Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Treasury

We weren't even looking for it, you know; what we were trying to find last Friday was a little grey kitten who was late for her doctor's appointment. But when Tara removed a jumbled woodpile from the little hollow under the breezeway stairs and peered in, this is what she saw:

In Tara's* own words:

"At first I could see nothing, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the space within emerged slowly from the mist, strange shapes, metal, and rust—everywhere the glint of rust.

"For the moment—an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by—I was struck dumb with amazement, and when my sister, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, terrible things...'"

Yes, it was yet another jumbled pile of rusty hunks of rusty rust; this find, this treasure was made up of several metal drawers (quelle surprise) full to the brim with bolts (again, quelle surprise), with some copper and brass thrown in which we surmised had been left from when the pipes in the cellar got redone. Tara seemed to have a vague inkling of the stuff having been put there somewhere around 2003, though I didn't remember it; but given that that's just the kind of information I resent using up my precious brainspace, I can't say it particularly bothers me that I successfully repressed it.

And even though it didn't really look like a whole lot of stuff, it was really quite dense, and man, hauling that crap around on a hot day like today (though I hear tomorrow is supposed to be worse) sure worked up a sweat, oy. Here's the butt-end of Larry, per usual:

Doesn't look like all that much, does it?

All told though it came to a whopping 1180 pounds of scrap iron; with the brass, copper and aluminum bits added in, it weighed just over 1200 pounds. Poor Larry. He's a very good car, that Larry the Volvo station waggon.

So that was our thirty-sixth trip to the scrapyard; and our total of scrap iron removed from the property (since we've gotten receipts from the scrapyard, which isn't all of it, since we took numerous car loads before that just to the dump) now stands at 31,820 pounds, or 15.91 tons. And yes, of course, there is still more.

The little grey kitten, by the way, is healing quite well and is quite lively and vigorous. I've been bottle-feeding her and have begun weaning her (she's four weeks old even today). There is one thing, though—she may actually be a he. Hard to tell, still; s/he's just so teeny!

*Well, okay, maybe not Tara's words so much as Howard Carter's. Details.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Of Cats and Cars

Holy Mother of the Cats—where on Earth do I start with the day known as Today?

I woke up early, which for me means the actual morning, because I was so worried about the cats. There are a couple batches of kittens out there, you see. Of course.

Now before anyone goes all OMGeleventy!!1! on me, let me just say that I've already contacted the local trap-neuter-release people. Because there are going to be some hysterectomies around here dammit.

You may be familiar with Splotch's batch of kittens, the ones charmingly named after various cars, as they were born in the back seat of an MG Midget; I've posted a picture of all four of them a few posts down. But of course Smudge, her sister, also had a batch of four.

She had them, in her infinite wisdom, on top of a pile of wood in the downstairs garage three weeks ago. She moved them shortly after to some place we couldn't find them; but the other day she'd moved them again, back into the downstairs garage. Into the trunk of a Citroën DS, to be precise, which she accessed through where the back seat should have been.

Now though we are cleaning up the yard and getting rid of old rusty cars and in general making decent progress, still, there are places we haven't got to, which includes the downstairs garage. And so this Citroën was of course full to the brim with hunks of metal and rust and sharp edges. And the kittens were there, in the back, on top of it all.

So we (well Tara, mostly) cleaned it all out the day before yesterday, even though she got soaked in a downpour moving pieces of car out and away into the back yard; and we managed to make a nice cozy place inside that car, with no sharp edges, no places they could fall into or out of, and with a nice cardboard box lined with a towel.

Two of the kittens however were not in good shape. One was just tiny, not even really half the size of the others; and the second had some kind of open wound on its neck.

And so I was worried about them, of course. Last night when I last checked the first tiny one was so weak and lethargic I couldn't imagine it living through the night.

It didn't. I buried it this morning, over in the area we have buried all our beloved cats, the ones we've known for years. The poor little thing didn't even get a name, but I put it over there with the others.

Now I do understand that something like one in four kittens just doesn't make it, and that that is how Nature does things. So I was sad, but not surprised.

