an old-fashioned patriot. Having said that, it is a bit difficult for me to watch what is happening in our country today. My feelings for my country run deep, but even so I have allowed myself to be overwhelmed by all of the partisan, negative bickering that dominates the 24-hour news cycle. Being so overwhelmed, it took me a little while to dig through the debris and find the words to express the feelings that are still there but dusty and unused.
So here is my essay, as requested. It is short, and probably incomplete. But I can assure you that it is genuine.

Thanks for your consideration.

What is my view of America? I view America as a father, grateful that I can raise my kids here where the definition of “poor” would be called “wealthy” in other nations. I view America as a Veteran who has seen what the world looks like outside America, and was never more happy than when my boots hit the ground of my homeland once again. I view America as an American – independent, hard-working, and responsible, demanding nothing more than an honest wage for what I have earned, and the right to use my earnings as I see fit, yet still giving happily of my earnings to those who are less fortunate. I view America as an outdoorsman who enjoys learning and practicing skills that, due to the beneficence of this great Nation, are no longer essential to my survival or that of my family. I view America as an heir of the millions of men and women who have, literally or symbolically pledged their “lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor” to found, build, govern, and protect this Nation.

I view America as my home, and the greatest nation on Earth. And for that view, I am eternally grateful.

© 2012 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Year Left To Live...

No, I have not been diagnosed with a dread disease. I simply thought I would render a public service by reminding everyone of the pending End Of The World which is scheduled, according to some ancient Mayan calendar makers, for one year from today.

Read All About It!

So, get your affairs in order. You have 364 days.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Creativity of Children

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you tried to feed guppies birdseed?

Aquatic plants.

No matter how many times I have asked, commanded, threatened, cajoled, and bribed, my kids continue to believe that my aquarium is their own private laboratory. The latest experiment was: "Do fish eat birdseed?"

The answer is no.

The only remaining question is: Will it grow to full size and go to seed? Is this a new method of growing birdseed hydroponically?

Whoops. I suppose that is two questions.

That is all.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Day With A Heroine

I had a hard time sleeping that night, which was a bad thing since I had to get up early. I was to report to the ticket counter no later than 07:30 and the airport was over an hour away. I wanted to leave the house by six to give myself some leeway in case I encountered the famous DC traffic. Fortunately, I did not. Unfortunately, I am a slow starter in the morning and I pulled into a parking spot in the hourly lot at precisely 07:30.

Never having been to Dulles International before, I had no real idea where to go. The ticketing counters were rather easy to find, but I saw no indication of where to find Southwest. I entered the building near the center, and elected to turn left to search for Southwest. I elected badly.

At the end of the building, I finally asked for directions. (Emily will be surprised that I caved in so quickly...) I was told to go back the way I had come, and keep going all the way to the end. It was 07:35. I started jogging.

My mad scramble to be on time at the airport this morning was neither business or pleasure. It wasn't even travel. It was a sense of duty. I was going to spend a day with a genuine American hero, but only if I could get to the Southwest ticketing counter before they decided I wasn't going to show up. Being late this morning meant more than just missing my flight. It meant missing the opportunity of a lifetime. Today was the day I would spend escorting a World War II veteran to the World War II memorial and other memorials in Washington DC as a volunteer for Honor Flight Chicago.

So I jogged.

I finally spotted the Southwest counter and a woman in a green polo shirt sitting opposite. As I walked up, she was briefing a couple of young guys on where to go through security, and handing them boarding passes. I listened to the information, and when it was my turn, gave my name and received my pass also.
"I thought I was going to miss you!" I gasped. I was a little out of breath from the jog, and I could feel the sweat popping out on my forehead.
"Oh you have plenty of time." she said cheerfully. I smiled ruefully and took my pass. I walked downstairs to the baggage claim area and found the screening area. Security screening always rattles me for some reason. I blame an over-developed sense of guilt combined with a persecution complex. I always fear that I am going to forget something in my bag, or that I will be targeted as a terrorist and detained in a damp dungeon somewhere for questioning. My rational mind is able to push these thoughts aside, but I still end up with sweaty palms and pounding heart every time I go through the screening.
I put my stuff in the gray bins and stepped up to the metal detector.
"Sir, please step over here." the woman directed me. Oh great. The body scanner. Didn't I tell you they suspected me? The procedure turned out to be quite painless actually though they did detect my driver's license which I had kept in my shirt pocket. They let me off with a wry smile. No gulag today I guess.

I rode the train out to Terminal B as directed by the lady at the ticketing counter. At terminal B I immediately spotted several people wearing the same lime-green polo shirts. I walked over, unsure as to my next step. I noticed a couple of people talking to a woman with a clipboard. Ah-hah! I thought. The universal symbol of the person in charge! I waited my turn.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Tyler Willson" I answered. She scanned the list quickly, and placed a check next to the only Wilson on the list. Sandra Wilson. I was about to object when another lady who was watching said: "No, that is Sandra Wilson. Tyler is the last minute addition. His name is printed on the back. See?"

I shouldn't have been a last minute addition. I had sent in my forms on time, but somehow the e-mail got lost. The fact that I waited until the day before the trip to call and check was my fault however so I didn't protest. As long as I get to go.

"You will be on the white bus. Here is your name tag, and your shirt. What size do you need?" she asked.
"I need an XXL." I answered. She looked at me a bit quizzically.
"Our shirts are pretty big. If it doesn't fit, just bring it back and exchange it." I smiled.
"I am bigger than I look. I am sure it will be fine."
"Oh, and here in your badge holder is the name of your veteran and contact information for your bus captain, nurse, and me in case you have any problems."
I nodded, trying to take it all in. I couldn't wait to find out who my veteran would be.

