Two cars sold and one car bought, all in ten days

Our '93 Chevy and '98 Toyota Camry sold on the spot for the full asking price to the first people who looked at them. Peggy sobbed when she looked out and saw that the Camry was gone because she didn't get to say goodbye. I don't know how much good that would have done her, but I too feel wrecked. Given how fast they sold, I'm wondering if we could have gotten more money for our vehicles, but if we had traded them in, we would have received a total of $1,500, but by selling them on Craigslist, we got $5,000, so I guess I can't complain too much, and even if we could have done better, it would have prolonged the misery.

I was completely forthcoming about every little thing that was wrong with them, even sharing information that made no difference and that the buyer almost certainly wouldn't have discovered had I kept my mouth shut...

We got twelve responses within hours of putting the Camry online, and I had the thought that of all the cars on the road, a Camry was probably the easiest to sell (the Japanese sure kicked American ass on that one). One man wrote that his daughter is a veterinary student who needs a good car for the 40-mile commute to Oregon State.  He went on to describe what a sterling student she was and ended with a plea that I "help her out" by dropping my price $800, which was all he could afford. I thought about not responding, but instead turned him down very courteously. I thought that would be the end of it, but he immediately wrote back offering more money. Someone else offered $400 less than the asking price without even having seen the car. I'm fine with people bargaining for something they know they want, but am offended when they do it on speculation.

It's sad to have sold cars that we  owned for so long and loved so much (cars are like pets in that we humans are totally responsible for their welfare, so it feels like a betrayal to sell them), but at least's it's over, and I feel more relaxed for it. We ran errands in the RAV4 yesterday for the first time since bringing it home, and took turns driving it. When the car belonged to the dealer, our goal was to see how we liked it, but now that it's ours, our goal is simply to avoid wrecking it. We know our unease will diminish every hour that we drive, but it sure was pronounced yesterday. I especially hated that dealer's tag announcing to all the world that it's a new car because I wouldn't be surprised but what some moron would ding it with their door out of envy. Am I more paranoid that most?

Tim said that when he started working as a car salesman, his biggest fears were damaging a car and learning how everything worked on the many models that he was trying to sell (he was also intimidated by having to dress nicely and work with people who were shopping for cars that cost way more than he could afford). His words put our fear of our new car into perspective, but why is it that we didn't used to worry about damaging a car? Is it age-related, or is it because this car is more complex, luxurious, and expensive, than anything we ever owned? Just the instructional manuals make a stack four-inches tall, and being surrounded by all those buttons that we don't know how to use makes learning to drive a RAV4 a bit like learning to land a jet on a carrier. I'm joking, of course, but there is a lot to be said for simplicity, and by our Model T standards, this is not a simple car. 

I've been counting up all the cars we've owned in our 44-years together (I owned others before we met, and then there were the ones that I bought to resell). The list comes to two Fords, two Chevys, three Datsuns, and four Toyotas. Of these, three were trucks, and one was a van, and one a station wagon, leaving a total of five sedans and the new SUV. I'll forever miss most of them, partly for what they were, and partly because they marked epochs in our lives. We're now a one car family for the first time in years, and the sale of our van means the end of our camping days. Will this be our last car or our next to last car? Life can be measured in many ways--time, cars, pets, houses... My mother used to say things like, "Well, this will be my last vacuum cleaner." I thought it was a bummer of a way to look at things, but now I too am doing it. For instance, I know that if our cats live a normal lifespan, we'll never have another baby animal because it would be cruel to get a pet that would outlive us.

The job is done

The photo is of me, salesman Tim, Peggy, and our new car. After an intensive two and half week search, we finally brought home a Toyota yesterday (it's not the prettiest car we looked at, but I don't want to be stranded on the side of the road in a pretty car). Peggy wanted to celebrate by going out to eat, but I am so deficient in the emotional and physical ability to deal with the stress of car-buying, that I just wanted to go to bed. 

