Highlights from 2011

Here are a few salient events from another interesting year:

  • I won myself a trophy for third place in my 50-54 age/gender group in a half marathon in Monmouth County, NJ. This is remarkable because it was not long ago that the very idea was inconceivable. The trophy itself is hideously ugly, but I am glad to accept it nonetheless.
  • I ran my third marathon, in Boston. In short, it was a successful and rewarding venture. See this report if you want the gory details.
  • I won my age group in not one but two local 5K races — small ones, but still… The second was noteworthy because I was actually disappointed in my performance, feeling sluggish and uncomfortable and posting a slower time than I thought I should. Winning my age group and still not satisfied — have I lost my mind?
  • My stepfather died at the age of 93, in March. He was an accomplished astronomer who led a long and productive life, and is remembered with great admiration and affection by hundreds of people.
  • In May I crashed the shit out of my car, with two of my kids in the back seat. It wasn’t good, but could have been far worse.
  • My uncle died at the age of something like 88, in August. He too was a smart man who managed to get through his long life pretty much doing as he pleased, founding and running a successful aerial photography business.
  • One of our cats, Master Lin-chi, used up a couple of his lives. First he disappeared for a full week, during the summer. He had us grieving and stapling flyers to trees all over the neighborhood. Then he walked into the house, skinny and filthy but very much alive. We have no idea where the hell he was.

    As if that wasn’t enough, he then surpassed this performance by surviving an encounter with a car with nothing more than some bruises and abrasions. I took him to the vet (and what a splendid vet he is, Felix Escudero at the emergency clinic in Bloomfield, NJ) who pronounced him OK.

    I don’t remember if it was before or after that incident that I called him to come home one evening, when he hadn’t been seen for 24 hours. When he still didn’t show up I called a little louder, and heard a faint whimper in the distance. Following the sound, I located him in the back yard two houses away, trapped in what’s know as a “Have a Heart” trap — a cage that automatically closes when an animal enters to get at some bait, stepping on a metal plate in the process. It seems that our neighbor had set it to to catch some other creature that had been giving him grief, and then saw fit to leave for the weekend. Thus Lin-chi sat with no food or water, next to a little pile of his own shit, until I rescued him. I got him out and otherwise left the trap as I found it, shit included.Master Lin-chi

    (You may say, obviously this cat should live entirely indoors, and I wouldn’t disagree. But it’s not an easy policy to enforce, and I am of two minds about the issue of letting cats go outdoors — a topic for another day.)

  • Like so many others on the planet,we endured extreme weather, including tough snowstorms, a brush with a hurricane in late August, and a seasonally inappropriate winter storm in October that left us without power for a full five days.
  • Our four kids got a year bigger, all them thriving and developing and fascinating my wife and me.
  • My lovely wife and I observed another wedding anniversary, and are still crazy about each other. It’s a glorious thing.

Lily and Jack join the crew

Click the thumbnail images to see larger versions.
jack_and_lilly.resized.jpg We are proud to announce the addition of Jack and Lily to our distinguished roster of felines. The hero who rescued this pair from the street was advertising them on Facebook, and people were expressing interest in adopting one but not both. Amy was appalled at the idea of splitting up this pair, and had been sort of interested in acquiring kittens anyway. We already had the incomparably magnificent Vernon T. Bludgeon and Master Lin-chi on our payroll, and knew there was a risk that the introduction of kittens into their world would be disastrous. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sometimes it works — eventually — and everyone gets along; sometimes it results in a fragile truce with intermittent hostility; and sometimes there is relentless, evil persecution of one cat at the hands of others, and the stress ends up shortening the lifespan of the unlucky one. But — what the fuck! We went for it.
As we expected, the big cats were not amused when we brought in the little ones in late October. We kept Jack and Lily in protective custody in our bedroom. Vernon went nuts and started redirecting his aggression towards Lin-chi. They had several truly nasty fights and for a while we were running a cat prison with the kittens, Vernon, Lin-chi and all separated. The drama between the latter two provided an insight into their relationship, for those who hitherto had been too dense to see: Vernon is the alpha cat. Lin-chi has always been bigger by a factor of 1.5, and when they were kittens he would kick Vernon’s ass from one end of my Jersey City apartment to the other. As they grew, Vernon became the one who always initiated the mixed martial arts matches. Vernon doesn’t give a shit about Lin-chi’s size advantage. Lin-chi usually lies on the floor and plays defense while Vernon keeps attacking until finally the Master gets up and retreats. I realized that in these play-fights Vernon is establishing who is boss by driving Lin-chi away from wherever he is hanging out. When the kittens encroached on Vernon’s scene, he flipped, and since he couldn’t take it out on the intruders, he went after Lin-chi instead. I came to appreciate that when I named Vernon after the Vernon of vernontbludgeon.com, it was not just in honor of Vernon; it was prescient.
Lily is shy, and hid under the bed for most of the first couple of weeks. Jack is the polar opposite: extroverted, fearless, feisty. To our great relief, Vernon’s aggression towards Lin-chi fell away as both kittens started coming out and exploring the house. At first Vernon, being Vernon, would routinely attack and harrass the kittens. But little Jack, the kitten with balls of steel, thought it was a joke. jack_vernon_lin-chi.jpgUndaunted, he started coming right out and playing with toys in front of the big cats, who would watch as though dumbfounded by his chutzpah. Soon he was walking right up to Vernon, getting in his face and fucking with him — with none other than Vernon himself! Now they practice kicking, striking, biting and grappling with each other every day, and though he may say otherwise — growling and snarling as he does — Vernon is loving having a fresh young opponent to spar with. And they have begun to rule the dining room table together like it’s no big deal.
lily.december-2010.jpgLily is still timid, but she too is gradually establishing her presence. Her brother Jack is extraordinarily jack_with_amy.november-2010.jpgaffectionate, playful and vocal — and quite a pain in the ass when he insists on climbing onto your sleeping form several times a night, getting right up in your face and exclaiming ack! ack! Minor nuisance notwithstanding, we are thoroughly delighted to have four stupendous cats populating our household.

