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, August 25, 2013

Chuck is Spooked at Historic Bethlehem Hotel

So, yeah, we may as well admit it - Chuck, the rascal cat, is and always has been a big baby when it comes to haunted houses and rumors that houses may be haunted.  And that may have been the problem in retrospect.

Historic Bethlehem Hotel from across the street

Bob and I had a lovely weekend planned.  We were going to Bethlehem, PA and staying at the Historic Bethlehem Hotel, a beautiful historic hotel -- just the two of us -- when Chuck chimed in and said he wanted to go, too.

I had no problem with that.  Chuck is generally well-behaved and can be quite entertaining when he wants to be. This hotel, also, as it turned out was very pet friendly, and it did my heart good to see customers walking around with their dogs.

The only thing we didn't discuss--because I didn't think it would be an issue--was the fact that the hotel had the reputation for being haunted.  Now, I wasn't concerned about it because there had never been any reported incidents of foul play.  

Was the hotel haunted? Yes. But the ghosts were friendly.  So we arrived, and everything was absolutely purrfect.  For awhile. 

In the beginning I was less concerned about ghosts and more interested in the history of the hotel.  There was a Hall of History which tried to capture how the hotel had changed over the years and a local hotel historian in the lobby to answer any questions.

Just one of the many display cabinets with old photos, antique memorabilia etc.

I also noticed that tons of photos were hung in the bar area of all the famous people who'd stayed in the hotel.  

Famous musicians, politicians, actors, comedians stayed here

There were also photos of Bob Dylan and Ray Charles in the elevators--two more famous people--so I was feeling very special.

Bob Dylan - I was impressed!

Ray Charles - I was impressed!
It was true that when we first arrived, we were distracted. Not just by the history and the photos, but we'd arrived smack in the middle of Music Fest.  People were everywhere.  The main street outside the hotel was literally reduced to one lane in one direction.  We needed special directions from the concierge to get in and out of the hotel.  Thousands of people milled in the street at night.  

This was the scene outside my hotel window at 11:00 at night.

When we went down to the bar, hoping to get a drink, too many people were waiting in line, their hands clutching a gigantic over-sized souvenir mug that they could get filled for $5 as part of Music Fest.  

But nothing really happened until the next morning.  Because everyone partied so hard the night before, the next morning--early the next morning was quiet. Chuck wanted to walk around a little, and I figured what harm could it do.  He was fine and happy as we sauntered up and down the halls. 

We even snuck down to the lobby and all was peaceful.

We hopped on the elevator, and that's when I made the big mistake. I hit the button to our floor, or so I thought.  The elevator started to move.  When we stopped, I just assumed we were on the correct floor and without looking--I was more concerned about Chuck--we turned right and started walking.

Chuck took about ten steps and froze.  His ears went back as if he could hear something.  He looked forward, mesmerized as if he were watching a scene for his eyes only.  He started a soft meowing, and then he turned and bolted back to the elevator.  He jumped up and started pawing at the door.  

The poor kid looked frightened to death, and I wondered what it could be. 

I hit the elevator button, and the door opened immediately.

Chuck ran in, and I followed.  I'd wanted the eighth floor but we'd somehow landed on the ninth floor by mistake. Now it was all beginning to make sense. I'd read the literature on the hotel. I knew what they said about the ninth floor.

Had Chuck had an encounter with one of their ghosts? http://www.hotelbethlehem.com/hanuted.php

Chuck didn't say.  He only seemed very happy to get back to our floor and our room.  And when we were leaving and taking our last look at this beautiful place, Chuck didn't even turn around.  Instead he snuggled down for a nap.  

Truthfully, the kid looked worn out.  I guess it isn't everyday you go for a walk and have a close encounter with . . . well, you fill in the blanks.  

The Historic Bethlehem Hotel



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chuck Love, Love, Loves Drum Corp

Cadets from Allentown, PA

I first thought Chuck, my rascal cat,wanted to see a Drum Corp show because my husband was such a fan.  He’s been going for years, and I figured Chuck wanted to tag along and see what all the fuss was about. But I was wrong.

Imagine a football field filled with college aged kids, mostly music majors, who’ve tried out to be part of a corp--don’t call it a marching band or they’ll be grossly offended--and who willingly sacrifice their summer at the beach and hanging with friends to travel across country (okay, that would be cool) and spend grueling days under the sometimes brutal sun practicing for sometimes ten hours at a shot, day after day so they can perfect a routine and compete against other corps.  They practice marching to a musical ensemble--which can be anything from showtunes to classical to rock to sometimes some very edgy music. The intricate marching for the top-end corps means they never stop moving for the entire twelve minute routine. 

