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Shadow & Ratty Update by Dan
Three years ago, my brother Joe had to take some time away from our Folklore column. Sheryl (my mom) asked me to fill the void. "Write what you like," she told me.
Well, people always say that you should write about what you know. So I took that advice. I wrote about a subject that interested me. I wrote two columns about my cats.
My cats are named Shadow and Ratty. Shadow was an alley cat whom I befriended, and Ratty is the kitten that she brought to me out of the blue one day, making it known that they wanted to live inside with me. You can read all about that in the original articles I wrote back in 2015:
Apparently, those articles got some positive feedback; so my mom felt a "cat update" was in order. Okay. That's easy for her to ask for, but I didn't think I had enough material to fill-up a whole column again. After all, what do cats do other than eat and nap and wake you up at 4am? But I'll give it a shot.
Yes, Shadow and Ratty are still with me, and both are doing fine. Ratty is a lot bigger than Shadow these days -- outweighing his mother by 5 pounds -- and loves chasing her around. It's all in "play," however, and Shadow has no problem letting Ratty know when she is done playing.
She says it with her claws.
And with that one swipe of her claws, Ratty immediately rolls over onto his back to show his mom that he understands and that he was just playing and that he is sorry if things went a bit too far. At that point, all is right with the world once again, and the cats hold paws and start singing Kumbaya.
Oddly enough, this isn't so much different from the relationship I have with my own mother.
As I wrote previously, the one thing I find interesting about Shadow is how her level of trust never seems to reach a plateau. Just when I think that she is as loving as she will ever be, she surprises me with something new -- some new behavior which seems to show a continuing growth of trust and bonding.
Just recently, she jumped up onto my shoulders for the first time. Now while this is certainly nothing groundbreaking for a cat, it is a huge step forward in the bonding process between Shadow and I. And I really look forward to having lots of tiny holes in the shoulders of all my shirts.
Speaking of which, perhaps one day Shadow will allow me trim her nails (especially now that she insists on kneading my belly -- oh the scars I will have!).
Obviously, the cats are a bit older now. I've never been sure exactly how old Shadow is, but Ratty is six years old. And despite that being around 42 in human years, he is still nearly as active as ever, and remains a very sweet, affectionate cat -- always giving me hugs and kisses. It's even kinda cute when he pouts as I'm getting ready to leave for work.
Yes, he pouts. But I know the minute I shut the door, he is turning on the TV and watching Animal Planet all day long. He can't fool me.
So yes, Shadow & Ratty are mother and son. And like all mothers and sons, they have their differences.
The main differences between the two: Shadow seems to enjoy being picked-up and held while Ratty absolutely hates it. Shadow fights me when having her nails trimmed while Ratty barely notices. Shadow is more aloof and independent while Ratty acts more like a loyal, affectionate puppy. Although, as I write this, I must admit that Shadow is the one napping right next to me while Ratty is off, alone, in the bedroom, being aloof. So go figure...
Shadow & Ratty have been with me for over six years now; and they've had some company along the way. For a few years, a tiny black polydactyl alleycat was a regular visitor; not only to my apartment, but to the balconies of a few others in my building as well. One neighbor called him "Monkey" (due to his agility in accessing their 2nd level balcony). The neighbor closer to me (who used to feed Shadow) called him "Toes-y" (due to his extra toe). I called him "Thumbsy," since his extra toes looked like thumbs and also because "Thumbsy" was the nickname a friend of mine took when he was with an '80s comic rock band.
Thumbsy jumped up onto my balcony daily. He was well-known to my cats long before I noticed him. Ratty adored Thumbsy, but Shadow is very territorial and protective and wanted no part of him. Nevertheless, I began feeding him outside my bedroom window, and even got him neutered and microchipped.
Ratty loved to sit on the window sill and watch Thumbsy eat. If I kept my cats out of the bedroom, he would sometimes jump inside through the bedroom window and take a nap on my bed. I made it clear to him that he could live inside, but Thumbsy made it clear that he wanted no part of that. He felt the need to live outside.
Unfortunately, Thumbsy disappeared about three years ago. No alert from his microchip, and he never showed up on the animal shelter's "Lost Cats" webpage.
