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.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chuck Meets Santa

I love Christmas. The singing of carols, the wrapping of presents, the decorations, the hustle and bustle in the stores, the back and forth texting with all my sisters and brothers trying to sort out the menu on Christmas day--all of it.

But this year, as the days ticked by, I dreaded the coming of Christmas day--knowing that Santa wouldn’t have arrived and my Chuck would be disappointed. The man in the red suit wouldn’t have slid down our chimney. Chuck’s present wouldn’t have been deposited underneath the Christmas tree. Chuckie wouldn’t have experienced that moment that all kids love--when they could rip the wrapping off their present and get to the good stuff.

Yes, dread sat on my chest like a hundred pound gorilla.

Chuck was hoping for a box full of cat treats--Temptations--to be exact.

Every night Bob said, “Tell the kid the truth.”

But I couldn’t.

Maybe I wanted to believe that somehow Santa would arrive. That somehow Chuck’s faith in Santa would make it happen.

Crazy right?

And then Christmas Eve was upon us, and Chuck could hardly contain his excitement, confident that Santa was on his way.

I went to bed that night with a heavy heart.

Chuck camped out underneath the tree, determined to stay awake and wait for Santa to arrive with his present.

I tossed and turned in bed, but finally nodded off.

The next morning--Christmas morning--I awoke at the crack of dawn, anxious to see how Chuck was handling his disappointment. I crept down the stairs and into the great room where we have our tree. Chuck was fast asleep, sprawled on top of a large box. Strange, I thought, there weren’t any presents left unopened under the tree last night. We had already opened all of them.

Bob was behind me. “Did you put a present there for Chuck?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“I thought you did.”

I tiptoed across the room toward the tree. The wrapping paper didn’t look familiar. Crouching, I stared at the gift tag on the present. In bold letters, someone had printed “Chuck”.

At that very moment, Chuck opened one eye.

“Merry Christmas, Chuckie.” And then I studied him closely. He didn’t look sad or depressed. Or disappointed.

Dare I say it?

“Is that box for you?”

Chuck didn’t answer, but it took him less than a minute to unwrap the present and open the box. Well, there was no doubt this box was from Santa. The box was filled with bags of Temptations. Chuckie’s favorite treat.

Was it possible?

I turned to Bob.

He shrugged.

I mouthed “Santa”?

“Who else?” he said.

“So, Chuckie, you actually got a chance to meet Santa. What did you think? Did he say anything to you? Did you see the reindeer?”

But the Chuckster wasn’t listening. He was too busy trying to get one of the bags of treats open. After all, the kid was hungry. And how could he resist all those bags of Temptations?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chuck Lies In Wait for Santa

“T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house . . .”

I made a big mistake in reading Chuck that poem.

When he heard the tale of how Santa makes the rounds of houses and doles out goodies to good little boys and girls and CATS, of course, he became determined to wait, under our Christmas tree, for Santa’s arrival. Convinced that Santa’s gift to him was going to be, well, STUPENDOUS.

After all, wasn’t he the most wonderful cat in the whole wide world?

I hated to break Chuckie’s bubble, as they say.

I hated to tell the Chuckster the truth that Santa and giving gifts was more of an idea--a fantasy--a symbol of how we should all be generous--not just during the holiday season but all the time. Well, you get the picture.

Frankly, for as smart as Chuck is, I couldn’t quite believe that he believed that some guy would be stuffing himself down our chimney and delivering gifts on Christmas Eve.

Well, Chuck, of course, didn’t believe that part. He had already seen through that ruse and realized that Santa started out from the North Pole on December 1. After all, the whole wide world is a big place and those reindeer can travel only so far on any given evening.

So, imagine my Chuck, with Ella--his twin sister by his side--snuggled under the Christmas tree, night after night, waiting for Santa to arrive. Imagine him waiting in breathless anticipation for the man in the red suit with the long white beard.

