18 July 2018

A Launch Delayed

Today is the day I will finish correcting the proof of my latest book. So that I am not disturbed during the day, my mother has taken it upon herself to take my car to be serviced. However, she soon returned to the house to announce, "Your car won't start for me."

"The it probably won't start for me either."

"But you drive it, so you probably do something automatically without thinking that I don't know about."

The battery had been put back in my car a couple of days earlier after being up on blocks for three years. I pointed this out as I rose from my desk. "I'll see what I can do." I got into the car and I turned the ignition key; my car started right up.

"What did you do?"

"I turned the key."

"So did I."

"Perhaps not enough."

I returned to my room to resume work. My mother was back a few minutes later. "I can't release the hand brake."

"This is like 'Fawlty Towers.' Shall I beat the car with a shrub?"

"That's it! Put a bit of stick about!" That was from a different BBC series entirely. I marched out to my car once again.

"Have you made any progress on your book today?"

"Not in the last fifteen minutes!"

I seated myself in my car and released the hand brake.

"How did you do that?"

"I pushed the button."

"So did I."

"Perhaps not enough."

Leaving nothing to chance, I patiently remained outside to watch my mother slowly back my car our of its parking space and eventually drive away. It was now 8:25am. Whatever the rest of the day may have in store fills me with breathless anticipation.

She isn't even from Barcelona.


13 July 2018

Second Chance

I first saw Beka at a pet supply store in Strawberry in mid-March, about six weeks after we arrived in Sausalito. The Tongilava Pack had killed my oldest cat Dylan as soon as I had put him in my room with them. 'Ono had disappeared a couple of days later. I was still grieving for Dylan, my old hunting buddy, when I saw Beka. She had the same gray tabby pattern on the top of her head as Dylan and his brother Rhade, which brought me to tears. She was still in the store a couple of weeks later when I stopped by for more supplies. It was then that I was told that she was being sponsored at the store by a second-chance, no-kill animal shelter. Something else I had seen somewhere earlier that day had read "second chance," I forget what. I had a good, long cry in the car. I came home and told my mother about Beka. Initially she had been less than enthusiastic about my bringing four dogs and three cats into her house, but now she asked me if I wanted to bring Beka home. I was still shocked at how the Tongilava Pack had turned on Dylan, but I attributed that to their being stressed from the 24-hour trip and ending up in a strange place, and with 'Ono gone, Haisheng was now the only cat. Haisheng loved the dogs, especially Bette and Denzel, whom she would cuddle with and sometimes bathe, but that wasn't the same thing; she didn't have another cat to bather her. My mother said that Beka would be her early birthday present to me, so we drove to the store and brought Beka home.

After the experience of 'Ono disappearing, I determined to keep Beka in my room for several weeks to be sure that she knew that it was her new home. I allowed Haisheng to come and go as she pleased, but she never stayed out for more than a few minutes at a time. In May I learned that 'Ono was very much alive and showing up on a neighbor's security camera, and by the end of the month I trapped her. Again, I wanted to keep 'Ono in my room for several weeks before allowing her out again, so in time I decided that the Fourth of July would be Beka's and 'Ono's Independence Day.

During her eight days of freedom, Beka meowed loudly and trailed behind me every morning as I took the Tongilava pack to the backyard. I always closed the gate behind me, of course, before letting the pack off their leashes, and this also stopped Beka from following me into the yard. Yesterday, on the ninth day, Beka hopped the fence to bypass the gate, and too young, too trusting, she dropped down into the yard to follow me. There was no nearby cover for her, she was in the open and exposed. One of the dogs spooked her, she ran, and the pack gave chase. In seconds, Beka was fatally wounded, and she died with me standing over her at the hospital less than two hours later.
As I write this, Beka is on my bed. The dogs and cats sniff her cold, motionless body from time to time. We usually have a party in the morning; I hand-feed them treats as I call them by name before I let them out for the day. There is no party this morning. The dogs are subdued. Bette sits next to Beka, head hung down, looking away from me. They know that Beka is dead, they remember that they attacked her, and they sense that I am sad. How they correlate these facts in their wolf brains, I can only speculate. It is time to let them out and to greet the new day.

