Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Chuck and the Great Escape As the Cat in the Hat

Despite how it might sound, Chuck is not on the road 365 days a year. When we’re home, the chuckster likes nothing better than to lounge around with his “sibling cats” and he’ll either be chowing down at his favorite food bowl or snoozing the day away. Trust me, you want to be a cat in my house.

But like most kids, Chuck needs fun!

Every morning he rolls down the stairs with that peculiar expression on his face--his whiskers in a snarl, poised with an expectation on his lips. He doesn’t have to SAY anything. IN HUMAN WORDS, I mean. A disgruntled MEOW will suffice. He’s bored and ready for action.

Halloween was no exception. In fact, that day was worse. Chuck is no dummy. He can read a calendar. He knew what pumpkins and Mums on the front porch meant. He knew that when I lugged out the giant bowl filled with chocolate candy and set it on the table in front of the front door, who the bags of candy were for. Trick or treaters.

He wanted to know how he fit in.
 That brings me to the great escape. And the almost costume. Yeah, yeah. I thought of getting Chuckie a costume. First, I posted the question on my facebook page, hoping for inspiration. Then I went to the Chuckster himself-- Who do you want to be?

A dog? That was the obvious undercover choice. Chuckie shook his head.

Felix the Cat. I figured a popular cartoon character would be a possible fit for the chuckster who often saw himself on the big screen. But Chuck shook his head. PETULANTLY.

The Purina Cat Chow mascot, I offered next, thinking that starring in commercials and seeing your face on cat food cans and bags was a worthy choice for a Halloween costume. But Chuck again shook his head.

I put my hands on my hips. Okay. I had to try harder. Maybe Chuckie was thinking more high brow--literary cat character. Grimbold, the black “prince of cats,” I explained to Chuckie, making my voice sound inviting, who led a goatherd on many cool adventures in Grimbold’s Other World by Nicolas Stuart Gray, but even as I said it, I could see it was way too obscure for my modern Chuck.

Okay, okay. How about Bagheera? A PANTHER.

Now here, Chuck’s eyes lit up.

He was in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, I added for good measure. Some interest because Chuck paced the great room, but when he returned, he plopped down in front of me, disappointed still.

Eureka, who was Dorothy’s cat in the Wizard of Oz. You love to watch the Wizard of Oz on television, I reminded him.

He eyed me suspiciously.

So what? So what if she’s a girl? Does that really matter?

It did. Macho Chuck was not about to put on a girly cat costume.

I had one more idea. Okay, Chuck, this is it. You like to wear hats, right. How about DR. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat?

Yes! He went for it. And . . . all went well, the trick or treating part, the wearing of the hat part, until he was recognized.

Well, let me back up. Chuck donned his costume. He went out trick or treating around the neighborhood. As the Cat in the Hat. Then he was recognized. Not as Hot Blogging Chuck. Oh, no. As a CAT dressed up as the Cat in the Hat. The mere fact that it was a CAT trick or treating and not a KID, threw the rest of the KIDS into a near state of panic.

The tiny trick or treaters started chasing Chuck down the street. They wanted a closer look. Chuck dropped his candy and lost his hat. The poor kid, I mean CAT.

It all happened so fast I wasn’t even able to snap a photo for the blog.

Later, after Chuck calmed down, he agreed to pose with his favorite Cat in the Hat book.

Needless to say, no more trick or treating for the belly boy.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chuck Is A Hero-Spots Leopard Up A Tree

Chuck has been getting on my case lately. He thinks I make him look bad. Unheroic.

So . . . in the interest of fairness, and to keep my little or ah, hum, well, he’s not quite so little anymore, my chubby, well, chubby, isn’t exactly the right word--plump? Okay, to keep the “belly boy” happy, I’m blogging this week about the time we were on safari and Chuck saved Stephen’s life and, perhaps, all our lives in the safari vehicle--because of his . . . and I’m not exactly channelling here because the kid is looking right over my shoulder as I type and practically dictating this blog--because of his superior eyesight and extra-sensory sense of smell.