“What are we going to do?” I asked my husband, confident that Santa wasn’t going to arrive on schedule, as the belly boy believed.

“Tell him the truth.”

“I can’t do that.”

“He’s going to find out sooner or later.”

Was there some way to avoid the inevitable?

I decided to have a heart to heart with Chuckie. I took him upstairs to my writing room. He often sits on my lap while I’m working.

“Chuck, the holiday season isn’t all about presents. It’s about being thankful for what you already have.”

The kid eyed me suspiciously.

“For example, when you were born, you were homeless. But you were lucky to find a home with us. You and Ella. And your two brothers were also adopted. And now you live in a nice house and . . .”

The squirming started. When Chuck is bored, he begins to squirm. Big time.

I decided to try another tact, realizing there was no way that I could tell the truth about Santa or the lack of his physical existence in this modern world.

“The truth is, Chuck, you will never see Santa. He only arrives when you are fast asleep. I’ve known kids to try to stay awake, but they can’t.”

He jumped off my lap then and scooted down the stairs.

I followed.

There he sat vigil underneath the Christmas tree.

“Chuck, that’s what I call being too stubborn for your own darned good--”

“Leave him alone,” my husband said. “Maybe Santa is coming after all.”

I shot my husband one of my famous looks of exasperation.

My Chuckie wanted to meet Santa. See Santa with his own two eyes. How the heck was I going to arrange that?

Years ago one of my brothers dressed up as Santa, but there was no way he was sliding down our chimney. And not for a cat!

I did not want to see the kid disappointed.

Talk about pressure.

“Well, you have one week to come up with a fake Santa that will fool your cat. One week. One week before Chuck learns there is no Santa . . .”


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chuck Likes Flamingos and the Color Pink

It may be hard to believe that a cat likes movies, but it’s true. No, not hom e movies, but we’re talking Hollywood big, blockbuster-type movies. Action movies. And if there is an animal or two or three or four, well, the more--the better. Which may explain why the Chuckster would pick Out of Africa as one of his favorite sit you down and eat a snack while you are watching type movie.

He loved to see those lions on the screen--his ancestors, of course.

But, if the truth be told, nothing beat those flamingos--all gathered in a group on the shore--so much pink . . .

On safari in Kenya, when Bob and I had the chance to visit some of the places where Out of Africa was filmed, Chuck couldn’t wait until we got to Lake Nakuru National Park, which is a sanctuary, a very famous one, for the flamingo. Not that Chuck knew anything about that. All he knew was that he was going to see thousands of pink birds, and he liked the color pink.

Who knew?

When I write thousands, I’m not exaggerating. There are times when Lake Nakuru hosts close to a million flamingos.

We arrived by safari vehicle in the park and immediately noticed two large rhinoceros who were sunbathing not one hundred feet away from the flamingos, who were spread out along the shoreline, very busy, it seemed to me, in search of lunch.

What attracts the flamingos to Lake Nakuru is the shallow water and the abundance of algae that grows along the shore. Once again, it is all about food.

But having two rhino so close was not good. Well, I suppose, it could have been worse considering that the park has offered 25 black rhino and 70 white rhino a home there.

But still.

Chuckie didn’t seem to notice. He was staring, quite mesmerized, at the flamingo. All that pink.

And you guessed it.

Chuck does not like to stay put when there is action to be had.

Before I could issue my standard warning, he jumped out of my backpack and was already scampering toward the shoreline--due to pass one of the rhino, who looked to be snoozing.

But who knows when a rhino is really snoozing?

I certainly didn’t.

Close to panicking, I was determined to maintain my cool.

Then I spotted a straggly creature slinking along the shoreline, heading in the same direction as my Chuckie.

“OMG. That looks just like a . . .”

Before I had a chance to say the word, Bob, my ever loyal and observant husband, had noticed the danger. “Those darned hyena are everywhere.”

“Do hyenas eat flamingos?” I asked.

