Southern Ohio
Porch Menagerie


Back when your average non-programmer neophyte used one or another of the ‘big’ online services – AOL, CompuServe, GEnie – I used to post a weekly ‘rant’ on my AOL free web space.  I would note that this was years before ‘Blogger,’ and before web diaries were the next big thing, let alone outré.  But, my life was reasonably empty, at that point – I was separated from my first husband, living on about a grand a month, desperately trying to avoid feeling like I should be doing something more with my life while I caught up with the changes myself.


Unlike most current weblogs, which use professionally designed software to produce professional-looking blogs, and web hosts with archive space, I made my own templates on the now-primeval AOL HTML-editing software that was available to subscribers (I think it might have been called My Publisher or something like that).  It wasn’t much, I won’t say any more than that, since most HTML-editing software wasn’t much back in 1996 unless you paid for it.  I wasn’t in a position to pay for it, so I learned to use the AOL stuff for all it was worth.  Whaddya' want for nothin'?


On Friday nights, I would sit down with a glass of Beringer Beaujolais (usually not my first of the night), just after Homicide:  Life On The Streets ended, just as my local Faux-television affiliate was cranking up Cops, and grouse, or reminisce, or rant, or rave for an hour or two.  I just riffed on whatever had the highest profile in my brain on a given night.  It was cathartic, and occasionally enlightening.  Sometimes, it even enlightened me (I know, what are the odds?).


But then I started to have a life again, and the weekly rant was abandoned.  The last major update I made was in January of 1997, a month after my father died.  It was as if the end of his life warned me that if I didn’t get up off my ass, I was never going to have one of my own again.  And so I did.


Ultimately, I wound up dating (and, eventually, marrying) an acquaintance I’d met through a friend several years before, when I was still married.  He was on a local band’s mailing list that I also read, and I wondered if he still was single, and if he still went out to see bands – I wanted to, myself, but I didn’t like sitting in bars alone.  As sexist as it is, I guess I sort of perceived my doing that as ‘asking for it,’ whatever ‘it’ amounted to – mugging, rape, some freakish relationship with a total stranger that would sap my will to live.


For two unpredictably compulsive, stubborn, set-in-their ways people over thirty, we found – and, fortunately, still find – ourselves inexplicably compatible.  Again, what were the odds?


What’s even more amazing is our apparently magnetic power to pick up animals.  The story of that can be found in various places on their part of the web site, especially in the FAQ and in the individual pages I made for each of them (linked off the main page).


It’s not like we went out and adopted five animals all in one day, of course.  Tink was our first, we adopted her from a kill shelter near Cincinnati around Christmas of ’97.  It was almost two years before we took in another (Doodle).  The third came almost two years after that (Gord).  Four and five (Squeek and Max) both hit within twenty-four hours in 2002.  Gord and Max were considered more than the others, simply by virtue of circumstances surrounding their adoptions.  Gord was an inmate at the shelter where Tony and I volunteer; we talked ourselves into and out of adopting a dog numerous times over the years, but until the day we actually met Max, we’d never run into one that seemed likely to work out in our situation.


I knew I could handle one cat – we hadn’t really planned on adopting Tink the day we did, we just decided to go to the shelter and see what we found – and Tony wanted to try it.  I thought it would be instructive for him, not having lived with cats, to have one from the earliest kittenhood possible.  Raising a single kitten in a childless household is a fairly low-impact exercise, especially if you’re sharing a household with somebody who’s already done it before – who knows to put away anything a kitten can chew or swallow that might hurt it (twist ties, pipe cleaners, rubber bands); to tell you not to play with the kitten with your hands if you don’t want to buy stock in 3M or Johnson & Johnson.  To help you hold the kitten down while you extract the lightning bug from its craw that’s making it foam at the mouth as if it were rabid.  The usual stuff.


