Please, Cheese

Cheese in 2009, at home in Austin.

Cheese is sick. His eyes and nose are snotty, he stopped eating a few days ago — a big deal since he jumps up on the table after dinner every night to try and find a stray piece of salmon, and is known to squeeze in to share beverages with whipped cream. Today he’s barely moved from a single position. The vet (who happens to be the great-nephew of Sam Moon of those Dallas discount stores), says it’s probably pneumonia but he can’t rule out organ failure because Cheese is 15 years old.

Cheese is not my most unusual cat (that would be Fitz), or my most affectionate cat (that would be Caesar). Cheese is my husband’s cat, and he has tolerated — without fully accepting — me living with him for the better part of his life.

I am Cheese’s stepmom. Despite Matt Stiles’ preference for grey tabbies, his ex-girlfriend picked him out from the Dallas SPCA in 2003 because she liked Cheese’s black-and-white tuxedo look. His asshole tendencies showed even when he was a kitten, but Matty and Cheese became best buds. When I met Cheese a year later, he instantly gave me side-eye that has lasted for FOURTEEN YEARS.

Cheese with Miguel, a kitten we fostered for a few weeks.

Note: For a couple of weeks in the summer of 2004 I tried to win Cheese over because I was at Matty’s apartment a lot when he was at work. This resulted in Cheese taking approximately two (2) naps on my legs which amounts to our peak affection level. After that, I moved to South Carolina, got Caesar and Fitz, and only saw Cheese every few weeks during visits back to Texas.

Eventually Cheese reluctantly moved in with me in Austin. He and Caesar became brothers and united quickly. We lived together in Austin, then Washington, then Seoul. In Washington the boys would use Saidee‘s doggy door to sneak out at night, and one morning at dawn when I was sitting on the front porch waiting for my buddy Wes to show up for a run, I caught Cheese and Caesar stroll down the sidewalk together, jump the fence in our yard and then head back into the house. Who knows what those two were up to all night. I sincerely hope they led the underground rebellion in the otherwise staid DC cat world.

He’s always had a heart murmur. His tummy isn’t too tough. The vet reports his weight is down more than a pound. Today he’s letting me pick him up, which he almost never, ever lets anyone do. He probably still doesn’t consider me his mom and I mean, I get it. Think about it from his point of view: He was living large with his road dawg, Stiles, doing the single cat sidekick thing until some rebound girl showed up and stubbornly never left, adding extra cats, a beagle and eventually three (3) small humans to his world. It’s not cool!

He still merely tolerates me but I love him deeply and want so much for him to pull through this.

Cone of Shame and Other Blunders

Caesar’s in a cone of shame for a week. But I should be wearing it.

Caesar is in a cone because of my neglect. I am in charge of trimming the kitties fingernails and I have done so on the regular, for the past 13 years, in which our cat ownership has ranged from two to, at one point, five cats (one was a foster kitten, Miguel, for whom we found a “forever home.”) After Luna was born and I had to go back to work, I guess I just forgot about Caesar’s nails and yesterday when I tried to trim them, I discovered that several of them were ingrown, that is, they got so long that they GREW INTO his paw pads. Needless to say, I felt so horrible that I flipped out. The vet said we could come in right away, but I was cycling through crippling guilt so Matty had to be the one to take Caesar and receive the poor parenting lecture, which was then relayed to me. Caesar seems to be okay now and mainly relieved that someone finally remembered him.


Eddie Rodriguez, Memorable Running Buddy

Speaking of kittens, I’ve been really missing my old Austin running buddy, Eddie, lately. We used to have these rather insane experiences because we trained at five in the morning and you see some weird stuff at twilight. The scariest incident was catching a glimpse of a NUTRIA on Lavaca Street in downtown Austin and then watching it disappear down a sewer. That image still haunts me. Or there was the time we were speeding up the stairs of a bridge over Town Lake (I’m gonna keep calling it Town Lake, mmmkay?) and we were confronted with giant human feces on the steps. It was really, shockingly large. I suppose it could have come from a mastiff or something, but Eddie and I are convinced that dump was of the human variety.