Tim was our final salesman, and Peggy quickly trusted him. Because Peggy doesn't trust easily, and because I have confidence in her discernment, I paid attention to that and started looking for the good in Tim even while trying to find a better price elsewhere and wondering if we shouldn't wait for the end-of-year rebates. Tim soon won me over to the point that Peggy and I decided that we would buy from him even if we could get a better price elsewhere, this based upon our belief that he was caring and had integrity in a field where such virtues are little found. I'll give you an example.

We initially worked with another salesman at the same dealership (Lithia of Springfield). The man's name was Rodney, and he and I had spoken on the phone, so when Peggy and I went to the dealership, we asked for him, and only started working with Tim when Rodney wasn't available. After talking with Tim for at least an hour, Peggy came down with a migraine about the time that Rodney appeared. I found him dour and aggressive, an observation that was confirmed when Peggy said that she really needed to go home, only to have Rodney continue trying to sell her a car. We went home anyway, and I wrote to Tim that I didn't want to work with Rodney anymore because he had shown no concern for Peggy's welfare. Because I had let him get away with it for several minutes, I was also mad at myself for not taking care of my wife when she wasn't in a good place to take care of herself. As Peggy later said, "I was too sick to think clearly, and I really need to think clearly when I'm buying a car."

I like to believe that Peggy and I work as an effective team, but when it comes to anything having to do with numbers, she's better than I because she's more detail oriented, and, as skeptical as I am, I don't know but what she's also quicker to spot bullshit. For example, when we were in Jack's office (Jack being the guy who has you sign all of the many papers that it takes to buy a car even when you're paying cash for it), Peggy expressed interest in the "lifetime oil change" for $649. I wasn't keen on this--I've always done my own oil changes--but she was, and I was willing to give in. The problem was that your first two years of oil changes are free anyway, so I asked Jack why we shouldn't wait and buy-in after the two years were up. He said we could, but that it would cost $200 more. I said, okay then, we'll get it now. Only later did it occur to me that he was almost surely lying (prices tend to go down rather than up when it's the last chance to sell something to a customer), but Peggy recognized it right away and rolled her eyes at Jack. The question I had to ask myself was why I didn't catch-on. Is it because people are more easily taken in the older they get? I think that was probably the reason, and it's why I feel the need to run my decisions past Peggy. The leads me to regard myself as moving in the direction of ever greater helplessness, of being a burden as it were.

When I was young, I could be cheated due to a lack of experience, whereas I am now more vulnerable to being cheated due to a lack of quick thinking and discernment. It's also true that society operates on the premise that, in most situations, most people are going to tell us the truth, so when we get into a situation in which we're blitzkrieged by lies, we're not prepared to deal with it other than by dismissing everything we're told as just another lie, but doing this leaves us with no basis upon which to make an intelligent decision. At some point, we have to believe someone, and our job became easier when we started to believe Tim, although it didn't keep us from learning all we could from sites like Consumer Reports, U.S. News and World Report, and Kelley Blue Book.

When I was a young man, I worked in a series of funeral homes, and found them like car sales in that they relied upon tricks and misinformation at a time when their customers (who were, of course, referred to as the bereaved) were vulnerable. For instance, the customers would be slowly guided through two well-furnished rooms of expensive caskets before reaching the small, unadorned room which contained the poorly-lit cheap ones, and as a final indignity, the funeral home would try to sell the shipping crate that the casket came in. Burying a casket in a pine shipping crate that offered no protection from anything and would soon collapse entirely was just too stupid for words, but it happened more often than not in situations where the customer didn't purchase a steel or concrete vault. I never doubted but what the sales of shipping crates was nothing more than an acknowledged scam within the funeral industry until I overheard two funeral directors trashing a man who refused to buy one, saying, "I guess he didn't care much about his old mama." My god, I thought, they believe their lies. Maybe that's how it is in car sales too, but it doesn't look that way. It just looks like an assault by at least two salesmen and a backroom manager who are out to wear the customer down to the point that he'll do whatever they say just to go home. Every time we buy a car, I tell myself that, this time, it's going to be fun, but with every passing day, I feel a little more worn down.