The second one though had what looked like two abscesses on its neck. The were large swollen areas about the size of marbles. Now I am not a vet, and though I hear it's not that tricky really to lance a boil I'm just too squeamish. And I couldn't imagine it getting better on its own, and so I figured the little thing would eventually catch a raging fever and slowly die.

But here's the other thing. In my state rabies is not uncommon. And so, by state law, if an animal comes into the vet with a 'wound of unknown origin' it is supposed to either be quarantined for a whole six months, or put down. I didn't for a minute think it was actually an animal bite, as it's too young to have been in a fight, and it's been with its mother all this time and so protected; I can, however, imagine that it fell out of whatever cockamamie nest Smudge thought adequate and cut itself on some sharp bit of something. But bringing it to the vet looked like it might also be a death sentence. How would I quarantine it for six months?

Still, when the choice came down to almost certainly letting it die slowly and miserably if untreated, or possibly being put down quickly and painlessly, I called the vet. They made an appointment for 4pm. I know. It's a feral kitten. But I couldn't abide letting it suffer.

Then Tara came over. You see we were scheduled to do an iron run today, a load of light stuff in the bus. But since we were getting a decently early start, we figured we'd have plenty of time to get back for the appointment.

So we loaded up the bus with old doors and hoods, most of which came from behind the shed, where Tara wants to be able to mow. It's almost there now, but not quite yet. The pictures:

The usual side view, filled up with junk:

And the back:

So, despite all the drama with the kittens, otherwise it was all going along just fine.

We got about halfway to the scrapyard when the gas pedal went all the way to the floor and stayed there. Now luckily it wasn't accelerating or anything; but something had definitely come undone. We coasted to a stop in a parking lot full of trucks, one of which incidentally was a car-carrier full of old rusty things. Could we hook a ride, I wondered?

Now Tara I swear is a miracle worker. She got right down in the dirt under the front of the bus (the gas pedal is after all right there) and found that the throttle cable had come undone. And luckily, luckily there had been a rusty plate attached to the bottom of the bus that had caught the nut and bolt which had held the throttle cable in. So Tara simply bolted the thing back in, and in less than five minutes we were on our way again. Go Tara!

When we got to the scrapyard we drove around back to the light metals pile. The light blond guy who looks like Mark Twain was up sitting in The Claw, tidying up the place and consolidating the piles. At one point he gathered a fistful of what looked like old crumpled chain-link fence, and using it almost like a dustrag, swept the pile together, making sure to get all the little finicky bits. It was a sight, let me tell you.

I was surprised that The Claw, given its size and power, was so well-suited to such delicate work; however it wasn't long before it was back to its natural state, brute force. Here, apparently, is The Claw's method of engine removal:

I stood well back for that, let me tell you.

Even though it was a smallish load today, 'only' 820 pounds, we managed to pass a major milestone in our total. Because today on our thirty-fifth trip we passed fifteen tons. To be exact, we're now up to 30,640 pounds of scrap iron (not including cars), or 15.32 tons of iron removed from the property since we've been keeping track. And there's more set aside already, including a cache of my favorite, buckets of rusty bolts that we uncovered behind a wood pile today.

And we got back in plenty of time, even with the side trip to the fast food joint, and with Tara swinging by the repair shop to pick up her sewing machine.


When we got home, Smudge of course in her quite finite wisdom had moved her kittens. I don't know if she was reacting to the nice space we made her (they never like that), or if it was because we'd had to handle them some, or if Venus had moved into Scorpio, who knows. Well, there was still one left in the box, but of course it was not the one who needed to go to the vet. Of course not.

We looked everywhere. In the downstairs garage behind the Citroën, in the corner in the Austin-Healey, up in the battery compartment of both that and the MG in front of it, up on the woodpiles under the windows where Smudge had given birth to the things in the first place; nothing.

Then we looked in the shed, where Aleister and the other kittens have been hanging out. Also nothing. We looked and looked and found no sign of them, save for the yellow kitten who was left.

Four o'clock came around. I called the vet, and told them I couldn't come in, since I couldn't find the kitten. I started to worry again.