Our most insane running adventure was the time we were on one of our final training runs before the San Antonio marathon and had to log 20 miles. Nothing memorable happened until we had only four miles to go and we heard the distinct sound of kittens crying from inside some bushes. We stopped to see what was going on, found kittens clearly in distress and no sign of a momma cat, so we somehow lured the kittens to us and withstood clawing to pick them up. We then held them against our bodies — he had two, I had one — and ran, bouncing up and down, WITH CLAWING KITTENS IN OUR ARMS for three miles. I took them home, we called Austin Pets Alive and got them fostered until they were adopted. That was dramatic, man.

I haven’t been to Austin since those four hours I stopped there for Hannah’s baby shower, so when I get back there again, Eddie and I are going on a reunion run for the ages. I hope we do not see nutria.


No Alarms (and No Surprises) Please

OK Computer turned 20. I am really enjoying all the tributes. The New York Times breakdown is the most thorough, but I also liked that NPR dug into its archives for the interview with Radiohead when it came out. During my quarterly existential dread, I play ‘No Surprises‘ in a loop and that’s how spouse Stiles knows that it’s time for my quarterly existential dread. I THINK I’m a cheerful person, but then again, my favorite song is ‘No Surprises’ so maybe I’m actually catatonic. “This is my final fit…”

Today Isabel broke our Obama bobblehead, which I feel like is a really sad metaphor. She ran around the house yelling, “BROKEN, BROKEN!” at the top of her lungs.

Cheese, The

We have a male cat named Cheese, one of two remaining cats in the family. Typically at the vet you register your pets with their given names and their humans’ last names. For example, our beagle was Saidee Hu. But instead of registering Cheese as “Cheese Hu-Stiles,” my husband Matty insisted registering him as “The Cheese.” This resulted in Cheese’s official file listing the cat as “CHEESE, THE.” That’s the only way you’ll find his records folder.

Happy 15th Birthday, Saidee

My momma's beagle.
My momma’s beagle.

For all my Texas pride, Saidee’s the only member of the Hu family that is a living, breathing Texas native. She was born in Grand Prairie, the runt of the litter. I remember her dog father being a show dog named “Copper Mountain Cody” — all the official AKC show dogs in her lineage were named by the street they called home.

I was a junior in high school at the time and, knowing I’d be leaving home for college the next year, scoured the classifieds to find a puppy daughter for my dog-loving mom. We hadn’t had a dog in our house since the unfortunate and painful hit-and-run death of my cocker spaniel, when I was 12.

My best friend Erin helped me choose Saidee — we drove out to Grand Prairie in my red Jeep Cherokee and visited the litter, which included three boisterous boys and one girl who seemed to struggle getting to feed as much as her brothers. She also had more brown in her coloring and an identifiable spot, so I picked her out and called dibs until she was old enough to come home. I snuck her into the house in my coat pocket — it was Christmas-time, 15 years ago — and presented her to my mom later that night.

We all fell in love. Saidee lived with my parents until my mom was transferred abroad, at which point she lived with my brother Roger and his then-girlfriend Tracy, in Tucson. She moved in with me and Matty in 2007 and has been with us ever since. In her 15 years, she’s lived in four states, survived a cancer scare, ran away and returned at least five times*, moved across the country by plane and car half a dozen times, explored the nation’s monuments, trekked through the Appalachian mountains, eaten everything that she shouldn’t have, put up with a total of four cats and now, a toddler.

When I got Saidee, I was a girl. Now I have a little girl of my own. We truly grew up together. I don’t mean this to diminish parenting a human in any way, but so much of my confidence as a momma came from learning how to really relate with Saidee and meet her needs over these past 15 years.

Now that she’s 15, she spends most of her days sleeping, has gone deaf in both her ears and is vision impaired, too. But she’s still spirited and spry — getting hyper and running around in circles when we come home, rolling around on her back for belly rubs, tirelessly rearranging herself in bed in order to snag the perfect spot, which somehow always seems to take up a lot more space than her 23 lb body would let on.

Happy Birthday, Saidee. I love you.

*In the most ridiculous Saidee runaway story, Saidee ran away to the home of another Asian-American woman in St. Louis, where she was living at the time. The woman renamed her “DuDu Peng” for the days they were together. I only know this because she took Saidee to the vet for her lifelong affliction with skin allergies, and got a prescription. My dad only tracked down Saidee because he was out at an intersection putting up Lost signs and across the street, his friend spotted “Found” signs showing Saidee/Dudu’s image.