That’s right, the typical meow may only have the intellect of a two year old child, (I am not referring to my Chuck, of course), but the common house cat--not that Chuck is common by any means-- makes up for their childlike intelligence with their natural inborn skills.

Case in point. We were riding along on the plains of Kenya. And if you can imagine miles and miles of open land, with nary a tree in sight, with elephants roaming around us and other assorted wild animals. To stay alive, we were told to stay in the safari vehicle. There would be no hopping out to catch a closer glimpse, say of a baby hyena--if you haven’t had the good fortune of reading that adventure, please follow the link: http://averyolive.blogspot.com and read all about how Chuck has a near death encounter with a babysitter hyena when he impulsively decides he just has to meet two adorable baby hyenas. Anyway, Chuck now understood the dangers involved.

But it was nearing lunch time and Stephen, our driver, knew of a good place to have our picnic lunch--smack in the middle of the plains--under a big giant--what Stephen called a “sausage tree,” because what hung from the branches of this lone tree looked like, yeah, you guessed it--sausages.

So we drove for what seemed like twenty miles and pulled alongside of this “sausage tree.” Now, Stephen does not carry a gun with him. Let me make that perfectly clear. Even though we are on safari, it is against the law in Kenya to kill an animal. We are only there to photograph the wildlife. So, literally on the plains, you take your life in your hands. But Stephen is a professional and as we were driving to the tree, he was scanning the area on the look-out for any living, breathing creature that might cause us harm, because the idea was that we were all going to embark from the vehicle and eat our picnic lunch under that tree BECAUSE IT WAS SHADY.

Stephen believed the coast was clear. He jumped out of the vehicle.
All was well.

But, of course, it wasn’t.

That’s when Chuck sprung into action.

My Chuck.

Because he just happened to be awake and not “cat-napping,” which is what was usually the case on our long safari rides. And he just happened to be intrigued by what looked like sausages hanging from that tree.

Chuck glanced up, and he saw a leopard with his kill--some poor defenseless gazelle which was now hanging limp over a branch. A gazelle that the leopard had dragged up the tree. A big tree. And now that we--seven humans and a cat had arrived below the tree, this leopard could only assume that we were there for one thing--that gazelle.

The time it would take that leopard to leap down from the tree on top of Stephen could be counted in milliseconds. We learned that later.

Chuck growled and pointed his paw at the leopard. Then he let loose a blood curdling screech, which caught Stephen’s attention. Stephen whirled toward us.

Someone shouted, “Leopard in tree.”

Stephen hopped back on the safari vehicle. He was shaken up, clearly aware of what could have happened because in this one instance he’d forgotten to look up the tree.

The leopard crept down the tree, and he waited in the bushes, eager to defend his kill.

Stephen made an executive decision. We started the engine and went to find another tree, but not before Stephen came to the back of the safari vehicle, grabbed Chuck, and gave him a big hug. “Thanks, little man.”

No doubt about it--Chuck was a hero that day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chuck Gets Faked Out - The French Way

The kid never seems to stop thinking. Or plotting may be the best word. After our little jaunt to Deauville, where Chuck impressed the girls with his “mussel opening” trick, Bob and I decided to do something for ourselves--or so we thought. I wanted to see Giverny--the luscious place where Monet had lived and painted and been inspired to do some of his loveliest impressionistic paintings.

I had no idea, whatsoever, that Chuck was into Monet.

Sure, I have Monet prints hanging around my house, but who expects a rascally cat like Chuck to notice, who seems to be more in tuned to watching Jersey Shore or the Kardashians on TV?

Well, he had noticed, and it seemed Chucky boy had been harboring a secret wish to see some of these paintings in person.

Now if you have ever been to Giverny, you know what a mob scene it can be. Tourists galore cram the place--milling about the beautiful grounds--admiring Monet’s gardens, the waterlily pond, and especially his house. Everyone wants to go inside the house and see how the great painter lived.