Tara mowed the lawn a little, and I took Aleister inside where he was safe (the others are little enough that they hide). That didn't last long though as the mower ran out of gas pretty quick.

Then, for some reason, Tara got the idea to look over by the shop.

You have to understand. The shop is on the north edge of the property. It's rather a ways from the downstairs garage, or the shed. Not that far for a human, no, but for a cat, dragging a kitten?

But underneath one of the old bugs there it was, a kitten, the yellow and white one. We listened for mews. After a few minutes we determined that yes, the other one was there. I called the vet back. They could still take us. So Tara fished the poor thing out and we bundled it into the cat carrier and all three (myself, Tara, and my mom, plus I guess the kitten makes four) went down to the vet. And he examined it.

Well. The good news was that it wasn't actually a 'wound of unknown origin.' So the state didn't need to get involved after all, and there was no choice between a lengthy quarantine and putting it down.

But now this is where it gets pretty icky. Because what it was was this:

There are these things called cuterebra. Basically they are a type of botfly larvae that find their way under the skin of some animals (usually they go in through the nose or mouth), mostly rabbits and squirrels, but sometimes also cats. Each 'boil' contained a, well, maggot, basically. You can Google it yourself (I did) if you have the stomach, but I'll warn you there will probably be pictures.

The vet removed them, over in the back room where we couldn't see it, bless him. He asked if I wanted to see the larvae and I said HELL NO, thanks.

So. This is where we are. This kitten is three weeks old yesterday, born to a feral mother. A feral mother who isn't exactly going to be winning any Mother of the Year awards. Why if there were such a thing as KPS (Kitten Protective Services) you bet your ass I'd be reporting her.

And given her natural stupidity I'm pretty sure that if we just put the kitten back with its siblings Smudge would just move them again. I have no idea where exactly she'll move them to, but I'd bet good money it will be some place completely inaccessible, down in the dirt and the rust. And that little kitten we brought to the vet has basically an open wound, one that needs to stay nice and clean, and which will probably heal fairly slowly, as it's rather deep. The vet even gave us antibiotics, though the amount I have to give it is so small there isn't even a line on the syringe.

This kitten mind you is otherwise quite healthy; it mews plenty and is very squirmy and strong, and it's nice and fat and well-fed. And we'd already gone through all the trouble of getting it treated, and so it seems counter-productive at best to just throw it back out in the wild to take its chances.

So I'm bottle-feeding it for the time being. At three weeks old it doesn't require the round-the-clock feedings (seriously, like every two hours) that newborns do; it should be able to start eating some solid food, or even drink the formula from a bowl, in a few days or a week. Still it's a bit of work.

So I guess we have a new cat, in addition to Aleister (that makes four total, which is still totally doable here). Because from what I hear, bottle-fed kittens turn into very lovey and devoted housecats (after all the person feeding them is basically their mother).

What we don't have though, is a name for the little thing. We're pretty sure it's female (it's pretty small still and hard to tell). Tara of course suggested Maggie, which, though I like the sound of Maggie the Moggie, still, ewwwww. The intake form just listed her as 'kitten', which on the typed-up label for the antibiotics ended up as Kitty Mymom'slastname, so perhaps Catherine would work too. Any suggestions?

What a day. I hope the rest of it is peaceful.

Monday, July 11, 2011


This past weekend my sister and I actually managed to wake up early enough both days to get ourselves to another car event. This time however it was not exclusive to Citroëns, though there were a few there (including my sister's Deux Chevaux), but to little cars and the people nuts enough to like (and own) them.

And when I say little I mean little. Micro, in fact.

Most of them were made in Europe and date from the 50s and 60s; I'm not sure quite what that says about Europe, though I suppose being infested with medieval towns with tiny alleyways is a reasonably plausible excuse.

There were Goggomobils

And old-school Minis

And the type of Messerschmitt that doesn't fly

Little Fiats (which I understand is short for Fix it again, Tony)

Wait, let's get a bit of scale on that:

As well as a few Isettas, which, and I am not making this up, are actually BMWs:

And in other things I am not making up, the Isetta was created by someone who also designed refrigerators, hence the door:

There was even an old Beetle there, though it was one of the bigger cars and looked, like the Deux Chevauxs, comparatively ginormous. Luxurious, even.

