Posted by: wrmcnutt | June 22, 2015

12 Volt Man

With apologies to Jimmy Buffet, I’ve been working on the electrical system of “Charleston Lady,” my West Wight Potter – 19, for the past couple of weeks.  East Tennessee has blasted into the 90’s as summer has arrived in the South, so I’ve only been able to work for a couple of hours a day.

It all started early last fall when I took it into my head to voyage downstream from my home waters on the Tennessee River, past Loudon Dam, with the goal of transiting the lock for the first time, overnight-ing on the boat, and returning the next day.  While there were challenges to be overcome, as there are in all voyages, this tale begins after I selected an anchorage, found a spot, got my hook set, and prepared dinner.  As the sun set over the riverbanks of the wildlife sanctuary I’d chosen for my overnight anchorage I took it up on myself to light my anchor light.

For the non-boaty types among my readers, the anchor light is a required safety feature that transforms your boat from a large, black object sitting in the middle of larger, blacker night, into an illuminated, picturesque vessel drifting gently with the current at anchor on the river.  This, theoretically, prevents a boatload of drunken college students doing forty knots in a ski-boat daddy paid for from running  you down on their way back to their anchorage/dock from the beer run.

I was deep, deep within a side-branch of the river, a good sixty yards from open water and wildly unlikely to be run over.  But rules are rules, and good habits gained now may keep me from getting chopped to chutney later when I’m anchored under less favorable conditions.  So I leaned over to push the toggle that would turn on the anchor light.  The fifteen year old plastic switch shattered under my finer.  The mounting tabs broke off, the case split in to small fragments, and whole mess turned into small shards of plastic.  In a Quality Assurance Meeting, this would be referred to as a “negative outcome of the standard procedure.”

Now, there had been a small problem with panel ever since I bought my boat:  the switch labeled “depth finder” did nothing.  If the main switch was on, I could operate my depth finder regardless of the position of the panel switch. So the short term solution was to disassemble the panel and re-wire it, routing my anchor light to my depth finder switch.  A quick test and:  the anchor light was now controlled by the depth finder switch and I could still operate my depth finder, regardless of the setting of the switch.

I’ll just swap out that switch over the winter.  Or maybe even the whole panel – after all, ALL of those switches are 15 years old. If one went bad on me . . . Yeah.  I’ll get that done before Christmas.  (Quit laughing!)

They’re laughing because they know what happened.  There are ALL SORTS of things that are more interesting and more fun than working on a boat electrical system, and the summer sailing season was upon me before I knew it.

As it happened, I had a mom and the Small Child overnight-ing on the boat.  If you have a Small Child in your life, you know that bedtime includes Story Book Time, and that means there needs to be sufficient light.  In addition to the problems detailed above, two of my cabin lights had died.  Well, the light was insufficient in the remaining light to properly execute Story Time.  Uncle Bill’s boat has officially been LAME.  Well, I may be closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, but be that as it may, THIS kind of lame will not be permitted to happen again.  So off we go to West Marine, for we need “marine grade” electrical components, lest corrosion set in.  While I was there buying new switches (because, of course, it couldn’t be loose connections, oh no, it had to be the most EXPENSIVE component of the cabin lights . . .) I noticed the fuse panels and thought, “oh yeah, I need to take care of that.”

And then I heard a siren song.  “Pick me,” she sang, “in addition to the four switches you need, I have TWO ADDITIONAL 12v sockets to plug in accessories.”

So I grabbed the little hoyden off of the hook and added her to my swag bag of electrical doodads.

Well, of course, the switches were a little too large, so I had to grind out the stainless steel fittings just a little.  The screws STILL aren’t the right size, so one of the light mounted a little wobbly. I need to get a larger screw the next time I’m at West marine.  But now I can turn to the simple swap out of those two fuse panels.  I opened the package.

“Um, cutie-pie.  You’re not a fuse panel. You’re a breaker panel.”

“You should have thought about that before you put a ring on it honey.  You’ve broken my seals and lost the receipt.  Besides, check out my 12v accessories sockets. You know you want me.”

Step One:  Remove fuse panel from hull-liner.  “Wow!  Look at all those wires.  And they’re going EVERYWHERE.  It’s only four circuits.  How many wires can they POSSIBLY need?”

Step Two: Mark ALL wires and where they came from.  Because I’ve done this dance before.

It got both a little easier and a little weirder at this point.  Roughly a third of that intimidating nest of wires turned out to be jumpers for the illuminated switches.  That it, they went from point to point ON the old fuse panel. I didn’t need to do ANYTHING with them.  So, win.

