Tobe

I don’t so much write personal blog entries anymore, but I need to get this out. If you aren’t interested in the memoirs of a crazy cat lady, you’d be wise to do something else with your time.

Otherwise…

I’ve been very fortunate to have very little experience with death. I have had relatives die, but they’ve all been people I hadn’t seen, or, in some cases, even spoken to, in over a decade. I’ve comforted friends when they’ve lost loved ones. While I can certainly conceive of their pain and empathize, the closest I’ve come to first-hand grief is with pet death.

More often than not in my life, I’ve owned a pet of some sort. A human is, in all likelihood, going to outlive his or her pet. It’s something that everyone knows when they decide to adopt an animal. As we grow to love them as part of our family, we try not to think about it until it’s staring us in the face. When our pets get old, we expect their imminent death and try to make them comfortable toward the end. But sometimes, our pets don’t have a chance to get old*. As a jerk who has mostly eluded first-hand loss, it’s kind of a big deal.


Tobe a.k.a. Toblerone, Tobenstein, Captain Fluffypants, Falcor and, as recently dubbed by my daughter, Tobe Beeb.

I’ve had Tobe for 8 years. He was approximately 1 year old when I rescued him from the shelter. It feels silly to say “rescue” in Tobe’s case because he is such an awesome cat that he would not have been there long. More accurately, I snatched him up. Later on, I learned that he is, at least mostly, a type of purebred cat called a Ragdoll. They are large, fluffy things, designed to live in your lap. Tobe has zero hunting instincts. Once, I saw him watching a flock of birds in our yard, tail swishing all the while. I decided to let him out to see what he would do. He went bounding out of the door like a dopey puppy and the birds flew away instantly. I wish I’d gotten it on video because he’s never tried to stalk anything since.

Tobe is a mama’s boy. Before my daughter was born, he was a near-permanent fixture on my lap. The common scene for us was as it is right now. He’s draped across me as I type. Every once in a while, he gives me an appreciative nudge. Whenever I’ve been sad, just burying my face into his big, furry belly always made me feel better. Many people tell the same story. My relationship with my cat is not unique. Nonetheless, it feels special to me. I’ve always been a cat person. But Tobe is more than a cat to me. Tobe is my baby.

When I first got pregnant, Tobe knew something was up. He started getting grumpy and peeing inappropriately (i.e. all over my breakfast nook). After all the tests came back negative, the vet surmised that Tobe was depressed. He somehow knew that he was about to be put on the back burner and he was not happy about it. Fortunately, anti-depressants work on cats. That’s right. My cat has been on fluoxetine for 3 years. It’s a pain in the ass, but it’s a lot nicer than cleaning up pee every day.

As my daughter has required less attention, Tobe and I have been able to re-forge our relationship. That’s why I really noticed when he stopped hanging out with me. It went on for a couple of weeks. He’d been slowly losing weight over the past couple of years, but he had some extra love in the beginning. When he reached a healthy weight, I expected the loss to taper off. It didn’t. He got thinner and thinner, but all the tests came back negative. When he became reclusive, I knew there was definitely something wrong. The vet did some more tests including a “senior panel”. At 9 years old, it seemed early for that. But it succeeded in finding the cause of his weight loss. He had low protein levels indicative of an issue with his digestive system. I nodded throughout the vet’s speech, but I’d stopped listening after “low protein”. When she suggested I schedule an ultrasound, I laughed a little. Obviously, that was going to be pretty expensive. I said I’d think about it.

Tobe seemed to be complaining about his cat food. He’s always been on a dry food diet, and, though he can be choosy, at that moment, his bowl was filled with his preferred brand. He meowed at me in his way (which doesn’t sound much like a meow…more like a “meh”). He is almost always silent unless he really wants something. I realized that it had been at least 24 hours since I’d seen him eat. On a whim, I pulled out a can of wet food, and he actually got up on his back paws and meh’d at me again. I have never seen him do this before. I put the food in his bowl and he devoured it. I immediately bought more canned food. His appetite was back. He started hanging out with me again. “Great!”, I thought. “He’s getting better! He just needed more protein”.

Denial is a motherfucker.

The vet called me about a week later, concerned that I had not yet scheduled an ultrasound. Through the course of that conversation, I realized that the results of his senior panel were much worse than I thought. Whatever was causing his low protein levels was certainly deadly. There was a slim chance that it was something curable, like liver disease, but more likely, it was something much worse. The doctor explained that if we find out what it is, we can at least make him more comfortable. Still in shock, I made the appointment.

On the ultrasound, they found 1 mass on his colon and 1 on his small intestine. They did a non-invasive biopsy and the results came back today. Lymphoma.

My cat has fucking cancer.