And again, though I don't generally care a whole lot about cars, I will admit to being amused by these tiny little micro cars. They're just so damned odd. And the people who own them and repeatedly attempt to get them running, in spite of the obvious and regrettable lack of common sense and sanity, are for the most part very nice, and quite funny, too.

So we had fun this weekend, and saw some friends. But it got me thinking about whether I'd ever want one. I don't know.

Because my main criteria for a car is comfort (well, reliability is good, too). And these, well, they're not exactly comfortable. First of all if you are a full-grown adult human you don't so much sit in one as wear one. Second, there is no such thing as air-conditioning in them, and in fact some of them don't even have windows that open, which, I'm sure you can imagine, is a whole boatload of fun on a sunny weekend in July. And honestly I don't know how anyone can drive a Goggomobil and remain conscious, what with the cloud of two-stroke fumes it doesn't have the power to get ahead of.

Because that is one of my bottom lines now: I will be comfortable. Because being uncomfortable is one of the things I remember most about my childhood. Now that may not sound like much; it's not really a big deal to be uncomfortable, right? It's not like actual physical pain. Except that it wasn't a temporary thing, a little thing. This was permanent, and across the board.

It's one thing to do without running water for a few days if say the water main outside your house bursts, or if you are camping. It's another thing to have no water at all most summers because the well went dry, and no water in most of the faucets anyway because when they dripped, and they all dripped eventually, my father's solution was to shut them off and walk away. Or to go without hot water for decades, because your father can't be arsed to install the water heater, which is sitting right there. Just like it's one thing to go outside and be cold in the winter, but another entirely to spend a long, long ride in a car with no heat at all, and then come home to a house set at 55 degrees. You simply never get warm in the winter.

It becomes the default, this lack of comfort, this profound unease. In winter you exist from that center of cold-in-the-bones, and any moment of warmth is the temporary thing. It always settles back to being cold, being uncomfortable. Worse yet, if I ever complained I was mocked, told it was nothing, not a big deal, what was I a princess expecting a life of luxury? That was the word my mother threw at me, princess.

And the old, shitty, non-heated, falling apart cars were of course a large part of all of that, especially since my father insisted on dragging all of us to all kinds of places like Import Auto Parts that we could not have cared less about. It was about control on his part as usual, I guess, or something to do with that personality disordered profound lack of understanding that people who were not him didn't naturally like everything he liked.

But getting back to the little car meet-thing. It's not exactly a big community, the micro car enthusiasts, especially given it's Massachusetts. And though the old Volkswagens aren't exactly micro cars, there is a fair bit of overlap in the communities. So there were more than a few old VW fans there.

Now my father worked out of a garage (or shop) on the property for something like thirty years, up until the mid 90s or so.

Saturday afternoon some of the little car people got talking about project cars they had (and trust me, little cars are invariably project cars). They were comparing numbers, how many of the things they had at the worst before they sobered up and came to terms with the fact that some of them were just never going to be fixable, and that they were just never going to have the resources to sink into some of the more hopeless cases.

I interrupted right there, and told them I had them all beat. Seventy-eight cars in the yard, I said. Then, when they looked at me in shock, I explained that my father was a hoarder who was also a Volkswagen mechanic, and one of the things he hoarded was old Volkswagens.

Then one guy looked at me and said, Are you Walter's daughter?

I am. And he knew. Despite the fact that my father hasn't been here in five years, and that he'd retired another ten years before that, and even though we were fifty miles from home, still, he knew my father, and he knew the property.

But then there's this part, and I don't know what to do about it.

Now I know that these people love their little cars; I get that and I think it's great that people have hobbies. I have more than a few myself. I can even, if not truly understand I suppose, accept that there are some people who simply love old air-cooled Volkswagens without being bad people, perhaps in the same way that someone can be fascinated with the history of Hitler's rise to power without being a Nazi. I get that, and while I will never understand why on a gut level I can see that it is true.

It's when they start going on about how great my father was that I get lost.