Ratty still likes to sit on my bed and stare out the bedroom window sometimes, as if he is waiting for Thumbsy's eventual return. When I see him doing that, I'll stop what I'm doing and give him a little hug and a kiss. I like to think that, during those moments, we're just happy that we still have each other.
A few months after Thumbsy's disappearance, a neighbor came across a tiny kitten -- seemingly orphaned. No idea where it's mother was. She was just sitting in our driveway crying and crying. I took her inside for a couple of days until my neighbor found her a permanent home. At first, it seemed like Shadow wanted to be friends with this new arrival, but then the kitten made the mistake of hissing at her, so that was the end of that.
Shadow's last encounter with the orphaned kitty.
After the kitten left for her new home, Shadow must have felt like a true champion. No more Thumbsy; no more hissy kitty. Everything was back to normal. But what Shadow didn't know was that she was about to meet her biggest challenge yet.
A friend of mine had lost her apartment, and needed to temporarily move into a place that did not allow pets. Unfortunately, she had a pet -- a lovely kitty named Chili. I agreed to take Chili in with me until my friend could find a pet-friendly apartment.
Chili was wonderful. Her temperament was so relaxed, much like Ratty's. And just as with Thumbsy, Ratty bonded with Chili almost instantly. Not the case with Shadow, as you have probably guessed by now. Shadow was the queen of the castle, and was not about to step aside quite yet.
I tried that whole "new cat introduction" thing (where you sequester the new cat in a different room, and then slowly introduce the cats in small incremental steps over the course of a week or two), but that didn't work. I think I tried this a total of three different times before giving up.
Chili's first encounter with Shadow & Ratty.
Chili was with us for eight months. During the last month or so, I ended up sequestering Shadow in the bedroom while Thumbsy and Ratty had the rest of the place to themselves. Shadow didn't seem to mind this arrangement at all. In fact, she seemed a lot more relaxed. Still, we were all very relieved when my friend eventually took Chili back home. Ratty and I kinda miss having Chili around, but it is nice to have everything back to normal.
Well, that's about it for the update on Shadow and Ratty. But I have something else to leave you with. Thinking I wouldn't have enough material to fill-up a whole column, I previously wrote down some "tips for living with cats" that I have learned over the past 6 years. As you can see, this column ended up not needing any padding, but I might as well share these tips with you, anyway, so here we go:
TOILET PAPER UNRAVELLING
If you have cats, you know how they love to unravel the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. And why not? It's fun!
But it's messy to clean up.
Some people suggest that the best way to deal with this is to simply turn the roll the other way 'round (so that the end of the roll faces the wall instead of facing outwards). I've never tried that, but it seems like it would work in theory. If the cat is clawing at the roll from the front, it shouldn't unravel if it was turned around with the end piece facing the wall.
But I like the end piece facing the front, so I chose a different path.
I took a small plastic cup, cut off the top 2/3 of it (making it even smaller) and put a tiny amount of water inside. I then balanced the cup atop the toilet paper, so that when Ratty tried to unravel it, he got wet. And most cats hate to get wet.
Ratty sprung this "trap" twice, and that stopped him from doing it ever again.
But be warned -- don't use a big cup -- you just want to get your cat a little bit wet, you don't want to hurt it with a heavy cup or anything.
STAY OFF MY KEYBOARD!
Cats love to lay atop computer keyboards. Some think because it is warm. I think it has more to do with your scent being all over the keys, combined with the fact that we give the keyboard so much "attention."
I've cured my cats' keyboard addiction by using another item that cats seem to like even more -- cardboard boxes.
By simply placing a small box on the side of your desk, the cats have themselves a nice place to nap. In their "desktop box," they can still be near you -- well within petting distance -- but at the same time out of the way as you work on your computer or as you surf the internet.
In this photo, Shadow (left) and Chili (right), in a rare moment of mutual tolerance, show how the Desktop Boxes can leave your desk with a nice, open space to work.
Shadow is napping in her desktop box as I write this.
DON'T TURN OFF THE LIGHTS!
A friend's cat developed the habit of sneaking into the bathroom and turning off the lights while she was taking a shower. Not fun at all. Fortunately, you can buy an inexpensive "light switch guard" which simply screws into (and over) the wall plate, preventing kitty from flipping off the lights while still allowing you to do so. I've seen these for sale on Amazon and at WalMart.
BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE
Unfortunately, cats are like babies; and just as it's wise to baby-proof your home, it is also a good idea to cat-proof your home as well. One place that really calls for it is the stovetop. A lot of newer stoves have safety knobs (which make it hard for cats to turn), but if you have an older stove, your cat might be able to turn on the gas while you're away at work. And that's not a fun thing to think about.
The knobs on my stove seem pretty safe. You need to press the knob inward before it will turn. Still, the knobs are also easy to remove -- they just slide right off. So I figured I wouldn't even risk it, and I removed the knobs altogether (sliding a knob back on when I want to cook something).
But perhaps you might find a better option would be to purchase a stove knob cover. These are really designed to keep toddlers from turning on the gas, but also works great at preventing curious kitties from possibly blowing up your home.
SAVE MY KITTY!
Speaking of possible fires -- another thing we don't want to think about is if there was a fire when you weren't at home.
The thought of your pets being trapped in a burning home is devastating.
Something I would recommend is having a pet sticker on or near your front door, alerting firemen and police how many (and which) pets may be trapped inside, so that they may save them if it is safe to do so.
In this example image to the left, you would write the number of pets inside each box. So if you had 2 cats, you would simply write the number "2" inside the box next to the cat. Don't just put a check mark, or the rescuers won't know how many pets there are inside to look for.
You can find these at most pet stores. Here's a link if you'd like to purchase some from Amazon.
I hope some of these tips help you like they have helped me...
is the first of what we hope to be a monthly newsletter. Our
purpose is to make it informative, as well as fun. It's certainly
been fun putting together this first one!
oldest son Joe, who you may have seen working here back in
March, has agreed to be our editor. His qualifications are
excellent, as he edited all my papers through college a few
years ago. He's agreed to fit the newsletter into his busy
schedule of work & school on the condition that I let
him write his own folklore column -- don't miss it, his interest
With those words
the tradition of the Book Again Newsletter began.
As I recall, it
was November of 1985, and my brothers and I had assembled at
my mother's for dinner. During the course of the meal, she announced
that she planned to open a store of some sort, and asked us
for ideas. I personally pushed for a used record store, but
the winning concept was, as you well know, a used Book Store.
Brother Mike and I volunteered to help set it up, and Mike further
signed on as Store Manager.
On opening day
all the brothers were there, helping out to an extent but mostly,
I fear, just getting in each other's way. I believe Mom has
proof of this on video.
At any rate, the
store opened in March of 1986. Mom had been searching for a
name for the store, and, mindful of a song I had once written
called "Look Again," I jokingly suggested "Book
She liked it.
That Summer I got
my first computer (an IBM XT with a whopping 20MB hard drive!),
and two months later Mom hit upon the idea of starting a newsletter.
(If this sounds familiar, it should -- some eleven years later I would finally go online, and two months
after that so would Book Again.)
She asked me to
put the newsletter together, which I did, and continued to do
single-handedly through the early '90s (with monthly contributions
from Mom and Mike).
At the time I had
been getting increasingly interested in folklore, and sensed
a golden opportunity. I based my involvement on one stipulation -- that I be allowed to contribute a folklore column on a regular
basis. She readily agreed, and it worked out to the benefit
of all -- the column kept the newsletter from becoming just another throwaway
bit of advertising -- it became something that customers would actually look forward
It became frequently
a royal pain as well, especially as work and school took up
more and more of my time.
I enjoyed it, however,
and still do -- though I never would have guessed that I'd still be doing it
so many years later!
A word about what
I consider to be "folklore" is, perhaps, in order.
Certainly the usual examples apply: myths and legends, roots
of old sayings and songs, and the origins of holidays -- the latter a theme I would devote myself to exclusively for
the first six months.