Tim, though, went out of his way to be helpful, never pressured us, never teamed-up against us (except in the case of Rodney, which he couldn't help), and answered our questions fully. Since I asked a few questions that he could have found insulting (i.e. why is it that so many car salesmen are unethical bullies who are oblivious to people's feelings?), I came to regard him with affection. Even Tim's appearance was non-threatening, due to his being on the elfin side with a magnificently expressive face that portrayed not only his own feelings but his awareness of the feelings of others. He also had striking blue eyes, and I considered him a handsome man. Oddly enough, he was also a bit of a motor mouth, and while I usually find such people tiring due to their self-absorption, Tim was not only a talker, he was also a listener, and I soon came to find his talk soothing because the more he talked, the less I had to. If nothing else, it showed that he had things on his mind other than pressuring us into buying a car. Tim is the kind of person who is so good at what he does that I wish I had a job for him so I could hire him away. And as I said, Peggy trusted him, and this alone was reason enough for me to trust him. 

My biggest problem with Peggy in such situations as buying a car is that the older she gets, the more willful she gets, and once she says that such and such is very important to her, I give up even trying to discuss it. So it was with the lifetime oil change. It probably will save us money, if Lithia honors its word, but only time will tell. Only today did Peggy tell me all of the reasons that she was so set on it: (1) Her father will pay for it if we buy it now (he's buying this car for us); (2) I might become frail or die, making it necessary for her to take charge of car maintenance;  (3) The service includes tire rotation and various inspections; (4) The car requires synthetic oil, and synthetic oil is expensive, so the cost of doing it myself would be higher than with the conventional oil I've always used. I could have added two other considerations: I very much hate doing oil changes during winter when it's raining and so cold that my Raynaud's Disease makes my fingers turn yellow and lose feeling. Also, Toyota will have less excuse to deny warranty-related work if they're the ones doing the servicing.

In all fairness to Peggy, I'm not immune to putting my own foot down, my do-or-die issue being the color of the car--it has to be white. It's also true that I have other go to the grave defending values. For example, at my insistence, we've painted three of the four houses we've owned the same colors (soft blue with beige trim), and I can be equally adamant about other work we do and things we buy. Even agreeing on a new doormat can turn into a major decision for us because we are both (a) strong-willed about home decoration, and (b) we have different preferences; and these factors oblige us to find acceptable compromises no matter how long it takes. I attribute our difficulty to the fact that I have better taste than Peggy, not that she's astute enough to admit it.

This talk of color brings to mind the paper-signing at the dealership. Jack put a blue mark everywhere I was to sign and a pink mark where Peggy was to sign. The funny thing about this was that I prefer pink to blue (my room is pink), and Peggy prefers blue to pink. Although I'm not effeminate, and she's not masculine, there are many ways in which we fit the stereotypes of the opposite gender.

When Frugal People Go Car Shopping

Peggy and I have owned a total of ten cars (not counting 20-30 that I bought specifically to resell) including two new cars. Our first new car was a '73 Datsun truck (with air, mirrors, AM radio, a rear bumper, taxes, tag, and title, the price was $3,300.75--see photo), and our second a '84 Ford Tempo that turned out to be a piece of crap despite its Consumer Reports recommendation.

Yesterday, at my urging, we went shopping for a new car, partly with the thought of cutting back to just one vehicle. Peggy demurred, saying she loves her '98 Camry, and that our '93 Chevy van (which we use for camping and hauling) is bigger than what she would want if we just had one car. But the issue for me isn't just about how many cars we own; it's about the assumed safety and reliability of a new car. I was thinking about this anyway when Peggy's father said he was so worried about us breaking down that he would contribute money toward a new car. Still, Peggy hesitated, saying that if I simply must have something different, why not settle for a newer used one. "Because I want the safest and most dependable thing I can get, and if your father will help pay for it, the expense won't feel like such a kick in the groin" (we are not the kind of people who can cheerfully spend a lot of money).