Some of the corp play instruments; some of the corp, the color guard, showcase “modern dance steps” across the field, acting out thematic skits to complement the music. At their best the musicians play their instrument and play a role in the elaborate stage production--leaping over barriers on the field, dropping down on the ground, disappearing into tents and changing costumes for effect . . . expect anything when you’re watching Drum Corp International. 

Bob and I had tickets for the Eastern State Championship--a two night affair held yearly in Allentown, Pennslyvania, where twenty-four corps compete over two nights during the first week in August every year. We had 50 yard line seats in row 17, high enough in the football stadium seats to clearly see the lovely maneuvering on the field. 

Chuck was impressed from the first moment.  

These were his favorites:

The Cadets of Allentown yea.org/cadets because the marching they did in their program Side by Side was fantastic, and even though they came in third place out of 24, Chuck felt they deserved FIRST PLACE because he believes, as I believe, that it is all about the marching.  Not the props or the costumes, but the marching, and the Cadets march like no one else!!  And, yeah, I know it's very traditional, but Drum Corp goes back forty years!

Cadets of Allentown

The Troopers troopersdrumcorp.org from Casper, Wyoming, took Chuck's breath away. Their show Magnificent 11 paid homage to a soldier who valiantly died in 1865 and who the city of Caspar, Wyoming is named after. For this corp, it isn't the marching, but the music . . . including the theme from the Magnificent 7 and Dances with Wolves that had Chuck purring softly.

Troopers from Casper, Wyoming

Chuck also loved the Phantom Regiment regiment.org from Rockford, Illinois, for one reason only.  Their program Triumphant Journey told the story of an innocent princess who must battle dark forces within her kingdom while she makes her way home through the forbidden forest. Chuck fell in love with the prop used for the wicked queen which he thought looked like giant cat. You decide.

Phantom Regiment from Rockford, Illinois

Finally, Chuck loved the Jersey Surf jerseysurf.org,  the only New Jersey corp that competed! He loved the funky costumes and the music that included Play that Funky Music and Respect by Otis Redding. Chuck was psyched when he heard that this corp won the Spirit of Disney award three years in a row.  They had the audience on their feet . . . and their paws. 

Jersey Surf, the one and only corp from New Jersey!

Chuck jumped up and wanted to dance.  We were sitting like sardines in the stands, but the kid didn't care! And no one seemed to mind a chunky cat swaying to the music.

Cats and Drum Corp are purr-fect together!!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Chuck Has Meet with Panda Bear

A few years ago I'd travelled to China, to the Beijing Zoo, and seen my first panda bear and made the big mistake of telling Chuck all about it.  Since then, Chuck had become obsessed with seeing the Panda up close and personal.  He wanted to look the Panda in the eye. 

“Are you thinking ‘show down’?” I asked him, as we were walking up  Connecticut Avenue toward the National Zoo.  

Chuck meowed in a non-committal way.  

“Because the Panda will be in an enclosure, behind a fence,” I explained.  “There is no way you are getting inside with him, Chuck.  You do understand that.”

Chuck has this weird way of grunting to show he is listening, but I’ve learned the hard way that this grunt does not always mean he’s agreeing with me.

“Tell me you agree with what I’m saying,” I repeated more firmly.  “No funny business.”

But Chuck didn’t answer.

I peered inside my shoulder bag and Chuck stared back.

By this time, we were ready to cross the street.  I rolled my eyes at Bob, frustrated, anticipating that Chuck might have something planned I was not going to like.  You never know with a cat named Chuck.

We proceeded toward the Panda exhibit, and, of course, it was crowded.  I located an area  away from where most people were gathered so Chuck could protrude his head out and not attract attention.  We scanned the exhibit area in search of the Panda bear.  

Suddenly, from where he'e been quietly sitting he stood up, this massive black and white bear, and began to lumber forward.  Towards where we were standing.  Impressive looking.  

From my vantage point, it seemed as if he had spotted Chuck and was making a beeline toward him to get a closer look.  He probably didn’t see too many cats visiting the exhibit.  

Chuck seemed just as eager to see the Panda.  Wiggling, he seemed determined to break free of my shoulder bag.  

“No way,” I said.

But Chuck only struggled harder to get out as the Panda bear lumbered closer and closer.
I snuck a peek at my husband who shrugged his shoulders.

“Do you think so?”

“Might as well.  Give the kid a thrill.”

I opened up my bag and out hopped Chuck.  He landed on the ground with a thud which clearly didn’t phase him.  He jumped sideways about three feet, then leapt over the fence and into the exhibit area, heading straight toward the Panda bear.