Now, there are all kinds of expensive treatments I could administer that might prolong his life up to a year and would require monthly blood tests. There is also a minimal treatment that requires only another daily medication and would give him 3-6 months of comfortable existence. “Maybe longer,” she said. But I think that was for my benefit, as she could probably hear the sniffling through the phone. As much as I’d love to be the crazy cat lady spending all my savings to keep my baby around longer, I’m not going to do that. He would hate me for taking him to the vet once a month and he’s already not thrilled about taking a pill every single day of his life. Now I’m adding one more. With the “aggressive treatments”, it would be 2-3 more medications. All to put off the inevitable. I’m not doing it. Do I feel guilty about that? You bet your ass I do. But I also know it’s the right thing to do.

The next couple of months are going to be really fucking hard. I did not expect to have to explain death to my 2 1/2 year old. But she’s going to wonder why mama is constantly sobbing into Tobe’s fur. Eventually, she’ll ask where Tobe went. She probably won’t even remember him when she’s older. I had visions of her devastated at 5. That might still happen with our other cat, Lucy. She’s 16 goddamned years old. She went to the vet for the first time ever this year and she had NOTHING wrong with her. She’ll probably live to be 20. She’s the Mr. Burns of cats. I didn’t expect her to outlive Tobe. Very few things turn out the way you expect.

Death is a hard lesson for a 2 1/2 year old. It’s even harder to learn when you’re a full grown woman. I’m fortunate to have experienced very little tragedy up until now. I know I’ll move on and everything will be fine. I’ll eventually get a new cat. But Tobe is going to be a tough act to follow. He’s still here now, snuggling up to me as I type. I hope that I can cowgirl up and make the most of the rest of our time together. But right now, all I can think when I bury my face into his now emaciated (but still quite fluffy) belly, is “I’m really going to miss this goddamn cat”.


(Told you he was fluffy.)

Thanks for reading.

*When I linked to the Ragdoll Wikipedia page, a sentence stood out – “One study utilizing Swedish insurance data showed that of the common cat breeds, the Ragdoll and Siamese have the lowest survival rate, with 63% living to 10 years or more for the Ragdoll and 68% for the Siamese”. I’m sure that fact is prevalent in Ragdoll literature. Apparently, I’m awesome at glossing over unpleasantness. Though it is somewhat comforting to know that he is among the 63% of “long-lived” Ragdolls. Purebreeding is a motherfucker.

Film Threat Review: Keep the Lights On

2012
Unrated
101 minutes

****

Some long-term relationships seem perfectly stable until the end, when they suddenly aren’t anymore, and others are tumultuous from the get-go. Ira Sachs’ mostly autobiographical film, “Keep the Lights On,” chronicles the nine-year span of a gay New York-based documentary filmmaker and his challenging, but unwavering, commitment to a crack-addicted lawyer. The catharsis oozes off the screen in this unflinching, but affectionate, portrait of a man and his junkie.

Sachs’ proxy is Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a struggling Danish filmmaker. His passion project is a documentary about underground queer artist Avery Willard, who produced erotic queer images from the 1940s through the ‘70s. While he struggles through production, he whiles away his nights on a phone sex line, which often leads to casual encounters. (This is how they did it before Craigslist, kids.) One such encounter leads to love when he meets Paul (Zachary Booth).

At first, Paul tells him not to get his hopes up, because he has a girlfriend. But their attraction is undeniable, and soon the girlfriend is a non-issue. Early on, Paul introduces Erik to the joys of recreational crack. It’s not long before it becomes more than just a hobby for Paul.

Every so often, the narrative jumps forward in time, as Paul disappears on benders. If Erik isn’t busy doing filmmaker stuff, he makes time with prostitutes to help keep his mind off of his absent boyfriend. Through it all, Erik’s devotion to Paul is unwavering. There are interventions and ultimatums, splits and reunions, but the two always end up back together. It’s not exactly an abusive relationship – Erik can take care of himself. But his heart belongs to a man whose devotions are equally split between his boyfriend and crack pipe.

The film is shot on super 16, which lends the images simultaneous warmth and isolating frigidity, mirroring a relationship whose temperature is constantly in flux. Sachs does an excellent job establishing a time and place without the need for telltale skylines or period-specific props. Many of the scenes were shot in the exact same spots that the real-life version of events occurred. Even without this knowledge, the candor is unmistakable. These conversations and scenarios are too painful to be fiction.

At one point, Erik finds Paul on a bender in a filthy loft and refuses to leave without him. Erik holds Paul’s hand as the man he loves has cracked-out sex with a prostitute. He knows he can’t make Paul stop his destructive behavior, but he can’t bear to leave him to it. It’s a powerful scene that also serves as shorthand for their entire relationship. Even if they can’t be together the way Erik wants, he can’t let Paul fall all the way into the abyss. It’s more painful for him to let go than to stay with a man who refuses to stop hurting both of them. This is the stuff of 18th century poetry. It’s literally Romantic.

