For those who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, you will have noticed that I have had an addition to my household. A lost cat who tried to “adopt” me roughly four weeks ago. He is now a fully fledged member of the Smith clan, United Kingdom branch.
His newly christened name is Puddin as that was how I referred to him when I mistook him for a her. The lack of two appendages led me to believe that Puddin was a she cat, turned out that he’d been “fixed,” Hence the missing cojones.
I had turned Puddin out the first time we met, almost four weeks ago, as after he’d yowled to be let in, he was in good condition. Not hungry or thirsty, I believed the little chap to be just lost and after calming him down I released him back into the night.
On last Friday, when I returned from visiting with my daughter Megs and her boyfriend Max at around half twelve in the morning, I heard a cat crying out in distress. At a decibel level that could shatter glass, some poor creature was in the car park next door, “screaming the place down.”
I walked over with my mini torch (flashlight) and found a very familiar little face looking back at me from under a car. I made soothing noises and the cat followed me into my house.
I knew immediately that this was the same feline who’d visited me before. This time, however, he was starving. I opened three tins of food; some salmon I did not like; a small tin of mackerel; and a tin of tuna. He scarfed the lot and then wound himself around me begging for attention.
I played with him and gave him the attention desired. When I finally had to call it a night, I put him back out as I had nothing in the way of a kitty toilet. I then went to sleep.
I was awakened by a neighbour knocking on my front door. I went downstairs and upon opening the door, a grey and white streak shot into the house looking for the food dish. My Indian neighbour, whom I had never had the opportunity to speak to other than a friendly hello, was asking if the animal was mine.
I gave an account of how the creature wound up at my house. She then explained that the little thing had been wandering between my front door and back garden, yowling non-stop. She had thought that Puddin was a cat that another friend’s neighbour had lost. She told me that when she walked up to the friend’s house, the cat followed most of the way, but turned back halfway there.
Later the “friend” and a small brood of female children came to see if this was their neighbour’s pet.
They brought up the possibility of the cat having a microchip and my neighbour asked if she could take Puddin to the vet to check for the chip and treat a bloody back claw. I thanked her and took her up on her offer, but decided after talking to my daughter, to take Puddin myself.
I invested in a litter tray, since my “new” cat didn’t appear to like the great outdoors, and invested in some cat food. I also checked with the local pet store who assured me that they could check for a chip.
I then bought a carrier and checked if there was time the next day for an appointment.
Needless to say, there was and I got everything sorted out. Puddin had no chip, but, he did have a new home. All the young ladies at the vet’s loved my choice of name and they assured me that it was just as suitable for a male cat.
Puddin is the name and he is now a very big part of my household. I have since discovered that his meowing is almost always at ear shattering level, except when his “pretend” meows. He is just starting to feel comfortable enough that he doesn’t enter an empty room and start yowling till I show up.
He is also a bit older than I originally thought. The nice vet explained that he’s around 10 years-old. I don’t mind. He is house trained, loveable, and he likes to snuggle. He is also starting to sharpen claws on my settee, I believe a scratching post is in order.
I will get him microchipped, unlike his last owner, and will enjoy him for as long as I can. He has given me a lot of joy in such a short time. I’m glad he decided to adopt me! I also need to thank the neighbour who left a tin of cat food outside my front door for my new family member.
So, I have a 1040 appointment for my first follow-on with my surgeon. Since the hospital where I had my two surgeries performed is miles away I got up early to miss the traffic snarl that is a permanent fixture of the road network where I live.
This was going to be a long drive – the longest since my heart attack and subsequent surgeries – so my daughter Meg was coming along to help with the unfamiliar and long drive. Unfamiliar, because both times I made the journey, I had not driven.
The first time to the hospital I was strapped into a gurney in the back of a speeding ambulance and was a bit preoccupied with the pain of the heart attack to notice where we were going. I even found out later that we drove through one helluva thunderstorm that I was completely unaware of.