All those many years ago, after test driving that Datsun truck, we went across the street to a Dodge dealership where Peggy fell in a love with a Colt station wagon. The salesman couldn't say enough about what a lovely young couple we were, and he even offered to take us to dinner. We were happy; he was happy; and all was sweetness and light except for the fact that I didn't like that Dodge. With Peggy's support, he ever so graciously persisted, putting his hand on my shoulder, and speaking to me like a loving father whose only concern was for my well-being. Then, as if the idea had suddenly popped into his head, he said that he wanted us to meet his partner because he just knew that his partner would like us as much as he did. So, his partner came in, and his partner was not impressed. In fact, his partner was pissed. He said we were acting in bad faith by coming into his dealership, saying what we needed in a car, and then refusing to buy, at the very best price, the very best car for our needs. He practically went into in a rage about how badly we were behaving while his partner stood in the corner looking at the floor and softly clucking in shame and mortification. Finally, the bad guy left, and the good guy worked on us, but then, to our horror, the good guy left, and the bad guy came back. And so it went.

We were stunned, and the more abusive the bad guy got, the quieter Peggy and the "good" guy got, and the more cornered I felt. I didn't know what their routine was called, or even that it was a routine; I just knew that there was no way in hell I was going to knuckle-under and buy a car that I didn't want just to get some asshole off my back. If I had been braver, I would have walked out, but as things stood, all I could do was to keep saying no and offering the best excuses I could until the two of them finally gave up. I felt as if I had survived a beating. I told Peggy that I could have used a little help, and Peggy told me that it had been a case of shit or get off the pot, but that I had done neither. Imagine my delight when that dealership got into all kinds of trouble for abusive sales practices. It wasn't I who ratted them out, though, because I didn't know enough to rat them out. It's sad how ignorant young people can be, but since it was our first car buying experience, we just didn't have a clue. Walking into that dealership felt like entering an alternate universe, and it fully enabled me to understand how cops can pressure a young person into confessing to a crime he didn't commit. After all, I was college educated by then and had only been under pressure for a few hours. What if it had lasted for a few days during which I couldn't even use the bathroom without permission?

A few years later, I bought a used Datsun car at the same dealership from which we had gotten our '73 truck. The sales lady's name was Patty, and she was hot in a sophisticated, older woman sort of way that left me slobbering. I was melted by her smile, and my heart beat faster and faster as she moved in closer and closer, and her baby blues burned further and further into the back of my skull. I haltingly pointed out a few problems with the car, and Patty readily agreed to have them fixed. I said, fine, but just so there would be no misunderstanding, maybe we should put everything in writing (I had read that this was a good idea). Patty looked like I had slapped her. She said that, in a world of jaded and suspicious men, she had felt something special with me, and that it hurt her deeply to think that I was no different from anyone else. "Don't be just another cynic," she begged, and I promised I wouldn't, even though it did feel a little strange to be arguing like lovers with a saleswoman. When I took the car back a few days later to have the work done, I learned that not only had Patty never made the appointment, Patty was gone, as in for good, as in I was her last customer. She hadn't gone far, though, because she soon opened her own dealership, and it's still there.

Most car salesmen are not nearly so entertaining as Patty and the good cop/bad cop Dodge boys. Most car salesmen are content to keep saying things like, "What can we do to put you in this car today?" even when I tell them that nothing is going to put me into a $30,000 car without a lot of thought and study. When I went shopping for our last car, I told one salesman that I wanted something that would fit into the garage, and he assured me that I didn't need to park in the garage! I thought, come on you idiot, do I look like someone you can snow, and then I left. I'm simply not going to stand around arguing with a car salesman because choosing a car is hard enough without the pressure.

Given how little Peggy and I drive and how well we take care of vehicles, this could be our next to last car, or even our last one, which is another reason for buying something new. I just want us to be safe. More importantly, I don't want Peggy to ever find herself sitting alone with her hood up (assuming she could figure out how to raise her hood) on the side of I-5 (Interstate 5 goes from Mexico to Canada, making it the major West Coast highway) because my main purpose in life is to protect Peggy. Another troubling possibility is that we would break down so far into the woods that we would have trouble walking for the half-day it might take us to even see another vehicle. When we go camping in our 23-year-old van, this is a real possibility, not because the van isn't in good shape but because when cars get old, everything that can crack, leak, dry out, and disintegrate tends to crack, leak, dry out, and disintegrate (which is what happens to people too, come to think of it). Peggy says that, since she's in better shape for walking, she could go for help alone, and I think, yeah, right, what could be wrong with that idea! Me sitting in the van and her getting raped, murdered, and hidden in a canyon. The cops would probably pressure me into confessing that I killed her, so that would be the end of both of us and the cats too since they would probably starve to death without someone to give them their three-squares a day plus a midnight snack.