Although I can even sort of understand that part of it, I guess. If you only knew him through the Volkswagen stuff, if you'd only come by to look at parts, or ask him about your Bug (and he was always very happy to talk and talk and talk about VWs) you might think that he was just some nice older guy who was a bit eccentric, maybe.

Well maybe. Because how could you then look around at the yard and still think that? How could you see seventy-eight cars, even if in your eyes they weren't 'junk' cars, which were obviously taking over the yard, which were everywhere, in every space they could possibly fit, along with all the car parts and all the other stuff that was obviously junk, and also, also, know that there were children there, (Are you Walter's daughter?) and not think Wow this is fucked up? I suppose I could see if the person doing the observing was also a hoarder, but so far few of the people I've had this conversation with have given me that vibe (although occasionally someone really really does).

And then what do I say to that? Yes, I'm Walter's daughter. While I'm not expecting that you should have called CPS on my father's ass, how is it that you are standing there smiling at me about all this? I just said my father was a hoarder. I even asked if you'd seen that TV show and you smiled and said yes. Are you just not thinking? I understand this is a fairly shallow conversation, and I even understand that most people are not as ridiculously introverted as I am (and so deep conversations are not the default for you as they are for me), but really? That situation was obviously fucked up, you saw it, and you are standing there telling me about how my father had all this great stuff?

Over and over that is the reaction.

So where does that leave me? The older I get, the more I recognize and acknowledge the truth of the situation here, the less tolerance I have for just smiling and nodding when people start in about how great my father was and Oh wow all those Volkswagens! The hoarding, which included all those marvelous bugs and squarebacks and fastbacks and busses and campers and 411s and 412s and even that white pickup truck and the odd MG or Spitfire or Triumph or Datsun or old Saab 95 or 96, was child neglect and abuse. Making us live in all that, because his needs came first, was child abuse.

No, it's not that his needs came first, and this is the part that is so hard to articulate and make anyone understand, it's not even that; that implies that there was a hierarchy in his mind, that he had some kind of list in his head of people's needs that he had put in order, with his own at the top. The reality is that he was incapable of seeing or imagining that other people had needs at all. I have no idea, really, how my father perceived other people. Were they simply shadows cast on a wall? Things that could be talked at? Something that makes dinner? Noise, things moving, like some TV that you couldn't turn off? Something that's always trying to take his money? I honestly don't know. I really don't. Can someone tell me?

If I try to tell people well no actually you don't understand about him, he was a hoarder, it was hell growing up in that house, he was profoundly mentally ill, and this last one, that he was 'profoundly mentally ill' was an exact quote to this guy I was talking to on Saturday, it just gets glossed over. Like I said I understand a conversation with me sometimes, because I am so stunningly introverted, can be like wading into the shallows and suddenly stepping into the Mariana Trench. I get that. But they just nod and continue the conversation. I don't know what to do.

But that's the thing. I can't not say something. I can't just smile and nod when they go on about my father. I don't, really, I don't think, want to make someone feel bad, to grab them with a gotcha, to imply they are enabling something, glossing over child abuse like that; but at the same time, not saying anything is for me just more invalidation. It's me keeping silent, once again, as I always did.

I was trying to think the other day about what my father said that was so invalidating. And I couldn't really come up with anything. My mother, sure, oh I could think of plenty she said, but my father, no, I was coming up blank. And yet the almost overwhelming feeling I have of him is of invalidation.

He didn't need to say anything, that's the thing. Everything he did was invalidating to the people around him, his family. He didn't need to tell us we didn't deserve hot water; his adamant refusal to install the water heater until he did X, Y, and Z was invalidation enough. Especially since his reasoning was all couched in terms of his rights, not just what he wanted, but his rights; that he didn't have to, we couldn't make him, we didn't have the right to make him. And that is telling us that we didn't have the right to hot water, that we didn't ever have the right to be comfortable, to heat, to running water, to a yard not full of cars, to not be publicly humiliated (because everyone knew the yard was a junkyard), to have friends over, to have enough to eat, to be warm in winter, to have the lights on in a room with the window open in summer because the bugs could get in with the crappy screens we had, to eat in peace, to dislike certain foods, to have a closet to hang our clothes in, to get a gift that was our own; and anything we did get from him (and it was all from him, as he was the one with a job) was always so grudgingly given, couched in terms of how we should be grateful for getting even that and never forget that he was always entitled to a piece of it as he paid for it.