The second time was my somewhat inglorious departure from the hospital. A very good friend had picked me up so I could leave in the evening. Without any hesitation he got one of his mates to ‘cover’ the start of his night shift so he could drive the long distance to get me home. I did not pay a lot of attention as I was still so ‘drugged’ up that we could have been driving on the moon.
So this morning, despite neither of us sleeping well (me because my sinuses decided to reflect the middle of the night weather change and Meg because the same weather change caused her bedroom temperature to skyrocket), we both got up extra early.
Amazingly we both got ready to leave on time (0900) for the Sat Nav‘s over optimistic estimate of a one hour and fifteen minute drive to the hospital. The second we hit the main road that leads to the dual carriageway (aka highway) traffic was backed up and moving at a crawl.
I did not react as I normally do. I did not curse and smack the steering wheel. I did make a few obligatory remarks about the driving skills of my fellow motorists and put the radio on for the travel news.
A side note about travel news. I listen to a station that caters to (how to delicately put this) older listeners. Folks who really do know how to Jitterbug and do the Lindy. You know, folks who actually had a chance to meet Glen Miller. I will point out that I do not particularly like this station. They like talking to the older listeners more than playing music. I applaud their attentiveness to their fans, but… Any way they usually give travel updates every 15 minutes.
Not this morning.
I kept listening to the station for travel updates that are advertised as being “every 15 minutes” but after a half hour of driving they still had not given anyone a clue about the state of the roads or why everybody and their brother was on the road this morning.
It was not until after we were trapped in a mile long traffic jam that the travel news came on and helpfully informed us of the multi-vehicle crash that had caused it. Just for the record? It was a whole lot later than 15 minutes Mr Radio Announcer.
Annoying (but as Meg pointed out not as annoying as it must have been for the poor folks that actually had the accident)although not insurmountable. Except for the fact that the accident occurred on the Orwell Bridge and said bridge is the main artery into and out of the area. One carefully placed (or not so carefully placed) accident can cause a gridlock in the county that can last for hours.
A few years ago one such accident occurred and a 30 minute journey to work became a three and a half hour tortuous slog down back roads that got smaller and less navigable the closer I got to work. Luckily for me, today I only had to ring the hospital and tell them that I was caught in a gridlock and could not make the appointment.
One very short mobile (cell) phone call later and whatever stress that was looming in the back of my mind because of the traffic jam, dissipated. Poof. Just like that.
The one thing I noticed about the whole situation this morning is that not once during the most stressful part of my short abortive journey did I long for a cigarette. There was no urge, no involuntary ‘reaching for a packet’ or patting of shirt pockets hunting for packs of smokes.
Considering that not too long ago, I would have irritably and angrily puffed my way through at least a half pack of cigarettes, this was quite an accomplishment. I mean, I wasn’t even chewing gum.
So my first follow on appointment was rearranged and we got caught for well over an hour in a traffic jam and I was in a situation that historically would have had me smoking like a forest fire. Not only that, but I would have been well on my way to some ‘righteous-road-rage.’
I guess I am really trying to change my outlook on life and my reaction to it.
Shame it took a heart attack and a close call with death to bring it about. Still, better late than never.
I was going to talk about a film I watched last night. The 2011 film URBEX aka Urban Explorer was directed by Andy Fetsher and distributed by German distributor Universum. It is about a group of five young people who go through previously sealed tunnels underneath Berlin. I quite enjoyed it and will be reviewing it later.
As I was trawling the net (or Googling the net if you prefer) to find more information on the film, my eye caught a reference to urban exploration. I went back and clicked on the link to a Wikipedia page.
The Wikipedia definition of Urban Exploration is, ‘ Urban exploration (often shortened as urbex or UE) is the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial facilities. Urban exploration is also commonly referred to as infiltration, although some people consider infiltration to be more closely associated with the exploration of active or inhabited sites. It may also be referred to as draining (when exploring drains) urban spelunking, urban rock climbing, urban caving, or building hacking.’
