Monday, December 30, 2019

The Lives and Often Strange Deaths of My Family's Pets

    Our first pet was a shit-colored mut- he looked like an unloved Toto- we found wandering the street adjacent to ours. My sister Esther named the dog ‘Brighton’ because that was the street we found him on. 
   Brighton was very affectionate if you happened to believe trying to murder everyone you saw was an expression of love. He was the size of a throw pillow but that wouldn’t stop him from lunging at every pit bull and Rottweiler he crossed paths with. It was as if he was following that prison rule where you try and beat up the toughest person on the first day inside so that no one will fuck with you. He especially hated the mailman, which was rather hack. But he was also named after the street we found him on so he had been nurtured in a very uncreative environment. 
    The mailman would effortlessly brush him aside on the way to our mailbox.  He was probably the least intimating dog he had to deal with on his route. This lack of intimidation left the mailman especially defenseless on the day Brighton leapt up and bit him directly on the penis.
   The mailman's name was Mr. Longest because God is also a hack. 
   Mr. Longest switched routes with someone else and we gave Brighton to our cleaning lady’s family in the same manner in which the Catholic Church moves priests to different parishes (literally after typing this sentence it occurred to me that my parents were probaby lying and had Brighton put down). 
   After Brighton, we decided cats would be a safer call, as they tend to feel ambivalent about mailmen, or any other member of the human race. Also dogs require multiple walks a day, constant love and attention, while cats are glorified furniture. 
   Our first cat was named Alexander. He was an outdoor cat which is a notch above claiming a squirrel on a nearby tree as your family’s pet. He would explore the neighborhood all day long and then come inside with a dead bird or mouse which he would graciously drop in front of us. I figured he thought he had to chip in on the rent and dead animals was his specific form of currency. 
   Alex met his untimely demise one day when a car drove over him as he was darting across the street to hastily make rent for the month.
   We buried Alex in the backyard, using a big rock as a make-shift tombstone. 
   After Alex, we bought a black and white, long-haired cat named Sticky. 
   We decided to make him an indoor cat. 
   The only thing Sticky liked more than staring at us with glazed-over indifference was sleeping in the dryer.  He would curl up in that cozy, clothes-lined womb and sleep away the day in peace. This peace came to an abrupt end one night when my Grandma, not noticing Sticky in there, threw a bunch of wet clothes on him and set the dryer to permanent press.
   When my Mom opened the dryer later the lint holder was covered in fur. She knew what had transpired but she was too afraid to investigate, so she asked my Dad to come downstairs to see for himself. 
   I was in the computer room in the basement when I heard him hesitantly trod down the stairs and open the dryer door. 
   My Dad was a very stoic, guarded man, so it was especially traumatizing to hear him howling like Sean Penn in Mystic River when he finds out his daughter’s been murdered.
   We now had two tombstones in the backyard. We were only a couple more years of negligence away from having a full-fledged pet cemetery. 
   After Sticky, we got two cats this time (one as insurance). One cat was named Eeyore because he was grey and melancholic and the other was named Tigger because he was orange and suffered from manic depression. 
   My twin sister came back from a friend’s Bat Mitzvah in Pittsburgh and was furious to see we had replaced Sticky.  She grabbed his framed photograph and ran crying into her room, which was a little histrionic, as I don't even think she liked Sticky that much.  But you always appreciate someone more when they’re dead and can no longer do anything to hurt your impression of them. 
   She soon grew to love both of them, and I trembled to think what kind of tantrum she would have when we bought new cats to replace Tigger and Eeyore once they inevitably died in a couple of weeks. 
   I remember one day sleeping in a room with her at my Uncle’s house in New Orleans when she woke up and said, “I just had a dream Tigger and Eeyore died…They’re alive right?” 
   I was put in a real moral quandary. If I told her they had died, in her semi-conscious state she would believe me, and be very upset. But if I didn’t do that, I would have regretted not playing this prank my entire life. 
   So I told her they both died and she immediately started crying. 
   Like God, who has the power to take and give life, I told her I was joking and they were in fact alive.  
   She threw a pillow at me. 
   Tigger and Eeyore didn’t die anytime soon. If you do things right, a cat can live to a ripe old age. And the reason for this is you never really know when to put down a cat as a result of them not doing much to begin with. Determining whether a pet should be put down usually involves seeing if they can still do their favorite things. But a cat’s favorite things are ‘sleeping in a closet’, ‘being awake in a closet’, and ‘moving to another closet to sleep or be awake in’, and you can easily do all those things with one paw in the grave.
    As much as I love cats I am forced to admit that on their best day they are merely a dog that should have been put down two years ago. 
   Also, my Dad was determined not to have anymore blood on his hands. He spared no expense in keeping them alive through their battles with Diabetes, Hyperthyroidism, Cardiomyopathy, and other ailments that would’ve lead to their death with less loving owners. It’s cheap to buy a cat, expensive to keep them going. For example, if I had a cat right now, with the wage I make from comedy, I would have had to put them to sleep the minute they got fleas. 
   By the time Tigger and Eeyore were 18 they both had those Day-of-the-Week Pill Containers typically reserved for old people. 
   Tigger was with me through high school, and when I came back from getting kicked out of college, he slept by my side every night. He would watch me masturbate with that smug, judgmental look of his. And whenever I would take a bath, he would come in, and nudge his head on the ceramic, which was a gesture to show he wanted to be scratched on the head. 
   A dog’s affection is indiscriminate (most dogs you could kick in the face and they’d still come back to lick you) and this makes their affection have less value. But Tigger was only warm to a couple of people. For years, I thought every cat was equally as anti-social, and then I spent some time with other friend’s cats, and realized Tigger was just an asshole. 
   But he was my asshole. 
   He reserved most his hate for the veterinarian. Every time he was taken in, he would fight it like a prisoner being dragged to the ‘hole’ in Shawshank. He would scratch, he would bite, he would claw, he would howl. 
   I worked one summer at that Veterinarian’s Office and I ended up peeking in his chart one day. Drawn in red marker at the top of the page was ‘MMF’. I asked the other secretary what that meant and she said, “Mean Motherfucker.”
   But as Tigger got older, a lot of his anger melted away. Clawing at people subsided into angry looks, and angry looks into mellow resignation. Sometimes he would even go into the veterinarian’s without putting up a fight, and that’s when you know his time was coming to an end. His anger and his energy were intertwined, and they both faded together. 
   I remember the day before I left to New York, I walked outside with Tigger and watched him walk around in the grass. It was like watching a prisoner being taken outside after years of solitary confinement. I filmed his frail body struggle through the weeds. All his viciousness had gone.
   And then I moved to New York.
   A week later I got a call that he had to be put down. 
   Apparently when the Veterinarian tried to inject Tigger he scratched the shit out him. 
   I smiled. 
   A mean motherfucker till the end.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