He Makes My Heart Sing

Somali Ollie
He was a rescue cat from Petco who, along with his siblings, was abandoned on the side of the Detroit Lakes highway, so his rescuers called him Detroit Tony. I wanted him from the start, but Peggy insisted that we check-out the cats at the Greenhill shelter first. When nothing there interested her, we set out on the long drive back across town to get Tony (we renamed him Ollie). I was in fear the whole way that he would be gone, and he would have been had another couple's application been accepted. My heart not only sings but dances every time I look at that cat. To me, he's the most beautiful thing in the universe (except for Peggy, of course), and you really must click on his photo.

Peggy and I agree that two cats are enough--we wouldn't even have two had I not begged and pleaded for years--but I can't look at cats "just for fun" without finding one I want. I found my most recent love last week in the form of a long-haired and happily playful black female who was the same age (ten months) and diminutive size as Ollie and even had his eyes. Without Peggy to restrain me, I would have gotten that cat, and this troubles Peggy more than a little. I know we don't need a third cat because the two we have couldn't be more in love, and a third cat might cause jealousy, but I still wish I had that black cat. When I see a cat I want, it's as if we were intended to be together since the first millisecond of the Big Bang.

At least, I'm satisfied with just having cats, while Peggy so misses the effusive adoration of dogs that our two-pet limit would go right down the toilet if she ever came across a miniature white rescue poodle. All that such a dog would need to do would be to stare into her face with its warm little eyes while shaking its ugly little tail, and she would do everything short of kneeling before me in tears as she pleaded, "I know we agreed that two pets is enough, but..." The sad truth is that it's much harder for me to say no to Peggy than for her to say no to me. While I know that a dog would, just by nature of being a dog, come between us and our cats, I also know that if Peggy wanted a dog and didn't get it because I said no, she would never get over thinking about how wonderful her life might have been had I said yes.

Our next to last dog was a pet shop blue heeler, which I didn't want because I believed it came from a puppy mill, but right after assuring me that she would graciously honor my wishes, she said under her breath, "I WANT THAT DOG." It was the first time that her heart had opened to any dog in the years since our schnauzer, Wendy, died, so the pressure was more than I could bear. She later told me that she didn't even know she said such a thing, and I believed her, but it was those barely audible four words that made it impossible for me to say no. I don't know why she's tougher than I about saying no to her spouse. I think it might have something to do with gender, but I don't see it as having anything to do with love. Still, I really and truly and deeply wanted that black cat, and she's the reason I don't have it.

What is the difference between killing animals for fun and killing them because they taste good?


I don’t know who added the words to the photo, but it was taken in Vietnam in 2011 by Graham Lavery who left the pleading kitten to die. Among the reasons he gave was that the rights of animals should be left to human preference and convenience. Specifically: “Does rescuing it jive with the ethics and practices of the local people (it is their country after all)?”

Lavery’s explanation put me in mind of Michael Vick, a football player who got in trouble for dogfighting, also in 2011. Before realizing that his career would be over if he didn’t apologize, Vick said: “Yeah, fine, I killed the dogs. I hung them. I slammed them. I killed all of them. I lost fucking millions, all over some fucking dogs.” (He also killed dogs and other animals by drowning, hanging, electrocution, and bludgeoning with shovels.)

What most caught my attention about the Vick case wasn’t just his insatiable sadism, but that his defenders were fellow blacks who argued that his behavior should be excused, if not respected, on the grounds of cultural diversity: 

Jamie Foxx: “It’s a cultural thing... Mike probably just didn’t read his handbook on what not to do as a black star. I know that cruelty to animals is bad, but sometimes people shoot people and kill people and don’t get time.”  