He frowned because there was an even greater problem.

“Or cats,” I added.

“Maybe the Chuckster will blend in.”

It was a terrible joke. Chuckie is beige and white, not pink. He had fur, not feathers. And from the hyenas’s point of view, a much tastier snack.

And it was windy. By now the flamingos had spotted that hyena and were squawking and flapping their wings, and desperately clearing a path away from him.

All the clatter woke the snoozing rhino who began to lumber toward the hyena OR was he moving toward my cat?

The hyena spotted the rhino and made a quick detour to the other side of the shore, but Chuckie didn’t seem to notice the looming rhino.

Entranced by all that pink, Chuck moved closer and closer to the flamingo as the rhino moved closer and closer to Chuck.

Something had to give.

I was just about to run forward when in one burst of panic, the flamingo--all in unison--took off--squawking and flapping their wings.

Startled, Chuck stepped back.

But more importantly, the rhino lost interest. Casually, or so it seemed to me, he retraced his steps back to the same spot and took up sunbathing again.

Chuck was safe.

I heaved a sigh of relief.

Those darned flamingos.

That darn cat.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chuck Wrangles with the Antique Mailbox

The big question I’ve been asking myself lately is—do cats even belong in hotels—and I mean, big, fancy, knock your socks off—hotels??

Our decision to stay for a few nights in Boston necessitated that we do our research. We wanted an old hotel, a hotel with character, a hotel that had a history, one that was located on or close by to the Freedom Trail so that we could get our fill of history while we were there.

Hotel X fit the criteria. Grand and luxurious, nicknamed the old Gray Lady, it even had obnoxiously small bathrooms that dated back to the turn of the century so we could feel duly tortured while we admired the beauty around us.

Not that Chuckie cared about the bathrooms.

He is one social cat.

And while we were there, out hotel was hosting some kind of convention—what seemed like a trillion college-aged students converged there for some kind of competition—which meant HALF a trillion beautiful girls.

Now that is something Chuckie would notice.

And that is how the entire sordid mess with the antique mailbox thing happened.

The Chuckster, who sometimes seems incapable of minding his own feline business, overheard a bunch of girls admiring one of the many antique mailboxes they have in the hotel lobby.

“Do you think they still work?” one of the girls asked.

“Do you mean—can you post a letter?” her friend inquired.

“A real letter?” a third girl chimed in.

“What did you think I meant—an email?”

They laughed.

Now Chuck was listening in, and as he was stationed at an adjacent table near the mailbox in question, I saw him dart a glance at the mailbox, as if he, too, were wondering whether it was for real or for show.

And then it happened--the moment when regular Chuck turned into Hero Chuck.

He hopped down onto the floor, and without a bye your leave, scampered over to the mailbox and leapt up. His front paws somehow managed to grab hold of the opening where you would put the letters in.

I watched in horror as he stuck his sniffing nose into the opening. His entire head and face disappeared as I supposed he was investigating whether there were any real letters in there.

All I could think of was that movie As Good As It Gets when Jack Nicholson throws Greg Kinnear’s dog down the garbage disposal.

Would that be the eventual fate of my Chuck? Would he somehow mysteriously slide himself down the antique mailbox slot?

Then I realized CHUCK WAS STUCK!

In the antique mailbox.

The girls realized it, too.

Suddenly the four of us were gathered around trying to wrestle the poor meowing belly boy out from the narrow mail slot.

We finally unstuck him, and Chuck got his fair share of kisses and hugs from the very grateful co-eds, who were amazed that a “hero-cat" was even in the hotel lobby.

That near tragic misadventure didn’t deter us from inquiring from one of the bellboys, “Do these mailboxes really work?”

“Yes, they do. Is that a CAT?”

Needless to say, the Chuckster spent the rest of the day lounging in our room, safe from prying eyes, for, even though he wouldn’t admit it, the “belly boy” was no match for the unusually narrow slot of the antique mailbox!