These cats

These cats
one black and white,
one orange and white
come in the night to sleep in our bed.
warm and furry beyond reason
they slither under the covers in cold weather
Or install themselves above our heads
as if to coronate us
there to purr in all their regal magnificence
and sleep untroubled like gods.
Until they get hungry!
then they start knocking
shit off the dressers, upending lamps
they trash the place like vandals
and claw our flesh without mercy.
goddamnit, cats! all right. you win.
we will go downstairs to the kitchen
and eat some cat food.

How to Feed Cats: So Very Simple

When Vernon and Master Lin-chi joined my household I began to think seriously about cat nutrition. I looked at several websites and one book on the subject and began to inform myself.
The first thing you discover: a close reading of the nutritional analysis suffices to establish that commercial catfood is basically crap. Even the high end stuff is wanting.
Then there are the myths. Dry cat food? Worse than the moist. But isn’t it good for their teeth? No it isn’t. What about kitten, adult and “senior” cat food varieties? Total bullshit. lin-chi.800x600.jpg
Catfood manufacturers cynically exploit cat owners’ ignorance by extolling the wholesome goodness of their products containing cranberries and such. They must surely know that cats are obligate carnivores and have no use for cranberries, brown rice, seaweed, etc., no matter how wholesome-sounding. Shamefully, some veterinarians collude with these catfood manufacturers.
So what’s a cat owner to do? Well, what have cats done historically, before catfood was invented? Domestic cats lived by hunting and table scraps. Modern feral cats essentially do the same. My urban cats live strictly indoors; they get no birds and few if any mice in their diets. Table scraps won’t do it, as I eat little meat. My ziti with carmelized onions and broccoli rabe is of little use to them. It’s up to me to simulate something close to their natural diet by providing them with fresh meat and organs purchased for that purpose.
I read about people buying meat grinders and grinding up turkey, chicken and rabbit and feeding it to their cats. This sounded like a cool idea so I got myself a grinder, and promptly broke it on a turkey bone. While procrastinating about calling the manufacturer and inquiring about a repair, I tried paying top-dollar for something called Carnivore Diet, five-pound tubes of ground beef and bone. This seemed like the real deal, and the cats loved it, although there is something unnatural about domestic cats feeding off an animal so many times their size. And at over $15 for the five pounds, it was expensive.
While continuing to procrastinate about the grinder repair, I came across other websites that said grinding is nonsense. When you increase all that surface, you facilitate the growth of taurine-eating bacteria. Do they eat ground mice and birds in the wild? No. The non-grinding school advocates taking things like raw chicken and chopping it into manageable pieces, bones included, and giving to your cats. Ah ha! This approach has the irresistible appeal of Ockham’s Razor. Who would have thought that the best way to feed your cat also happens to be the simplest? Get out your meat cleaver and a solid cutting board. Get a chicken or some turkey parts. Hack into pieces. Serve. For dietary balance give them some beef hearts, chicken livers, etc.
Considering cost, this solution compares favorably to the high-end commerical cat food. Perhaps it’s more expensive — if so, it’s worth it. People are fond of comparing pets to members of the family. Would you feed garbage to your human loved ones? Would you begrudge the expense of their nourishment? And to be strictly pragmatic about it, the savings on vet bills over your cat’s longer, healthier life helps offset the expense. (Of course, you could counter-argue that the cat’s extended life means more food consumption, ergo expense. But you’d probably get another cat who would also eat, so it’s a wash. Perhaps it boils down to how long you live. Cut your living expenses: smoke cigarettes.)
A further benefit of the raw flesh diet is that it’s satisfying for the owner. Nothing is more pleasing than the sound of their little jaws cracking bone, their growling as they warn each other away from their chunk of heart. This is real food. On the rare occasion when I run out of flesh and open a can, I am apalled at its contents: a gray and foul-smelling industrial sludge.

For immediate release: VTB appoints Lin-chi, Vernon to staff


Vernon T. Bludgeon Consulting is pleased to welcome two new members to its staff:
(left to right) Master Lin-chi, and the eponymous Vernon T. Bludgeon the Cat. Both the Master and Vernon the Cat bring proven track records in inhaling, exhaling, sleeping, eating, shitting, and unprovoked aggression. We are confident that these two outstanding professionals will make a significant and lasting contribution to our organization, and will substantially enhance the already unparalleled Vernon T. Bludgeon value proposition.