23 May 2018

A Cat's Long, Strange Trip Across the Pacific

'Ono Fainga'a was born in May 2015 in a feral cat colony in the Fanga district of Nuku'alofa, the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. 'Ono is the number six in the Tongan language, as she was the sixth cat to be associated with the Fainga'a family.

'Ono Fainga'a

Her close relative Nima (number five) had been removed from the same colony and given to the Fainga'a home in the Longolongo district of Nuku'alofa, and In July 2015 'Ono was removed from the colony with the intention of reuniting her with Nima in Longolongo; however, she ended up staying in the Tongilalva house in Fanga with two other cats and four dogs.

The Tongilava Pack: Denzel, Jadzia, Roxanne, and Bette

'Ono, Haisheng, and Dylan

All of these cats and dogs were flown to San Francisco on 1 February 2018, but three days later 'Ono escaped from her new residence in Sausalito. Weeks went by, and people assumed that a coyote had caught her. Then on 23 April there was a pile of feathers on the front doorstep. Could it be a message from 'Ono? She was known to be an excellent bird hunter in Tonga, and since dogs breed out of control and roam freely there, 'Ono had learned to avoid them, so it was possible that she had evaded the coyotes of Marin for three months. On 6 May a neighbor across the street reported that one of her security cameras had imaged a cat matching her description during the night: a gray cat with a white-tipped tail.

The Cat Owns the Night

The quest to bring 'Ono home began. On 8 May Marin Friends of Ferals provided a humane trap and a motion-activated camera. The camera imaged her near the trap on 11 May and on several nights thereafter, but then raccoons began visiting the trap, and within a few days a raccoon was caught in it. In the early morning hours of 18 May 'Ono ventured halfway into the trap for the first time. A raccoon was caught again that night.

Rocky Raccoon

'Ono returned to the trap about an hour after nightfall on 20 May. The food was now positioned deep inside it, but not past the trigger plate. She sniffed around for awhile and left. Finally, a little while after 01:00 hours on 21 May she went all of the way into trap for the first time. She entered the trap three more times during the next four hours. It was now time to position the food where 'Ono would spring the trap. Just has she had done the night before, 'Ono came to the trap a little more than an hour after full darkness and was promptly trapped at 22:03 hours. After 106 days of enjoying the night life of Hurricane Gulch, 'Ono Fainga'a was home.

'Ono Grounded After Being Out Way Past Curfew

01 December 2017

How Marilyn and I Joined Mensa

American Mensa just sent me an email message inviting me to renew our lapsed membership, and I figured, what the hell. As I filled in the required information, I was reminded of how we joined Mensa in the first place.

Marilyn had met a Mensa member while attending a technical conference in San Diego sponsored by the US Navy. She was employed by the China Lake Naval Weapons Center at Ridgecrest, near Mojave and Edwards. A few weeks after the conference, the Mensa member informed Marilyn that Mensa was conducting an entrance exam at Cerro Coso Community College the upcoming Saturday. That was 430 miles from where we lived in Petaluma, a nearly seven-hour drive under favorable conditions. I am quite certain that we could have found a much closer exam site had we really cared to look into it, but for us it was another excuse to be road warriors.

I put in a full day’s work in San Francisco, getting up before dawn to catch the commute bus, returning to Petaluma late that afternoon. Rather than immediate depart for Ridgecrest through Friday evening traffic, we messed around at the Petaluma Factory Outlets to do some gratuitous shopping, then hit the road in earnest in fading light. We stopped for a midnight meal somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley, and later we stopped for coffee, and we stopped for coffee, and we stopped for coffee… yeah, one of those trips. We reached Ridgecrest at first light. We crashed for a couple of hours in our host’s spare room, never really getting to sleep after being wired from doing Radar Love all frakking night. Then we grabbed a couple of breakfast burritos and a couple of large cups of orange juice at a drive-thru (Southern California spelling), arrive in the exam room, breakfasts in hand. I can only imagine how burned-out we both looked.