Whoopi Goldberg: “He's from the South, from the Deep South ... This is part of his cultural upbringing…” (Vick isn’t from the Deep South but from coastal Virginia. I spent 36 years in the Deep South, and I was friends with many blacks, yet I never even heard of anyone holding a dog fight.)

Spike Lee: The boycott of Michael Vick’s clothing line is “…yet another example of white racism in the United States, where black people aren't allowed to get ahead.”

Steeler’s coach Michael Tomlin: “Yeah, those things that he has gone through are tough. Picking a dog up over your head and slamming it to the ground repeatedly until it takes its last breath can really take a lot out of a man.”

Others argued that once Vick apologized, the public should forgive him, but how can the human public forgive someone for crimes against the nonhuman public? A black boxer said, “it’s not like Vick killed humans” (maybe the boxer didn’t know that the abuse of black people was once justified on the basis of their “subhuman” status).

How is it that these black celebrities are blind to the fact that pathological sadism expands to include all species, including their own? Likewise, how is it that people like Graham Lavery can fail to see that the callous denial of rights to other animals is one with the callous denial of rights to humans, apathy and cruelty not being limited to only some species. 

The defenders of Lavery and Vick agree that the rights of animals should be relegated to human preference, and nearly all of the human race agrees with them. Sure, few of us torture animals for entertainment, but neither do we want to know how the animals we eat were raised and slaughtered, nor do we care to reflect upon the fact that we don’t need to eat them at all. Why is it wrong to kill animals for fun, but okay to raise them in misery in dark warehouses and then slaughter them like so many Jews in a Nazi camp simply because we like the way they taste? In considering the rights of other animals, why is it that the key consideration is that they belong to other species rather than that they share our species’ capacity to experience loneliness, sadness, terror and pain? How can we regard ourselves as either fair or compassionate if we willingly support unnecessary misery? Yet, we not only do this, we dismiss vegans and even partial vegetarians as self-righteous prigs. 

Our denial of rights to animals is one of the reasons that I hold myself and my species in contempt. I have never once gone to bed at night knowing that I spent my day doing all the good that I might have done. My friend, Jodi, is probably the only person I have ever known who even might make such a claim:, and she is consequently impoverished and despised. The only good that people receive praise for is the good they do for humans, and even these people are often hated because they shine a light upon the mean, petty, and inconsequential lives of their fellows. 

Before the concept of sin started to go out of vogue, Episcopalians used to recite the following in preparation for communion:

“We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.”

Like I, Peggy is an atheist, but we differ in that guilt has no place in her life. She labels herself a responsible hedonist, which means that she finds meaning in pleasure tempered by integrity. I’m struck by what I regard as the shallowness of hedonism, my own meaning being to think, observe, search, and examine. Peggy might well ask what good this has done me, and I have no answer except to say that we are as we are—which is probably how we have always been—and that we could not have been otherwise.

But are the values of people like Lavery or Vick also unalterable? If they are, then there is no turning away from evil. When I examine my own life, it would appear that what I am is a necessary progression from what I was, but if this is true of everyone, the Vicks of the world will always get-off on torturing animals (and people too when they can get away with it), and the Laverys will always relegate the treatment of animals to local preference rather than fairness and compassion (the result of this attitude in my own country is factory farming, as well as the annual suffering and death of millions of unwanted dogs and cats even while breeders crank out expensive and genetically inferior pedigrees). 

What bothers me most about such people is that I’m a member of the same species. When I reflect upon the Christian concept of original sin, I conclude that it is real, and that it consists of being born into a species that is so deeply flawed that there is no limit to the suffering that we willingly impose for reasons of greed and pleasure, even to the point of driving species after species into extinction, and ultimately making the earth unlivable. Such are my people, and such am I. If there is any good that comes from my reflections, it is the humility of knowing that truly evil people aren’t separated from me by kind but by degree.