Now Chuck is no light weight.  At our last visit to the Vet he clocked in at fifteen pounds.  So when he walks, he lumbers forward, his front paws stretched out in front of him.  Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  Boom.  Closer and closer.  

And the Panda bear seemed to be as equally determined to get to Chuck.  

OMG.  It hit me then as the gap closed between them that what if this was not destined to be a friendly encounter.  What if that bear decided to eat Chuck for lunch?  He could quite easily swipe Chuck up with one paw . . . and . . .

I grabbed hold of my husband’s arm and was about to issue a warning when something magical happened.

Both of them stopped about a foot from each other. 

They appraised each other.

Then Chuck eagerly hopped alongside of the Panda Bear and gosh darn it, POSED.

“What the hell is that cat doing?” I whispered to my husband.

“He wants you to take his picture.”

With my heart thumping, I snapped a photo.

“Chuck, get back here now,” I hissed. 
Without another MEOW, he hopped back over the fence and into my shoulder bag.  The next thing I knew, he was fast asleep.  Exhausted.  

Crazy cat.  



Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chuck Invades Space Capsule at Smithsonian

One of the iconic sights of Washington, D.C.

I always blog about how Chuck is such a rascal and our trip to Washington, D.C. a while back was a perfect example of Chuck the rascal cat in action.  We arrived by train from New Jersey, and Chuck immediately meowed that he wanted to go to the Smithsonian Institute to see the space capsule.  You know,  the one that landed on the moon.  This was supposedly a secret wish he’d had ever since he’d been a kitten and saw some program on TV about the capsule.
Go figure!
So off we went on a beautiful February day, a Friday, to be exact, in the later afternoon, when luckily the tourist traffic was at a minimum.  Which was a critically important point because frankly, cats are not allowed inside the Smithsonian Museum, and it would take quite a bit of fancy maneuvering to get Chuck out of my backpack without being seen so he could sniff around the capsule and get an eyeful to his heart’s content if even a few people were milling about.
When we arrived at the Smithsonian, we made a beeline for the capsule which was on the first floor, but unfortunately, it was right in the middle of everything, in clear view of about four guides who manned the front desk.  We strategized.  Bob volunteered to go to the desk and act as a distraction while I wandered innocently over to the capsule.  My plan was simple.  I would stand on the back side of the capsule, wait until I was relatively alone, and then let Chuck sneak out and get a peak of the capsule.

Just one of the many vintage planes hanging from the ceiling
Of course, complications arose immediately because Chuck let it be known that he didn’t just want to see the capsule, he wanted to climb inside of it and pretend he was an astronaut flying in space.  The first cat astronaut, which would make Chuck a “castronaut.”   New word, new concept.

Chuck was hung up on the space capsule; I was also interested in the space suit!
More complications.  Oh, yes, we got Chuck inside the capsule.  Don’t ask me how many laws I broke to do that, but . . . we discovered almost immediately that Chuck was claustrophobic.  That capsule is tiny inside.  I mean really tiny.  It is hard to imagine how a human man fit inside there.  And Chuck, well, we call him Chucky Cheese behind his back.
He used to be a cute, adorable kitten.  Now he’s a cute, adorable fat cat.
But, still, Chuck is tough.  He insisted on rolling around inside the capsule as if he was weightless, which he is not!

This is where Chuck wanted to be!
Some imagination that cat has!
Then catastrophe struck.  I was standing there, my eyes glued to the interior of the capsule watching Chuck roll around when I heard, “Psst.” I whirled around in time to see Bob signaling towards a guide who was walking towards us.  With a frown on his face.  Trouble.
At the same time, I could hear Chuck “meowing” from inside, totally lost in the moment, enjoying his fantasy inside the capsule.
I knocked furiously on the capsule window.  “Niksay.  Niksay,” which was our code word for “Cease and Desist.”
Immediately the meowing stopped, and for one tense moment my life flashed before my eyes. What would happen if Chuck was caught inside the capsule? Would he be arrested? Put on trial? Taken away, never to be seen again? I tried to imagine life without Chuck.
But then what I would call a miracle happened.
Guide #1 who was hell bent and coming our way was intercepted.  By another guide.  There was a problem with the lunar module display case and now Guide #1 had to go and check it out.  
I whisked around, opened the capsule, pulled out Chuck and shoved the startled “castronaut” into my backpack.

The cool space vehicle is also part of the exhibit!

The next day we returned to the Smithsonian Institute, but we’d decided it was best that Chuck remain at the hotel.  We ordered in breakfast.  There was a balcony.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Chuck was resting comfortably.  Dreaming, no doubt, of becoming famous.
Chuck Glenn.  Or  Chuck Armstrong.  Or Chuck Lovell . . .