I smiled to the examination staff, “You’re not exactly catching us at our best.”

Marilyn nodded, “That much is certain.”

A few weeks later, we recounted this story to the bartender at Jack’s Place on Petaluma Boulevard North. “You guys don’t sound very smart to me!”

“It was perfectly logical,” I explained. “If we failed the exam, it left open the very real possibility that we might have passed had we only had a good night’s sleep. It was a no-lose scenario. And, by the way, we both passed.”

Yes, as a matter of fact, we did pass the Mensa exam in our sleep… or nearly so.

Habeas Corpus

We were all set to bury Marilyn Rebecca Dudley this morning, the thirteenth day since her passing. That's not going to happen.

I still have no death certificate, nor do I have the medical examiner's report.

Early Monday afternoon, 27 November the police came by to tell me that I could sign the transfer of custody document at the hospital in town, a 25-minute drive over a bumpy road. When we got to the place they were supposed to be at the hospital, there was no one to be found. We waited an hour, while someone phoned someone who phoned someone... then I pulled the plug and went back to Holonga.

On Thursday morning, 30 November, the local head of police came by to deliver a document which my friend Paino needed to pick up a load of sand for the grave site from a government supplier. He said that that the fee for storing Marilyn's body at the hospital morgue would be paid for by the police.

Paino and his wife Ngame finally tracked down around 10pm Friday night, 1 December, a document affirming death by natural causes. It was dated 27 November, and apparently this is a document I should have received on Monday when we were waiting to no avail in the hospital.

Earlier on Friday evening a morgue official told Paino and Ngame that they wanted $1,000 TOP for storing the body since Monday. Apparently, the police paid for storage up to the time the document was issued, which I did not see until 10:30pm on Friday. Paino told me that the morgue charges $100 TOP per day for deceased Tongans and $200 TOP per day for deceased foreigners. Tongan Rule #1: Gouge the palangi; they always have money. So, the morgue is demanding $200 TOP per day for the five days during which I could not move the body because someone couldn't do his job and hand me the document on 27 November.

I told Paino and Ngame to tell them that I would pay for half a day, from 11pm Friday night until 11am Saturday morning, 2 December, by which time we would take custody of the body and remove it from the morgue, at the $100 TOP rate for a total of $50 TOP, otherwise they should thank the morgue officials very much, and tell them that they were welcome to dispose of the body at their convenience. As "My Cousin Vinny" said, that's what we call a counteroffer. It was a lowball but justifiable opening position which I knew would insult them. They deserve to be insulted. Paino and Ngame delivered my message to a morgue official at her home around midnight. I have been given to understand that she was "furious."

So, no funeral today, Saturday, 2 December. Instead, I will work to compile a timeline of events, witnesses thereto, and documents in preparation of a legal case. Meanwhile, because Monday, 4 December, is a government holiday, Sitaleki Fainga’a, our neighbor from when Marilyn and I lived in Longolongo, and who has been a driver for Speakers of the Legislative Assembly for more than twenty years, plans to talk to someone at the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, 5 December. I will have the timeline prepared for him so that he can explain clearly what has been happening. Sitaleki’s meeting at the Foreign Ministry is likely to be the first in a series of moves along that particular path. Transactions of this kind are based on personal connections. To get what one wants in Tonga, one needs to know someone who knows someone.

One move which I am prepared to make if necessary is lodge a complaint with the US Embassy in nearby Fiji (there is no US diplomatic mission in Tonga).

To some observers it may appear that a shabby game is being played over Marilyn’s corpse, but in my view, this is a matter of fairness and justice. Extortion abetted by incompetence cannot be tolerated. It is exactly the kind of fight which Marilyn relished. I have no doubt that if she is watching from Heaven, she is cheering me on. This is what she and I do: we fight for people's rights, no less our own. Although Marilyn has passed to another dimension of existence, we still fight together.

This is going to take time to play out, possibly even several weeks. But as Adlai Stevenson told Soviet representative in the United Nations Security Council during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, “I am prepared to wait until Hell freezes over.”