A lifelong dog person reflects on having cats

First, the things I hate about having cats:
Sometimes, they won’t stay in bed with Peggy and me for our morning cuddle, but as soon as we get out, they get in.
They enjoy killing houseplants, and I have forty houseplants.
At nearly nine months of age, Ollie is still “nursing” on Brewsky, which would be bad enough even if he didn’t slurp.

The trust of a cat seems tenuous compared to the trust of a dog.

They sometimes duck and run when I try to pet them.

They roughhouse with one another, but they won’t roughhouse with me. 

Things I love about having cats:

They usually stay in bed with us while Peggy and I are having our morning cuddle. First, they bathe one another—often at the same timeand then they nap with their legs and tails entwined.

Brewsky lies on his back and stretches his legs straight out when he wants to be petted.

Brewsky has spots on his stomach, and his stripes show perfect symmetry.

Watching them roughhouse. They’re so rough that it worries Peggy, but I’ve come to trust that, despite their screams, they’re not murdering one another.

Their loud and beautiful purrs.

The sweetness of having Brewsky press his face into my side at the vet’s.

Ollie’s best feature is that his nose and mouth pooches out, and Brewsky’s best feature is his large eyes. 

Theyre self-cleaning.

They never bite or scratch people.

Brewsky likes to lie with his front legs crossed, and Ollie likes to sit with his front legs draped over the left arm of an office chair.

When we got Ollie last October, he was three months old and weighed less than three pounds. Brewsky was five years old, weighed 15-pounds, and was an indoor cat who hadn’t lived with other cats. Ignoring the book advice about gradual introductions, we put Ollie’s kennel on the kitchen floor and opened the door. He immediately ran up to Brewsky and started smelling him from bow to stern while Brewsky looked like he didn’t know whether to run away or kill a kitten. After a long moment, he performed his own odor exam, and then started bathing Ollie. Peggy and I were almost too joyous to contain ourselves because we knew that living with two cats was going to be good.

They’re happy being indoor cats because that’s all they’ve never known. (Outdoor cats are devastating to wildlife, and their lifespan is half that of indoor cats.)

Ollie is still a house-wrecking teenager, but Brewsky is so considerate that I can’t remember the last time I had a problem with him. Ah, but when he was an adolescent, he was willful, sneaky, and stubborn. He would also ambush Peggy and bite her legs hard enough to draw blood. Since we had previously been dog people, we didn’t know but what he would always be that way.

When I’m having my computer time in the morning, I pull Peggy’s chair next to mine and put my bed pillow in it so Ollie can nap beside me. The problem is that he likes to write, so he’ll get in my lap, look at the monitor (he’s a touch typist), and start writing indecipherable doggerel.

When I’m baking, Brewsky will sit and stare into my face. I know he wants a treat, but Ollie gets just as many treats as he without watching me with an expression that looks like love.
Ollie is a small cat with a comically long tail, and I love that tail. I also love looking at four pointed ears when he and Brewsky are cuddling. 

Cats, like dogs, are forgiving creatures. For example, when I step on their tails, or worse yet, their feet, they might run a few feet, but they stop to be comforted when I call them.

Last night, Peggy and I watched a National Geographic documentary about cats, and our cats took such an interest in the show that they watched much of it with us. 

I’m both saddened and touched by how much they miss me when I'm gone. Unfortunately for Peggy, this means that Ollie cries and jumps on her back. Twice, when she and I were away overnight, Brewsky knocked the same peace lily off the refrigerator.

Just as my cats miss me, I miss them. Even when we’re apart for a few hours, I look forward to them greeting me at the door when I come home. If cats were really as aloof as they’re portrayed, I wouldn’t want cats.

When something frightens Brewsky, he looks into my face for reassurance. He and I have a very strong bond, while my bond with Ollie is still growing. For example, a few days ago, Ollie jumped for a shelf, but only his front legs reached it, so as he hung there in wide-eyed desperation, I gently lifted him onto the shelf and petted him. It was partially the accumulation of such acts that bonded Brewsky to me. Dogs just naturally trust people, but it takes effort with a cat.

Ollie is still young enough that he likes to help me with handyman projects. I consider this an utter delight unless it’s a painting project.