(To be continued...)

(Updated 11 June 2011 to add hyperlinks...)

© 2011 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mormon Lent Part 2 - Diet, Exercise, and Cold Showers

Sacrifice isn’t sacrifice unless it hurts, at least a little bit.

The law of Moses didn’t demand sacrifice of a lamb and then allow the offering of the gimpy runt that is about to die of the footrots anyway. It demanded the first-born, and without spot or blemish. I know this was also a symbol of our Saviour’s own sacrifice, but I think it was more than that as well. I think that as children of a divine Father housed temporarily in these fleshy temples that we often must push ourselves to do the opposite of what our bodies want us to do. (Like wake up on time for work in the morning!) Our spirits and our bodies are in a constant battle for dominance, and to force our bodies to comply with something our spirits are demanding strengthens our spirits in the same way that physical exercise strengthens our bodies. I call these little acts of sacrifice “spiritual push-ups”.

This year, I decided to celebrate Lent with my Catholic friends and give myself a spiritual workout. Although it is not a typical part of a Latter-Day-Saint Easter observance, I liked the idea of a 40-day spiritual workout, as well as an opportunity to leverage my faith for some quantifiable physical benefits. I chose as my Lenten sacrifice, daily exercise, a reduced calorie diet, and (for perspirational reasons...) cold showers.

Since the physical benefits are much simpler to describe, I will start there. Weight loss was the first and most easily quantifiable result. I weighed 260 pounds when Lent began. In the first week of my new regimen I lost ten pounds. It took two more weeks to lose the next five pounds, but that seems to be my current plateau. I am confident that as my metabolism adjusts to this new discipline, the pounds will continue to slowly drop off, though it would be nice if they would continue to flee as rapidly as those first ten!

Weight loss was not the only result. I noticed that I had more energy, and Emily noticed a distinct change in my appearance and attitude. I credit the yoga with the improved posture. It forced me to think more carefully about how I was carrying myself. With an increased effort to straighten my spine and keep my shoulders back, I also noticed that under my paunch, I could actually see some abdominal muscles. I don’t remember the last time I saw those!

Whatever else I took from this experiment, I could very easily see and document the physical benefits. But what about the spiritual?

That is a bit harder to quantify, and even harder to express. I would love to report that I reached a new level of spirituality and enlightenment. It would be great to report that I had lost all doubts about myself, my faith, and my religion.

I can’t.

Forty days of commitment to God is a good thing, and I can report that I am stronger and wiser for the experience. I can tell you my confidence in my ability to place my body in subjection to my spirit is increased. I can say that my faith in the strength that comes from dedicating your life to God is increased.

Each time I passed up a soda with my lunch at work and drank water instead, I was doing a spiritual push-up. When I filled up my car with gas and didn’t walk in and pick up a package of Zingers and a bottle of chocolate milk, I was doing a spiritual push-up. When I turned the water on in the shower and stepped into that breathtaking cold, I was running a spiritual 5k. My body rebelled, even despite the obvious benefits it was receiving along with my spirit. It wanted warm water, it wanted chocolate and sugar, and it wanted second helpings of dinner. My spirit chose otherwise, and each time I made this choice it turned my thoughts to God and the marvelous blessings he has given me.

I live in such a time of peace and prosperity that without conscious effort, I will find myself becoming overweight. I live in a time of such technological advance that the idea of a cold shower is anachronistic. The idea that one might be required to wash oneself with cold water is an idea that is almost absurd in our day (Or, one might say, Kooky.) The constant reminders of how blessed I am did much to bring me closer to God and strengthen my faith.

Still, forty days is not nearly long enough to create lasting change. It is not nearly enough to erase a lifetime of doubt, of weakness, of habit.

But it is a great start. And I think that is the great lesson I learned from Lent. Any positive change in our lives must start somewhere and to start it with an effort dedicated to God is the best way I can think of. I will definitely make Mormon Lent a regular part of my Easter celebration in the future. In fact, why wait for Easter? Anytime I recognize the need for change in my life, I can get on my knees and make a commitment to my Heavenly Father that I am making a change in my life. And I need only commit to forty days. Or thirty, or fifty. Whatever interval of time I work out with Him, it will be much easier than trying to make a lifetime commitment, and I think that is the beauty of Lent.

I can do anything for forty days, if I know that I don’t have to do it for a lifetime.

Thanks Bernie, and Rachel, for inspiring this experiment. I declare it a success. Fifteen pounds, better attitude and posture, stronger faith and one lasting habit...

I now prefer cold showers to warm. Call me kooky.

PS: I suppose I should clarify a misstatement I made in part one. I said that I didn't like to disappoint my Heavenly Father. While this is true, it is a bit misleading and contrary to the nature of God. No matter how badly I mess up, my Father loves me perfectly. And perfect love, at least in my humble understanding, has no room for disappointment. All things, even (and especially?) my mistakes will serve His purposes in the end. I have not the power, nor does anyone on this earth, have the power to frustrate His plan. Hence, disappointment is something He cannot feel. Sadness, pity, perhaps. Not disappointment. The disappointment I referred to is the feeling I have towards myself when I make a commitment to Him and then break it. (Something which has been a bit of a theme in my life. But that is a topic for another day.)