Folklore, to me,
goes beyond that, however. Any historic or public figure, if
colorful enough, inevitably has some small bit of apocrypha
attached to their story, whether they be Presidents, gunslingers,
pioneers, baseball players, or Rock Stars. From Abe Lincoln's
seances, to Babe Ruth's "calling the home run," to
Stuyvesant's ghost, even to my own great uncle Adam Walsh's
exploits under Knute Rockne in the 1920's ... it's all there,
and it's all wonderfully good -- and entirely appropriate to the world of Folklore.
origins of the art of the Magician, rumors of Secret Societies
that may or may not yet wield influence to this day, the birth
of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer -- all such matters, from the trivial to the profound to the occasionally
spooky, are fair game for my musings.
Still with me?
Faithful readers may have already noticed that most of the examples
just cited have yet to make an appearance in one of these columns.
Quite so, as the columns continue to this day. Consider the
above a "teaser" -- a glimpse of things to come.
But I've rambled
enough -- the blessing and curse of writing online, free of space constraints.
Having said that, I must point out that all the columns prior
to September of 1997 were written only for the printed newsletter,
and as such they were frequently severely edited even as they
were being written. I had no choice -- I only had a finite amount of space.
It is partly for
that reason that no fewer than 16 of the original columns were
reprinted and (usually) greatly expanded for subsequent online
appearances. When such is the case you will not see the original
column -- instead I'll interject as I'm doing now with a pointer
to where the improved, expanded version may be found.
From October 1986
(our first issue) through the end of 1987 the newsletter and
column appeared almost every month. In 1988 we briefly went
bi-monthly, as we were mailing every single issue to customers,
and postage was getting a little out of hand. In July of '88
we hit upon a compromise -- we returned to the monthly schedule, but elected to mail out
only three issues a year. The remaining issues were available
only in the store.
By January of the
next year (1989) we were all just too busy to maintain any sort
of monthly schedule, and so the newsletter and column went bi-monthly
again, and would remain so until July 1991. That issue, there
was no room for a folklore column, so instead I inserted a little
box promising a return of the column "next time."
would take six months to arrive. There were various logistic
reasons for this gap, most notably being Mom's decision to move
to Valencia, but for however many reasons (I recall being frightfully
busy at school, for one thing) there would be no newsletter
for the remainder of 1991.
We returned in
January 1992, but would publish far fewer issues (four per year
from 1992 to 1994), and on occasion there would be no folklore
column. We were all moving on with our lives, and it seemed
only a matter of time until the inevitable happened.
happened in mid 1995, when I left the South Bay to move to the
San Fernando Valley. None of us were online yet (the internet
was still in its infancy), so any continuing contributions on
my end became too much trouble to attempt. Mike was editing
the newsletter by this point, and though issue #49 (Jan - May
1995) included the optimistic statement: "the folklore
column will return in the next issue of the newsletter! (hopefully)."
It was not to be. The September / December 1994 column would
be my last for years.
The rest you know
by now. Book Again's newsletter went online in September 1997,
and the folklore column returned with a vengeance! Editing chores
were divided between our Uncle Mike for the online edition and
Brother Mike for the printed version. Then by 2004, Brother
Dan (this is starting to sound like a monastery) took
over the whole darn mess.
And, though circumstances
forced a brief disappearing act on my part from May 2002 to
March 2003, I have returned, and continue to write the folklore
column (I have returned to the South Bay as well, incidentally).
As always, I trust the best is yet to be -- but I have long wanted to make previous columns available to
With these words
I now write, and the help of long-suffering Brother Dan, this
dream is now a reality.
A quick legal note:
All columns found herein are copyrighted to me, and should not
be used without permission. My ode to Charles Schulz, "Charlie
at the Bat," has found its way elsewhere on the net, and
I have no problem with that as I was in communication with the
webmaster of that site and a "copyright Joe Nolte"
appears on the page. Generally I don't mind seeing my words
take root in other places, but I strongly object to seeing my
words without my authorship mentioned...
In short, if you
want to cite any of this stuff, let us know first!
It's time to bid
this overlong introduction goodbye, and get to the folklore!
As I said, I spent the first six months delving into the origins
of Holidays. To my delight, the first issue of the newsletter
was to appear in October -- and Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. It
was a good way to start things rolling...
click here to start digging into our Folklore archive
"When I wasn't working, the weekends would usually find me alone in an empty apartment,
making do with the company of books."—Barack Obama
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just west of Anza, between Shakey's Pizza and McDonald's
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