And Chuck had heard that Monet had one room completely filled with tons of his paintings. That’s the room that Chuck wanted to see.

Now this wasn’t going to be easy because as in most touristy places--NO CATS WERE ALLOWED. I would have to be super sneaky if Chuck was going to be able to stick his head out of my shoulder bag and see anything!

Of course, as soon as we arrived, we headed straight for the house. Chuck would have it no other way. Up the front steps and through the center hallway. He had no interest in seeing the kitchen or the exquisitely decorated dining room. And he was very squirmy, a bit pissed off that he had to keep his head hidden when if he were a dog, he could have most likely trotted into the house and barked his head off, and no one would have said a word. Yes, it is true. In France, the French people love their dogs and take them everywhere with them--drugstores, restaurants, etc. But that’s another story.

Anyway, here we were hurrying through Monet’s house because Chuck seemed about to burst inside my bag when we finally made it into the “painting” room. Strange, but I expected to see guards with machine guns or heavy guns at the door to the room. There were guards all right, but they stood around holding cell phones, with a kind of bored expression on their faces, as if they didn’t much care if someone stole one of the paintings.

Chuck peeked out and from that first instant, was mesmerized. I had to keep moving around the room, of course, and I felt sorry for the kid. He just wanted to stop and stare at one painting after another, as if he could get lost inside the picture. He seemed truly awestruck that he was face to face with a genuine Monet.

A stranger tapped me on the shoulder. “What you got there, a cat?”

I nodded. “He’s really into Monet.”

“Nice,” he said, reaching out his hand to try and pet Chuck, which was not such a smart idea. Chuck wouldn’t bite him or anything, but when Chuck is into something, he doesn’t like to be interfered with.

“He’s impressed,” I said to this total stranger. “You see, he’s never seen a real Monet before.”

The stranger laughed. “Yeah, right.”

Instantly, I detected something was wrong.

“Real Monet, you say? Is that what this little guy thinks?”

Chuck whirled around at that moment, and you could see it in his eyes. He knew something was up. He knew something terrible was about to be said. His bubble was about to be burst.

The stranger said, “These aren’t real Monets.”

I gulped.

Then he waved his arm around the room, as if he needed to further illustrate his point. “I mean look. Do you see any armed guards anywhere? If these paintings were real, we’d be talking millions of dollars.”

I heard a sniffle coming from my shoulder bag. Poor Chuck, I thought.

The stranger reeled in on me. “You should be ashamed of yourself for deceiving this poor little guy. Letting him think he’s looking at the genuine article. These are all reproductions. Can you say that word, little guy? Reproductions.”

But Chuck had no intention of saying anything. He snarled, then disappeared like a puff of French cigarette smoke into my bag.

I stepped back away from the stranger and made a bee-line for the door. “Sorry, Chuck. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

And I thought back to what my husband had said back in Deauville--that it was humiliating that we, no I, was no smarter than a cat.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chuck Plots to Meet French Girls