Essentially urban exploration (UE) is something that has been steadily gaining in popularity since 2006. The dangers, according to Wikipedia, are many: Arrest – for criminal trespass or common trespassing. Jail or imprisonment – this one sort of dovetails with arrest. Physical – this can be broken down to personal injury and health issues (mostly due to exposure to Asbestos).
I can see the appeal. The article in Wikipedia intimates that this is a new hobby of younger people. I am guessing that includes a demographic of perhaps 13 to 30. Although looking at it, I would probably enjoy participating in the practise as well.
I remember getting excited when I learned about the ‘buried city’ underneath Seattle in the mid seventies. This curiosity was given a booster shot of publicity when it featured in an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Amazingly this curiosity has been around since the 1950’s and it’s first official tour took place in 1965.
I felt the same burst of excitement when years later I learned of the buried city under Edinburgh, Scotland. I would have given my right arm to see either of these two fascinating places in person. If you wander through the web, you’ll find that a lot of places have ‘buried cities’ or ‘underground vaults’ all available for public legal touring.
But if you look a little closer, you’ll find images and links to the UE world of ‘tours.’
My daughter adores old buildings and abandoned industrial estates. They are, to her, the modern equivalent of the ‘ghost town’ and they hold the same fascination as the Mesa Verde held for me as a youngster. But if I am really honest, I feel the same about buildings or areas that are abandoned and forgotten in the not so distant past.
I can see the allure of exploring these forbidden places. Places that have been deserted and emptied of human occupants with only the vestiges of prior inhabitants remaining.
I worked, for a very short time, for a used office furniture retailer. They would go and survey what office articles such as desks, chairs, filing cabinets, et al, an out of business retailer had left behind. A bid would be put in for clearing out the remaining equipment. If the bid was accepted, we would go in and collect the things for cleaning, inexpensive repair and re-sell the items at a ‘discount’ price.
It was while I was working for this small business that I got to experience what could be called a type of urban exploration.
The business had been a long running traditional employer of thousands of people in the local area. The company had gone into receivership in the mid 1990’s. I was tasked with another employee from the furniture store to collect any office furniture that was deemed ‘worth messing with’ and bring to the store’s repair warehouse.
The abandoned building was the size of two American football fields laying end to end. It was winter time and the inside of this huge mausoleum was ten degrees colder than the outside.
Machinery, desks, chairs, filing cabinets and other assorted office paraphernalia was scattered throughout the building. The main area was surrounded by little offices that perhaps the worker’s supervisors had run their sections from.
The entire area, including the offices, had a feeling of panicky departure. It looked like a land bound Mary Celeste. Books were left open on desks as if they’d been abandoned mid-sentence. Pens, pencils, staplers and staple pullers littered the desks and the floor.
A lot of the pen holders still had expensive pens in them. The desks were full of papers; expense sheets, manifestos, instructions and private correspondence. A few briefcases were scattered here and there. If not for the thick layer of dust that permeated the building and the lack of order and people, it looked as though everyone had just left hurriedly for a fire drill or a quick union meeting.
It was eerie, disquieting and fascinating.
One room was full of children’s books. Not your run of the mill present day books either. Quite a few looked as though they might be collectors editions of children’s classics. Black Beauty, Treasure Island, and other children’s books littered the floor and filled boxes that were in untidy heaps.
When my colleague and I had our lunch break we went into the areas that were ‘off limits’ and explored. These areas were even more fascinating. Where the main area we’d been working in looked hastily deserted. The off limits area looked like there should still be people there working and planning their rosters and task lists. This area was almost clean. The ever present thick dust that had coated everything in the other room was not present in these offices. The look of disarray was not present either.
Everything was neat and precise and clean. We both felt a little like cat-burglars so we did not stay long. I don’t know about my co-worker, but I felt like the inhabitants of the offices were going to come in at any minute and throw us out.
When we finished our collection of the old office things deemed saleable, we left. I felt like a modern day archaeologist. As silly as it might sound, I felt I knew how the folks had felt that explored the Egyptian tombs and the Aztec ruins.
Oh sure, my little exploration of a business gone broke couldn’t compare in importance or significance, but, the snapshots of daily activity in an recently deserted building was fascinating.