What I mean by low-impact, of course, is that by the time a kitten is old enough to be taken home, it’s usually housebroken and will eat out of a bowl.  I never want to have to housetrain a dog – ever.  With cats, unless they experience something pretty traumatic, their house training will stick up to at least the fifty-percent point (stress will mess that up sometimes, but even at that, Tink only misses the box up to half the time).  They want to poop in some dirt, very badly, and they usually do.


Anyway, we tried to be doctrinaire with Tink, but Tink is one of the wisest cats I’ve ever seen – having grown up from six or eight weeks with us instead of other cats, she has a kind of savvy with us that the others couldn’t begin to approach.  She really knows how to interrupt, annoy, cajole and wheedle.  She doesn’t always get her way, of course, and I’m guessing the other three cats get their ways about as often as is necessary for them to be happy, but I’m inclined to attribute it to design and will on Tink’s part more than the others.


So we learned that with cats, you pick your battles.  I’d already known this, but Tony did have some learning to do on that point.  Tink started out as a bit of a lap cat, but she went through the usual kitten adolescent phase where she didn’t want to be held in one place.  Tony didn’t deal with that as well as he could have, sometimes forcing her to accept his attention, and it was years before Tink would sit on anybody’s lap again.  Even now, it’s rare.


And, of course, all the rules changed when we adopted Max.  Like Tink, Max is a pretty savvy manipulator – both of us and the cats, though his human savvy seems better than his other-animals savvy.  He generally deals with the cats by bullying them, which doesn’t seem very smart for a dog who seems relatively intelligent in other ways.  He’s not enough bigger than they are to have the advantage of size, and they all can jump and run rings around him, even the otherwise logy and stumpy Gord.  Additionally, their claws are sharper than his teeth, and they are cats – having their way trumps any alliance they may feel they have with Max, since cats aren’t tribal the way dogs are tribal.  Which is to say, not a one of the four cats in this house would hesitate to slash the crap out of Max if they thought he was going to do anything to them that wasn’t within their parameters of ‘acceptable.’  I would have it no other way – Max should learn better than to pick on them, and if that’s what it’s going to take, I guess it just is.


Back to the original theme – I’d already burned myself out on the weblogging concept long before ‘Blogger’ and other shareware/freeware journal software was even in existence, and before every kid who could touch-type had a blog about Billy stealing his Legos.  Even when studied week by week, I found my life to be reasonably uninteresting.  I guess I learned this back around 1979, actually, when my ninth-grade English teacher required each of us to keep a journal for one nine-weeks grading period.  I started out with all good intention, making entries dutifully each day … but how interesting is the life of a fifteen-year-old girl, really?  Unless she’s an Olympic athlete or a drug dealer, chances are her thoughts don’t even interest her.  She probably spends about as much time as I did blasting pop music through the empty spaces between her ears to avoid having to listen to her thoughts.  It’s no wonder girls start having sex too early, or drinking in their early teens – it’s an awful time to be alive, when you’re fourteen or fifteen.  The temptation to hate yourself is strong; the temptation to kill yourself sometimes only marginally less strong.  I remember keeping the journal as intended for perhaps two or three weeks; putting the whole week’s entries in on Saturday afternoon for a couple of more weeks; then, a few nights before the journal was to be turned in, sitting down and writing five weeks’ worth of bogus entries just to have the requisite number of pages to turn in for a grade.  The teacher didn’t read the journals, by the way, she only counted the pages.  Or so she said.  Honestly?  I believed her then and even now, looking back through my Joo-Janta 200 peril-sensitive sunglasses … I still think she did exactly what she said.  Would I believe a teacher who told me that now?  Not on your Crisco Johnny Ashcroft, I wouldn’t.


So why would a married woman of thirty-eight who does clerical work for a living have anything more interesting to say about her own life than her fifteen-year-old doppelganger?  The answer is, she wouldn’t.  Which is why I don’t currently have a blog under my own name.  I just doubt anybody would give a shit.  But there are plenty of people who might find the travails of keeping five animals in a suburban house interesting – or amusing, at least – enough to visit once in a while.  So this is where it begins …