And still, when I mention any of that, these acquaintances who knew my father as the VW guy still stand there and smile and talk about how great my father was, as if they knew him better than I did. When I try to explain most of them just don't want to hear it. I know we have a problem with dealing with child abuse in this society. I do honestly think has its roots in that this society counts on certain kinds of inequality to function, and so not only wants to look the other way but must. I really do believe that. So nobody wants to hear it, to the point where most people out there will make excuse after excuse for abusers, even the really violent ones, oh he was such a nice guy when I saw him at the coffee shop, blah blah blah. But I just want to scream:

Dude. I knew my father. You didn't. You chatted with him about a mutual 'hobby'. You are making a whole lot of assumptions about him probably based in your own motivations, in your own way of doing things, assuming that he thought about things the same way you do and because you believe yourself to be a good person my father must have been one as well. And then when I say Well no he wasn't you don't want to listen. Do you know what you are saying then? You are saying that you who chatted with my father over a hobby knew him better than I did. Can you not see how stupid, how belittling, how arrogant that is? How profoundly invalidating that is of my own miserable experiences?

I don't blame you, I don't. I understand you don't want to hear it. But it is true, and I lived it.

I just don't know what to do with that.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Remember how just last night I idly wondered,

...hopefully then that means that stockade fence will also come down soon, and the whole thing can start to get mowed and added to the yard.

Well. Last night when I talked to Tara she mentioned she might come by today; lo and behold there she was this afternoon, with that selfsame stockade fence dead in her sights. Well, she was here for that and for gathering up some more rusty hunks of rusty rust for another iron run sometime probably next week. I mean, duh.

So she started banging away at the fence pieces, and hacking off the weeds and overgrowth with the manual weedwhacker (basically this blade-ish thing on the end of a stick), and yanking up the posts all by herself, and filling in some holes and smoothing things out, and getting the ubiquitous pile of rusty iron out of there for the above-mentioned scrap run, and moving some rotten lumber into the 'fill' pile (or the 'to be burned later' pile) nearby. I don't know whether to credit the energy drink(s) or if it's some kind of working-out-of-issues thing, but hey; and all the while she was being watched by this little guy:

Though he's only eight weeks on this Earth, little Aleister Meowley instinctively knows to give Tara a very wide berth when she's 'working.' Smart guy.

After clearing most of that out, even though the afternoon was wearing on, she then set her sights on an old dead birdcherry tree nearby, one of several in the yard that will need to come down.

Alas, energy drink(s) and repressed anger were not enough in this case. Because it turns out that our little electric chainsaw just couldn't handle the pressure here at the Best Little Hoardhouse in Massachusetts, and after getting about halfway through the hardwood trunk, well, let's just say the poor little thing died a noble, if really stinky, death:

But she didn't let that stop her, and so instead turned her sights to mowing the lawn, while I took the kitten safely inside to 'help' me with the dishes; and even though the area where the Saab corral was was mostly jewelweed or goldenrod or brambles and not in actual point of fact grass, still, once mowed and somewhat evened out it looked a lot better. Like, holy cow. Here are some befores and afters, so you can get the gist.

The before from the north, taken just a day or so ago, after we got the convertible Saabs out:

And the after:

The before, from a better angle:

And the after:

And here's a shot taken from near the property line on the north edge, looking towards the shed:

Look at all that lovely expanse of lawn, or soon-to-be lawn. Very nice. It will need a bit more smoothing out, as there are some ruts and low spots, but still. Aside from Caroline the blue Saab and the stack of fence pieces, both of which won't stay here, you'd never know there was a little mini-junkyard of cars there just the other day. Sweet.

The goal now is to get those fenders and stuff to the left of the shed above junked or consolidated/put away, so that Tara can then mow all the way around that building, which, we were realizing, is something we've never seen done here.

Nice bit of progress, isn't it?