   I’ve been a dedicated Greyhound Rider for years. I’ve grown accustomed to the drivers who treat you with the type of customer service typically reserved for convicts being escorted to federal prison, the disturbing and unforgettable lines you hear other passengers exclaim in the middle of the night (my favorite: “If anyone finds a pack of Newports on the bus, do not smoke them…they are laced!”)…I remember first hearing that macabre news story about the guy on a Greyhound in Montreal who beheaded the passenger sitting next to him. The driver pulled over and everyone ran out. Later on the news people expressed shock that this could happen on a Greyhound. Frankly, I was surprised the bus even stopped. That’s unprofessional for Greyhound standards. Usually they just keep on going and hope the shit sorts itself out in the back. “Finish cutting off his head and sit back down…it’s a long way to Cleveland.” 
   But none of this could prepare me for my first Chinatown Bus Experience. 
   I was taking a bus from New York City to Toledo, OH for the suspiciously low price of 7 dollars. 
   If you’ve never been on a Chinatown bus, the way it works is you board on Allen Street, ask the driver if this is the right bus, he responds in Chinese, and then you sit down and hope for the best. 
Right before we departed, a middle-aged, Hispanic man wearing a Jurassic Park T-Shirt sat down next to me, sobbed uncontrollably for two minutes, and then fell  asleep on my shoulder. 
   At this point, sweat was cascading down my forehead. The website said the bus was fully air-conditioned but failed to mention the somewhat crucial detail that they don’t turn it on. We complained to the driver that it was too hot, he politely explained something in Chinese, and then we were off. 
   About 10 minutes into the ride the air finally came on. I remember pressing my hands up to the vent. My heart was bubbling with gratitude for the driver. I truly loved him. Ten minutes into the trip and I was already experiencing Stockholm Syndrome. 
   The GPS said it took 8 and half hours to get to Toledo, but the ticket ominously said we would get there in six. 
   Across from me was a Chinese man in a denim jacket listening to a blue tooth speaker on full volume. 
   I sighed. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you start appreciating the Greyhound but here we were. The bus drivers on the Greyhound were rude as hell but they did keep everyone in line. Out here it’s the Wild West. One guy was angrily yelling at his girlfriend over the phone at 3 in the morning. It was one of those conversations that’s so personal you don’t understand how they’re okay with having strangers on a bus overhearing it. We all now knew she had full custody of their 4-year-old-daughter even though he hadn’t used heroin in over 3 months. 
   About 4 hours into the trip a mother and child got off the bus. This was my opportunity to escape Sobbing-Jurassic Park T-Shirt-Guy. I woke him up, said excuse me, and then walked across the aisle and sat down in those two seats.
   And then, in a baffling turn of events that I still can't fully process to this day, he got up and sat down next to me again. I was so confused. Did he feel like we had developed a bond in those last four hours? Or was he still following the Stay-With-A-Buddy-System from elementary school field trips.
   I passed out again. 
   I woke to notice that the Chinese man in a denim jacket was now driving the bus and the bus driver was asleep in that man’s seat. I prayed that we would get to Toledo before it was my turn to drive and then nodded off again.
   I woke around four. The bus driver was back at the wheel, going so fast I could only assume Dennis Hopper had put a bomb somewhere on board. I thought about waking up Sobbing-Jurassic-Park-Guy so I could have some human connection before the fatal crash. 
   I passed out again and woke up just as we were arriving in Toledo. We had made it in less than 6 hours. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