I love listening to the sound of running feet when the cats chase one another through the house at night.

Peggy is phobic of spiders, and the cats like to kill spiders (much to Peggy’s displeasure, they also like to dismember them).

I never have to take my cats walking in the Oregon drizzle, and they would think I had lost my mind if I tried.

Ollie often makes things go bump in the night, and Peggy and I get to figure out what he “bumped” (she would put this under hates rather than loves). 

Brewsky's every emotion is written on his face. What a joy to be with a creature who's completely present and totally open!

I love it that the four of us make a happy family in which everyone is devoted to everyone else.

A spur of the moment post

I’m going to write what almost amounts to a short summary of my last post because I very much want to get my point across, although the scant response to that post suggests that some readers tire of the subject, while others simply won’t read such a long post. So…

I’ve written much of my admiration for the writer Margaret Deland (1857-1945). She was raised a hardcore Calvinist Presbyterian (a viciously cruel sect that, like my own boyhood church, I would label as child abuse), but married a Unitarian, and the two of them eventually became liberal Bostonian Episcopalians. One day during church, it came upon Margaret that she no longer believed any of the central doctrines of Christianity, and this led her to walk out of the service. Having thus discarded religion as the foundation of her life, she became obsessed with the question of how to survive in a world that contains both love and death.

This is also my challenge. Without love, I suppose I would kill myself, but with love comes such pain that I can’t see my way to survive it because I know that death ultimately destroys both love and the belovèd. Margaret means a lot to me, not because she found answers that I can accept, but because she struggled with the same question, a question that partially erases the chasm of the 140 years that have passed since she asked it.

I try very hard to understand how people can believe in God in order that I too might believe, yet I know that belief isn’t based upon verifiable evidence, and this makes it untenable for me. Just as believers sometimes suspect that I really do believe—based upon my inability to walk away from religion—I suspect that they don’t, or else they wouldn’t be forever “praying for faith,” going through “crises of faith,” and experiencing “dark nights of the soul,” terms that would seem to imply a hell-bent determination to believe that which one knows isn’t true. I cannot imagine that a person who thinks deeply can be a believer. Rather, I think it requires putting a brake upon one’s thoughts, only how can any intelligent person do so?

But don’t atheists don’t do the same thing? Just as believers set their face toward ignoring doubts about God, is it not true that atheists tend to ignore doubts about whether humanism justifies existence? Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, but perhaps he was wrong, and it’s the superficial life toward which we should aim. Otherwise, why would those believers and atheists who imagine themselves happier than I, tell me that my problem is that I think too much. Think too much?! Can it really be that a good life depends upon floating on the mind’s surface, because to dive into the depths is to trade light and warmth for frigidity and death? Such observations as I have been able to make would seem to suggest that it is so. But what then, does our choice come down to buying happiness at the expense of intellectual integrity?

This is where I get stumped. Namely, do we have a moral right to be shallow, if not outright dishonest, with ourselves, in the pursuit of happiness? I just know that I can’t do it. You could entice me with money, or you could beat with a rod, and I still couldn’t pull it off, yet it would be senseless for me to boast of my integrity when I’m only doing that for which I have no choice.

While it’s true that one can live a good life without God—that is, a life of kindness and caring—this doesn’t resolve the dilemma but rather accentuates the fact that love exists against a background of eternal non-existence that swallows-up both the love and the belovèd. It is therefore true that love gives limited meaning to life even while accentuating the ultimate futility of life, and of what comfort is this?

In a very deep sense, it’s true that I am religious because of my view that only religion can give a foundation to life. I was taught this from my earliest awareness, and it is, perhaps, the only part of what I was taught that I cannot abandon because while I can laugh about whether God cares about baptism by immersion, or whether women should remain silent in church, I can’t laugh about whether God represents the only eternal meaning to life, and, yes, eternity matters to me, deeply. Despite what religious people think, this is not a common sentiment among atheists, but it is who I am. While most atheists view religion as a disease to be cured, I view it as the sine qua non of life, yet I can’t embrace it, and the efforts of religious people to help me only accentuate the gulf between us.