I can well imagine why people have been increasingly interested in this modern form of exploration. The mix of forbidden exploration of hitherto unknown or sealed locations and the chances of injury combined with the visceral and tactile experiences must be a heady combination that is difficult to refuse.
A lot people are curious about life before we came along. Even more so if the life we see is of an infamous or disturbing nature. It will be interesting to see where this variation of time travel will go. Because that is what urban exploration seems to be. A quick look at yesterday or yesteryear, that is dirty, forbidden, dangerous and excitingly real.
My wife had gotten a job with the Salt Shaker Restaurant near the Pasadena Convention Centre. It was working as a waitress on the ‘graveyard shift’ from ten thirty at night till five thirty the next morning. The pay was pretty good and the tips weren’t bad either. The only draw back was that we didn’t have a car, so I walked her to work every night. We couldn’t really afford a car so we decided to ‘hoof it’ everywhere that was reasonably close and use the bus for the longer jaunts.
In the meantime, I had let my hair grow and I’d grown a moustache and a goatee. I hadn’t gotten a job yet. I was applying for just about everything that had cropped up with little success. I was also trying to figure out how to get into the entertainment business. I talked to Martin’s fiancée Lillian. She had worked as a model and was full of suggestions on how to get work as an actor. Her first suggestion was to check out the Pasadena Amateur Theatre scene.
I went to the Pasadena Playhouse and asked about auditions for their next Am Dram. They took my details and explained that I would be responsible for supplying my own wardrobe, make-up and that I would have to pay a ‘fee’ to be considered for any auditions in future. I was also told that agents frequently attended their performances so it was a good place to get noticed.
I was a little concerned. Back home wardrobe and make-up were provided by the Theatre and we didn’t pay any fees. I was in a completely different world in California and one where I couldn’t afford to even join an amateur group. I would have to re-think my options.
I had gotten into a regular routine and route when I walked my wife to work each night. We would walk down past the Southwestern Bell building and take the next left, walk straight up till we passed the convention centre and then the restaurant. I would drop her off and then either repeat the journey in reverse or walk up towards the Pasadena Hilton on South Los Robles Avenue.
I started going the Hilton way regularly. The main reason was that if I took the route that went back by Southwestern Bell, I would invariably bump into a pimp and his three or four ladies who hung out on the street corner across from the Bell building. The first time it happened, I was amused and surprised and, let’s face it, a little shocked.
I mean this tall thin black man with the ‘lollipop’ afro, big ten gallon panama hat and long leather coat was very friendly and funny. He was amazed that I was not interested in any of his ‘ladies’. I first met him when I paused on the street corner to light a cigarette. He asked if I had a match. I said no but I had a lighter. He laughed and started chatting with me. This became a regular occurrence until he decided that I was a plain clothes cop. Hence the reason I changed my return home route.
Walking towards the Pasadena Hilton, I passed what looked like a tennis or country club. I would stand and watch the tennis players in their pristine tennis clogs as they batted the ball back and forth. One night a “drop-dead gorgeous” blonde woman stopped to talk to me.
“Hey! You’ve been coming by here an awful lot.”
“Yeah.” I replied, feeling friendly, “It’s kind of my regular route now.” I chuckled, waved and started to move off.
“Don’t go!” She waved her tennis racket. “You play?”
“I’ve tried it once or twice.”
“Well you ought to come down, we’ll have a volley or two.” She was smiling and shielding her eyes against the lights.
“I’m not a member.” I shrugged and started to wave again, when she moved closer to me.
“I can sign up to two guests in. Come on in and we’ll see what you can do. We can get you some tennis clothes, so you don’t have to worry about that.”
I laughed again and started off.
“Wait! What’s wrong? You scared I’ll beat you?”
I laughed again and shaking my head, I gave a friendly wave and kept walking.
“Some other time then.” She sounded disappointed and I had the briefest moment of thinking about turning around and going in. Then it hit me. I realised that she wasn’t really interested in playing tennis with me.