“Keep the Lights On” is heavy stuff indeed – the antithesis of “The Notebook.” It’s bona fide, messy, heart-wrenching pain. Sachs clearly went to a lot of trouble to tell this story, essentially emptying his soul into the film. The least you can do is listen.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Film Threat Review: Bachelorette

2012
Rated R
94 minutes

**

If bridal parties in real life behaved like the bridal parties in film, everyone would elope. “Bachelorette” will most certainly be compared to both “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids,” but that comparison is not fair to those movies. Leslye Headland wrote and directed this adaptation of her off-Broadway play a year before “Bridesmaids” was released. Her story of the most unlikable group of women since “Sex and the City II” shares little with those far superior films besides a wedding-related misadventure.

The characters in “Bridesmaids” do and say some stupid things, but they are, at heart, good people. “The Hangover” crew isn’t so nice, but at least they are the butt of the joke. But the biggest difference between “Bachelorette” and its so-called peer films is that the other characters actually like the person who is getting married. The women of “Bachelorette” turn the story into one long, cruel fat girl joke punctuated by a “just kidding” ending.

In “Bachelorette” three emotionally arrested Mean Girls are asked to be bridesmaids by their token scapegoat, Becky (Rebel Wilson). In high school, they dubbed Becky “Pig Face,” and have thought about her in those terms ever since. According to the movies, weddings are the most significant event in every woman’s life. The troika are furious that not only is Becky walking down the aisle before them, her groom is one of the richest, most handsome men in New York City. It boggles their minds that Becky would be able to score a man who is essentially the prom king of the adult world.

In fact, much about the adult world confounds these women. If they each had their own derisive nickname, Katie (Isla Fisher) would be “Dense Face”; Gena (Lizzy Caplan) would be “Tramp Face” and let’s just give Regan (Kirsten Dunst), the group’s leader, the all-encompassing moniker, “Cunt Face.” I’m usually happy to see any of these actresses on screen. Dunst generally brings a lot of heart to her ice queen roles. Isla Fisher is a flawless comedienne, able to completely transform herself into whatever the script calls for. Lizzy Caplan has already proven that she can play a loveable fuckup. But Headland’s script is so lacking in depth, that they have nowhere to go besides what’s on the page.

Regan is the most wounded about the wedding, wondering why her hard-won beauty and success haven’t scored her a husband. She serves her Maid of Honor duties under cover, pretending to respect Becky to her face and ripping her apart when she is out of earshot. Katie has a vague idea that she “might be stupid,” but she doesn’t let that humble her, using people whenever possible and getting away with it because of her looks. Gena walks through much of the movie a complete sociopath, seeing those around her as little more than annoying little insects that sometimes prevent her from doing all the cocaine. She is closest thing “Bachelorette” has to a whole person, but that’s not saying much considering her most likeable quality is that she’s sad about her ex-boyfriend and the teenage abortion they shared.

Nonetheless, it is Gena’s storyline that provides the film’s one redeeming quality: Adam Scott. As usual, his affable-as-hell little face is like a golden turd in an overflowing cat box. I’m always happy to see him, even when the stench of a film is insufferable. (In fact, one of the two stars I gave this film belongs entirely to him.) Scott plays Clyde, the aforementioned ex, who also happens to be a groomsman in the wedding (just go with it). The only reason this pairing makes any sense is because Caplan and Scott have an established chemistry from their time together on “Party Down.”

That Becky would invite these terrible people, whom she hasn’t seen since her formative years, to play such a major part in her wedding, is baffling. But it is crucial to the plot. It is only by being bridesmaids that they have access to the wedding dress, which they accidentally destroy in a moment of insanely cruel drunken shenanigans. The troika spends the rest of the film running amok in New York under the guise of trying to fix or replace the dress. In the meantime, they do loads of drugs, visit a strip club, navigate male genitalia, take shots, insult people, do more drugs and then abruptly decide that they want to change their evil ways just in time to save the day they were responsible for almost ruining.

Headland seems to have been so busy thinking up “shocking” scenarios that she forgot to write any real jokes (unless you think an overdose is funny). It’s not the crudity of these women that offends. It’s their complete lack of integrity. I have plenty of time for characters with sexual confidence and profane bluntness but not so much for those who use their powers to demean everyone who crosses their path. Even then, I can enjoy a film about abhorrent people so long as they get their comeuppance, or end up alone with their misery (see “Very Bad Things” for an example on how to properly execute this maneuver). Instead, Headland expects her audience to accept her characters’ all-too-convenient third act changes of heart. I’d be shocked that Becky forgives them for nearly ruining her wedding, if she had any personality at all besides being completely comfortable with herself.

It doesn’t help that we are completely in the dark about Becky and Dale’s relationship. They rarely share a scene and she never really talks about him or he about her. It’s not that they are an unlikely couple. It’s that SO MUCH is made of Becky being a “fat loser” that it feels like it could turn into “Carrie” at any moment. Actually, a telekinetic wedding massacre would have improved this movie tremendously.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).