Interrupting Cat

One way I’ve been getting out of the Nest more this year has been teaching remote piano lessons, where I travel to a student’s house rather than having the student come to me.    Thursday I went to S.’s house.  Usually I see S. on Tuesdays, but a foot of snow fell this past Tuesday and we were all busy shoveling.  S. and Mimi met me at the stairs to her living room, which as usual was cheerfully cluttered with kid toys, cat toys, and sippy cups.  S. is five years old.  I’d guess Mimi, a small brown tabby, is about a year old.  Three cats live here, but Mimi is S.’s cat.   S. is always dressed to impress, and today she wore a headband with a big green sparkly bow in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  (Last week: Princess Elsa from Frozen.)

S. introduced me to Mimi, as she does every week.  I left my pencil at her house one time and my stickers another, so S. thinks I need help remembering things.  (She could be right.)  Then she put Mimi on the piano bench next to her.  The cat jumped off the bench immediately.  Mimi is not into piano.  Beethoven bores her.  She prowled about the room for a bit before settling into her favorite lesson spot, which is sitting in a bay window, staring at the outside world, thinking whatever cats think.

A half hour later I had collected my things–S. with a keen eye out for any stray pencils or  stickers–S. urged me to hold Mimi.  I scooped the animal up to my chest, and she curled quickly and neatly into my elbow.  Tiny thing, but she purred like a tiger, a deep thrum that vibrated through to my back ribs.

Home a few hours later, Sonny (back from college for spring break week) and I were relaxing, watching TV in the family room.  It’s cluttered a bit at the moment, but with grownup stuff.  Books, notebooks, a wineglass.  No toys.  Sonny sprawled on the couch with his laptop, paying half attention to two screens.  I was curled up nearby in a swivel chair, wrapped in a throw.   Capone came flirting up, his tail high and quivering, mowrling at me.  He stepped tentatively onto my lap, trying to find a way to fit himself into the confusion of knees and ankles underneath.   Ordinarily I would have been ecstatic.  Capone never sits on my lap in the swivel chair.  If Sonny or Dave is on the chair, Capone is purring contentedly on their laps, but not if it’s me on the chair.   Capone likes to play with me, to race me up the stairs (he spots me 10 of the 12 steps and still beats me to the top), to pounce at my ankles, to bat paper balls with me, but unless it’s nap time and I’m in the recliner–different chair, different room–he keeps a discreet distance.  But I had things to do and couldn’t stay.  Interrupting cat, like the interrupting cow in the knock-knock joke.  (Heard it?  Knock-knock.  Who’s there? Interrupting cow.  Interrup–MOO.)  “Don’t get comfortable,” I told him.  He lay twisted like a Mobius strip, purring.  A soft sound that was more the suggestion of a purr, but that’s his way.

I put him on the coffee table and rushed through my chores.  Five minutes, tops.  Locked the doors, brushed my teeth, turned off the hall light, grabbed my book.  When I got back downstairs, Capone was still crouched on the table.  He’d waited for me!  So I arranged the throw on my legs and chirruped invitingly.  He flicked an ear in my direction, but otherwise moved not.

“Come on, you silly cat,” I said.  I picked him up, grunted–he’s 14 pounds, it takes some effort–and put him on my lap.  Capone would have none of it.  I stroked his fur.  Sometimes that works and he settles down, willing to be comfortable and adored.  He didn’t struggle or scratch.  Like Mimi, he waited until he’d been set and the hands were off, and then he jumped away.  Back onto the table, in fact.  The coffee table made of chilly, hard, slate and wood.  Capone settled with his rear towards me, about a foot away.  Maybe staring at Sonny (Sonny is Capone’s favorite), who was laughing at the outcome of my efforts.  Maybe getting ready for a nap.

Sonny laughed some more.  He patted the couch next to him.  Capone didn’t even bother to cock an ear, he just stayed on the table.  “Our cat is a jerk!” Sonny said.

“You got that right,” I said.

All screens forgotten for a bit, one of those little moments that stick in your head.  Timing is everything, I guess, in comedy.  And affection.


Love Song

Dave came home a couple of weeks ago and told me he was joining an acapella (singing without instruments) group.   From now on, Thursday nights, he’ll be in a barbershop chorus, on the baritone part.  I sing in a different acapella group, though not barbershop.  Barbershop is its own genre, evidently–I’m fairly new to singing and still learning the lingo.

I’m very much looking forward to attending Dave’s concerts, especially because he hasn’t been doing anything, music-wise, for a couple of years.  He had a bad bike accident that banged up his hands.  He recovered, but his fingers aren’t as agile, and he decided to put down his clarinet for a while.  Time passed.  The clarinet stayed in its case.