I always was a little stupid when it came to women and their possible interest in me. While pondering this new information I had reached the Hilton. As usual the doorman greeted me with a smile and a “Good evening, sir.” I was always amazed that he would be so welcoming to a young long haired guy in boots and jeans. I mean the Hilton was rich with a capital R and I could never figure out why they didn’t tell me to get lost.
I found out much later from my friend Nathan that the hotel staff thought I was an ‘undercover cop.’ It turned out that my appearance combined with my attire pretty much screamed cop. I thought that was very funny until he said that for safety sake I should either get a haircut or vary my route a bit more.
On the night I met up with the Grim Reaper twice, I had indeed varied my route. I walked by the Pasadena City Courthouse. It was, at that time, touted as the most beautiful courthouse in the country. It was pretty impressive. It sat back from the road and was surrounded by gardens and weeping willow trees.
As I approached the courthouse heading north, I noticed a van parked on a side street facing away from me. The engine was idling and every now and then the driver would goose the gas pedal. I could see the driver’s bearded face watching me in his side view mirror. I had turned down the road he was on and noticing that he was watching me, I got a tingle that crawled up the back of my neck. He was revving his engine again when I decided to turn around and go back the way I had come.
I nonchalantly strolled up to the corner where a huge weeping willow was. I walked out of the van’s sight line and kept my casual pace going. The second I was out of the van driver’s sight, I heard the squeal of tyres on asphalt. I glanced back and saw he had made a U-turn in the road and was racing his van in my direction.
I jumped forward like I had a rocket up my ass and ran to the intersection. I darted through the street lights just as they turned red. The van shot through right after me; the other cars screeched to a halt and angry horns were blatting out their disapproval. I ran through the supermarket parking lot, dodging between cars and ducking down so the van driver could not see me.
I made my way to the supermarket doors and ran in. I stood hunched over and looking out into the parking lot. The van went up and down each row of cars repeatedly. He was obviously looking for me. After what seemed like hours he gave up and left.
Years later I read with horror about the ‘green death van’ that had been cruising the roads in Southern California and how the bearded driver was kidnapping and torturing people to death. The van that had chased me that night was green and the driver had a bushy beard. I think someone was looking out for me on that Pasadena street.
But I think that whoever had kept an eye out on my well being with the van fell asleep for a bit while I was in the supermarket. As I was headed towards the opposite exit in the store I caught sight of a group of about eight black teenagers disappearing through the door.
I walked out seconds later and saw them all jump over a cinder block wall as I came out. I was about to have my second close call of the evening.
I walked over the 210 Highway on the street bridge. I was about halfway across when I got that tingle again, but this time I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. My heart jumped into my throat. The van! I looked quickly behind me. No van. But there was a group of eight black gang members who were quickly and silently closing the gap between us.
I turned back around and quickened my pace. Only a little, I didn’t want them to either sense fear or decide to speed things up. I was headed for a vacant lot just a few yards ahead. I passed it several times and I’d noticed an empty glass Sangria gallon-sized bottle there every time I’d passed the lot.
That jug was my immediate goal. I figured that they would probably overtake me before I could get to my house which was just around the corner from the empty lot. In my head, I knew they were going to get to me before I could get in the house. If I could get hold of that huge bottle, I could at least take a couple of the bastards out with me. I got to the lot and looked quickly for the jug. My heart jumped from my throat to the back of my mouth. Someone had broken it. All that remained was the very end of the neck with it’s finger hole.
Change of plan. I walked a little bit faster. The gang was getting uncomfortably close by now. I turned the corner opposite my house. As I got out of their line of sight, I did a replay of what I had done with the van. I ran like the devil was chasing me. Sprinting moved in a big half circle and crawled on the porch from the side of the house. I crouched and opened my front door and slipped in.
I looked out my front window. The eight youths had reached the corner. They stopped and looked up the street. Not seeing their prey they bolted up the street shouting to each other as they looked for me.
I sat on the floor covered in sweat. Two close calls in one night.