          The Time My Great Grandfather was Accused of Murdering a Child

     So my Great Grandfather is in the garden with his Maid pulling up potatoes. Cause that’s what you did back in the early 1900’s in Poland. You just spent all day pulling potatoes out of the ground.
      Suddenly they hear a commotion coming from the Jewish Cemetery a block away. My Great Grandfather walks over to see that all the Gypsies are gathered there. The Gypsies have been camping out in town for the last couple of days. They’re gathered around a 14 year old Gypsy girl whose been beaten to death.
    When my Great Grandfather walks over, the mother of the girl points to him and says, “That Jew did it!”
   This is a very long standing tradition.
    Back then, whenever a crime was committed, one that you might even be involved in, you just look around, find your closest Jew and go, “He did it.”
    And by it she was referring to what was known at the time as Blood Libel. Blood Libel was the antisemitic belief that certain Jews would steal Christian children, take their blood, and use it to make Matzo for Passover.
    Which is crazy. If you know anything about Matzo it’s that it’s delicious, you don’t need to put anything it.
    So the Gypsy woman yells that Jew did it and then all the Gypsies start chasing my Great Grandfather. Now he’s running with his hat and his side curls (they’re called payot) and they’re behind him and he’s hoping he can get enough wind under his payot for him to fly away but no such luck and so he runs around the corner and finally he makes it to the Police Station and he goes inside and he tells the police what happened, that he walked over to the Cemetery and those Gypsies randomly accused him of stealing their child’s blood for some absurd, made up ritual, and the police...being the Polish police...charge him with murder.
   So now he’s in Jail waiting trial. It’s not looking good. He has 9 children and his wife died last year from an Enema. Back then an Enema could kill you. Business was very bad for a while but then he started exporting clover to Germany and things were looking up. Life was hard but it was getting better. But now he was fucked. Cause rumors were already starting to spread.
   One Polish girl- obviously put up to it by some people in the town- said she saw my Great Grandfather drawing blood from the child. So they put him in a Line Up with Six other Hassidic Jews and asked her to point to who she saw.
   This is where their plan backfired.
   She looked at all six identical looking Jews for nearly 45 minutes and then finally pointed to the wrong one.
    So if you’re ever wondering why Hassidic Jews looks the same, it’s to get out of situations like these.
   My Great Grandfather got off. But no one would do business with him anymore.
   It was time to get the fuck out of Poland.
    So he went to the Ger Rebbe and asked him what to do. A couple years earlier he had been thinking about leaving to America and he asked the Ger Rebbe then and the Ger Rebbe told him not to leave. That in America, his grandchildren and great grandchildren would become goyim. Non-Jews...
   Now the Ger Rebbe had changed his Mind.
   “It’s time for you get the fuck out of Poland,” he said.
    My Great Grandfather packed everything he would need for the journey. His children would be coming in the next month. He stepped outside with his trunk and looked back one last time at the house he was born in.
   He would never see this house again.
   And then he left.
   As he walking in the direction of the train station, he remembered again what The Rebbe had said the first time he visited him. “Do not to go America. Your children and grandchildren will become goyim...”
    90 years later...I’m in the kitchen, watching a Pepperoni Pizza cook in the oven.
    The End