With Sonny away at school, I’ve been the only person practicing in the Nest.  Frankly, I’d rather have other people besides me messing up their arpeggios and playing the same tricky measures over and over and over.   Plus there’s our history.  Dave and I met playing the clarinet, sitting next to each other in a community band that gave weekly concerts throughout the summer.  We played the marches, medleys, and light classics on town commons all over Massachusetts.  Sweating through sunscreen, dodging gnats and mosquitos.   Managing tricky page turns and wind gusts that tried to blow over our stands.  Laughing when things went uncontrollably pear-shaped.  Finding our place in the music when we miscounted a rest or missed a repeat.  Finding our place on the atlas when we got lost getting to the venue… By the end of that season, we’d learned to trust each other, and we always had something to talk about.

Sonny’s arrival turned us into a trio while simultaneously sending us all off on solo projects.  We went to one others’ concerts as well as playing them together.   Almost every day, scales, tricky bits, and favorite parts would sound through the Nest.  Once a week we would have family ensemble, a years’-long conversation that began with the simplest of ideas and eventually grew complex and humorous and angry and interesting and better in tune.  Dave on clarinet.  Me on clarinet or flute or piano.  Sonny on bassoon.   All of us on the spectrum, and sometimes we communicated better through our instruments than our words, I think.  But Sonny and his bassoon have left for college, and Dave doesn’t play clarinet anymore.

Dave’s upstairs in his office, working on a song called “Not While I’m Around.”   I’m thrilled to be around, hearing him figure out the notes.  I’m making dinner, feeling virtuous because I got my practicing in earlier.   Sonny’s home for the week–it’s spring break–playing Beethoven in the living room.   When I picked him up at the dorm, he told me about a girl he knows.  A singer.   He sits next to her in piano class.   They have lots of interesting conversations.

Music is the safest, loveliest space.


Dave was watching some documentary about a sports scandal with old-timey footage, including a shot of the back of a typewriter with a piece of paper resting on one of those rabbit-ear paper supports that some manual typewriters used to have.   I was transported back to high school typing class, where the teacher would put on Sousa marches, turned up loud, and have us type our exercises in tempo, 120 BPM.  Aaa, sss, ddd.  Asd, asd, asd.  Jkl; jkl; ;;;.   Thirty IBM Selectrics in a raggedy rhythm.  It was noisy in there.

Dave and I quickly went into kids-these-days mode.  We’ve seen enough of Sonny and his friends hunting and pecking at their laptops to harrumph that kids these days have terrible typing technique.  “Typing was one of the most useful classes I ever took,” Dave always says.  Me, too.

To be fair, typing on a computer doesn’t really require the kind of skills our generation needed, any more than my Hyundai requires me to be able to crank the motor like a Model T or, for that matter, work a stick shift.   But I kind of miss what I learned while churning out papers on old school typewriters like the Royal manual (already a bit of a dinosaur in the 1980s) that I took to college.

You had to feed the paper onto the platen so that it would be straight; often that took me two or three times.  Mark the top and bottom margins on the side of the paper or use a line guide (six vertical lines = an inch) so that you knew where to start and stop the page.  Set left and right margins and tabs.  Listen for the typewriter bell and decide, every line, whether to finish the word you were typing or hyphenate it.   (Do kids even learn hyphenation these days?)  Sandwich the carbon paper between your clean copy and the carbon without getting smudges everywhere.   And correct your mistakes–or avoid making them by being super accurate.

Sometimes I just backspaced and typed the new letter over the wrong one.  My Royal was so low tech that if you whacked the key harder, you’d get more/darker ink on the paper.  But my college professors wanted the errors to be fixed in a more readable and time-consuming way.  Erased with a pencil-like implement that rubbed the ink off the paper (and often tore a little hole in the paper, too), or painted over with Wite-Out that had to dry before you typed the correction, or typed over with a tape that pasted the same letter over in white powder, leaving a kind of ghostly mistake underneath.  Fortunately my high school typing teacher was a tough taskmaster and made sure that I could type accurately and relatively quickly.

And then there was the typewriter maintenance.  Changing the typewriter ribbon, unjamming the keys when they would bunch up and get stuck in a wad, halfway between the key-bed and the platen, cleaning the ribbon ink that gunked up those keys…

Lots of people around our age, around the 30s-50s, are proud of their typing skills and happy for a typing class at some point.  Knowing how to type made it easier for us to adapt to the computers that started transforming workplaces from the 1970s and on.  For the generation senior to us, the people now in their 60s and up, typing was more problematic.   Managers and executives didn’t type, generally; they dictated or scribbled by hand.  Typing was for support staff.  (They adapted more slowly) The generation junior to us, our kids, has grown up with typing divorced from the physicality of the typewriter.  Computer keyboards where you don’t have to know how to break a line or track a margin, where your spelling mistakes can be easily or automatically corrected.

All of that knowledge and practice Dave and I had is as out of date as knowing how to fill a a fountain pen, or sharpen a quill pen and handle blotting paper.  Amazing, given the effort and time putting down our words has taken, that people have done so much of it through the ages…