         The jaunt to see Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower didn’t work out, and by the time Chuck was back in our hotel room, we should have known he would already be plotting his next move, but as he was resting peacefully on the bottom of our bed, we didn’t give it a second thought.   
         The next morning we had plans to travel to Deauville, a charming seaside resort town two hours from Paris--very picturesque--and we decided it would be a good way to end our trip to France, as Chuck’s nerve were shot after the Eiffel Tower debacle.  
        Or so we thought.
        That evening as we were getting ready for dinner, we noticed that Chuck was acting strange.
        “Where is he?” I asked Bob.
        “Gazing out the window.”
        Chuck was no sightseer, and if he had his nose pressed up against the panes--looking outside-it was for one reason only--he was either gazing at food or pretty girls.
        Sure enough--our room happened to be on the second floor, overlooking a small restaurant.  Couples were sitting outside at quaint tables, drinking wine and eating from what appeared to be silver buckets filled with some kind of black shell fish.  
        But Chuck wasn’t looking at the couples.
        One table was occupied with girls gathered around a number of these silver buckets.  
        “Chuck, what are you looking at?”
        Of course, Chuck never answers direct questions.  
        “I see,” I said, but of course I didn’t.
        Was he looking at the girls or the buckets?  Or both?  What was this rascally cat up to?
        Bob sauntered over.  “So what will it be?”
        We got one of the last tables, and by pure chance landed a waiter who spoke one word of English.
       “Mussels,” the garcon said by way of explanation.  
        We ordered a bucket of steamed mussels, and I have to admit that when they arrived, they smelled delicious.  There was only one problem.   
       “We need some kind of knife to open these mussels with,” I said to Bob.
       “Do you speak French?” Bob said, hoping to make a small point. 
        Just as I was about to say something smart back, Chuck sprang into action.  He hopped onto the table and scooped a mussel out of the bucket and somehow managed to crack it open using pure brute strength.  Then he took the shell from the broken mussel and using it as a tool, pried open the second mussel.
       “Wow,” I said.   “How did you learn to do that?”
       Chuck pointed.
       Sure enough, most of the smarter French people around us were doing the exact same thing, even the very chic French women.
       Then one of the girls at the table near us saw Chuck, and yeah, you guessed it, it took exactly two seconds for Chuck to hop over there and perform the same cat trick to their girlish amazement.  
       Chuck became the instant hero.
       “I just don’t know how he does it.”  
       “Yeah, it’s humiliating,” Bob said, “when you know you’re not even smarter than a cat.” 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chuck Gets Culture - He Sees the Mona Lisa

     Chuck has a reputation to uphold. On safari, he is a tough cat. And he likes to pretend he isn’t afraid of anything. Chuck has faced the hyena and the lion, the elephant and the giraffe, and although he may snuggle down a bit farther into my shoulder bag, he’s one fearless little soul.
    But I wanted Chuck to be well-rounded.
     So when we went to France, I thought it was time that Chuck got some culture. I had an idea. In Paris, Bob and I decided to spend half a day at the Louvre, and we made a list of what we wanted to see there. Of course, we didn’t mention this to Chuck. He doesn’t much care for statues and paintings and such. He only agreed to come to France because he wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, and he wanted to taste the mussels, which he’d heard from some of his cat friends were delicious.
     Getting Chuck into the Louvre would not be easy. The museum is crowded and has high security. And Chuck is smart and exceedingly observant. If we tried to sneak him in, he would realize what we were doing.
     We had to trick him.
     Our plan was simple. We told him he couldn’t go. We told him we didn’t think he was old enough or mature enough to see the Mona Lisa.
     In the hotel, he crinkled his nose at us. “Who’s that?”
     We told him about the painting. Not everything. Chuck has a limited attention span. Only the most salient details--that it was the most famous painting in the world, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, 500 years old, and now behind bullet-proof glass. And then we told him about her eyes, how they seemed to follow you wherever you were in the room.
     That did it. Chuck was in. He wanted to see Mona Lisa’s eyes.
     The next day we bought the tickets. Chuck was stuffed into my coat because I couldn’t bring a backpack into the museum. We headed straight for the painting.
     It wasn’t easy. Hundreds of tourists milled about in the tiny space where the painting was hung. And the worst part was--the painting was on a wall far away from where you were supposed to stand, behind a rope, and it was small.
     For such a famous painting, it should have been bigger.
First, Chuck had trouble seeing the painting because people rudely stood in front of us. Then he wanted to move along the rope and have her watch him with her eyes, but you couldn’t stand still, you had to continue to move down the line.
    But I could tell he was impressed.
    For one moment, he purred, which is Chuck’s way of showing total contentment.
     As we were leaving the Louvre, I had to ask him, “Well, what did you think? Was it worth it?”
     He licked his paw, then gave me a snarky half smile. “I supposed so, but can we go see the Eiffel Tower?”