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Playing dead 

Rolling over is not an option

Twice now -- twice in the past few months -- Lary's cat has had to fake her own death to get his attention. "I swear she's really dead this time," I had to shriek into Lary's voice mail. "I can't find her anywhere, and there's a smell. I know that smell, it's dead cat smell, so get your worthless crusty ass back to Atlanta and look for your poor dead cat who died of loneliness, you selfish walking colostomy bag of cat-killing wasted space. Fuck you."

So Lary can't escape. Not from me. Not from his cat Mona. No way. He had to fly all the way back from his work in Chicago, or Wisconsin, or the damn Bahamas (that was the first time Mona played dead) to look for his cat, who usually sleeps on a heated pillow atop a gilded pedestal in his living room, if you call that a living room. (I personally call it a covered alleyway, but then I have to admit that since he added climate control it can be pretty nice sometimes, even though there's mosquito larvae living in the fountain in his foyer.)

In his absence, a tribe of feral kittens moved onto Lary's carport, living under upturned oil barrels and such. It serves him right if you ask me, because Lary is not a kitten kind of guy. Mona doesn't count, because we all concede that Mona must be a reincarnated gargoyle, probably having spent her past life perched above the very same doorway of the very same dilapidated old stone warehouse where Lary now lives. Years ago, on the day she appeared, she was obviously just returning home after a long absence, and she must like what Lary did to the place. He's fashioned it into a passable habitat over the years, I must admit.

The feral kittens certainly think so. In the months since Lary's been away on his series of failed escapes, the kittens have made themselves at home, even slaughtering a squirrel. They left it on his doormat like a fuzzy little sacrificial offering, with its fuzzy little throat ripped out.

"Thanks for the digs," the kittens are saying to Lary. "If you come home, we promise there'll be plenty more where that came from." But Mona's tactics are more effective. Her practice is to go on a hunger strike and hide in an unused air-conditioning vent above the bathroom until he's forced to return. So Lary's home now, probably for good considering the weak economy, because it looks like no one will escape that.

I'm about to lose my job, too -- or at the very least any semblance of what it used to be -- but Lary is much better equipped for poverty than I am. His place is paid for and built like a survival bunker. I think he can even catch rainwater through some brick-laden flow patterns he created in imitation of ancient Roman aqueducts. And there are a jillion plants in his home, too, some of them probably edible, as are the kittens, of course.

So he's been poor before and it seems he's been priming himself for when it happens again. I must learn from him, because in the past I'd always assumed that, if I had to, I could drop everything and head for the hills and live in a lean-to fashioned from a pair of piss-stained homeless man's pants. For food I figured I could grow foot-long, tobacco-colored toenails and use them to spear rodents. It was a great escape plan, but it relied heavily on a complete lack of reality as well as my Swiss army knife, which was confiscated at the security checkpoint in the San Diego airport last week. I could have built a house with that thing, I thought as they took it, or at the very least peck my way out of a kidnapper's car trunk.

But it's gone now, and with it are my illusions of escape. I can't escape to the hills -- my baby can't rightfully thrive on mulch, anyway. I can't even fake my own death like Lary's cat. I'll have to hang here. Toughen up. Stick it out. My mother was in her mid-50s when she lost her job as a computer weapons specialist during the government cutbacks of the late '80s, and right away she rolled up her sleeves and got another job selling packaged sandwiches from a catering truck parked at construction sites.

After that she sold used gewgaws -- big-eyed ceramic beagles, old turntable parts, macrame owls, poodle-shaped toilet-paper cozies, etc. -- at swap meets in the San Diego sports-arena parking lot. The local newspaper was so impressed with her tenacity they printed an article about her, titled "From Missiles to Miscellaneous," which featured an unflattering photo of my mother in a coin belt standing next to a second-hand Catholic confessional priced at just $75. If I think hard enough I can still see her smiling back at me in that bad picture, smiling with steely resolve. "Don't you dare," she is saying, "don't you dare roll over and play dead."

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