But the actual wiring got weird on me.  For starters, I had a whole mess of red wires.  One wire, used as a bus, ganged them all together.  Same for the black wires.  Then, each black and red wire attached to a prong on the fuse box. But I also had white, brown, and a single blue wire going off into the ether, Somewhere Into The Boat.

I’ll skip all the research I did.  It’s all very technical.  Well, actually, I retained NONE of it, and ended up with the old “monkey push the wire” approach.  I hooked it up every way I could think of until it all appeared to work.  “Trace every wire on the boat from one end to the other” is now on the “Boat List” for this fall when I can tolerate crawling around those tiny spaces.  But that, as they say, is another story.

I put the boat back in the water this weekend, so the final mounting of the (currently functional) breaker panel may wait a bit.  It was time to go sailing.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 7, 2015

Repairing My Nose Ring

Briefly, when I last launched the ‘Potter, I failed to remove the safety chain, and jerked the safety loop halfway out of the hull in the bow. The consensus has been that the lack of backing plate is was a BAD thing, and that I should not only repair the hull, but that I should add a backing plate. I’m a little worried that the lack of backing plate was by design, because jerking that loop out did a LITTLE damage to a SMALL part of my hull. I have a nagging fear that a proper backing plate might mean a LOT of damage to a LARGE part of my hull.

So I revisited my ‘glass’ repair on my West Wight Potter-19 yesterday. After consulting with a number of total strangers on Facebook, I decided to upgrade my repair.

I went back yesterday and added an additional four layers of what I believe to be six ounce glass cloth for a total of eight layers of glass behind hole, plus the glass I stuffed into the hole. I’ve very pleased with the look of the repair inside the chain locker.

On the outside there was a three-inch chip of gelcoat plus the outer layer of glass split away. I dremeled this off, cleaned the back side as well as the raw glass on the hull. I slathered both with rosin and them clamped the broken chip back into place. Once that had cured I then had to deal with the kerf from the dremel as well as the cracks from the original damage.

I priced a gel-coat repair kit from West Marine, but it was over fifty dollars, and I’m currently feeling quite poor. I only needed about a tablespoon of repair compound, and I balked at spending $50.00 to get it. But THIS part of the repair is cosmetic, not structural. The eight layers of glass and incipient backing plate (which I’m still not sure of) will be taking the load. This is just crack filler. So it doesn’t need to be as strong as a glass repair.

I have the remnants of a gelcoat repair kit purchased a couple of years ago with a little blue pigment that might match my hull close enough. during the above glass repair I save the last two tablespoons of mixed epoxy and added pigment to it. The idea was that I would let this thicken up, spread it into my cracks, and buff it down. All the ingredients were paid for, so the gelcoat repair would be “free.”

Well, it may have worked. The first complication was that even at the end of the “fast cure” hardener’s working time, it was still too thin to spread in the cracks. The hull is, of course, upright, so I needed something thick enough to stay in the crack on the vertical surface. I ended up adding another dash of hardener and continuing to stir for about a half-hour until it started to finally thicken enough to do the job I was asking of it.

But it seemed to have worked right there at the end. It left a goopy mess on the surface of the hull, of course, so I don’t know if it worked for sure. I will have to go after it with 1000-grid sandpaper to remove the excess colored rosin to confirm. And I have to go home and pack for an non-boat-related road trip this weekend, so I can’t get back to the boatyard until Sunday afternoon at the earliest.

And so the glamor and romance of being a yachtsman continues.

Where to begin?  For those of you who don’t participate in the grand melange that is Geek Culture, Dragon*Con is a gathering about forty or fifty thousand geeky, nerdy, or dorky folk of widely varied and overlapping interest groups.  The ‘Con itself is a for-profit venture in Atlanta Georgia over Labor Day weekend.  The subject matter is wild and widely varied, from “The Bionic Duo – Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner Reminisce” to “How the US gov’t and the CDC prep for pandemics and other health threats, plus tools to help you minimize these threats and stay informed.”  The VIP guest list this year had everyone from Lucy Lawless (Xena, Warrior Princess) to Ed Asner.  Yes – Ed Asner of ‘Lou Grant’ and ‘Mary Tyler Moore.”  There are film festivals that include marathons of popular works, such as the James Bond marathon, as well as the world premiere of many a tiny short film.  There are late night parties, old friends you haven’t seen in over a decade, a vast and thundering art show by up-and-coming artists in many mediums, and an entire major hotel whose meeting rooms are dedicated entirely to table-top gaming.   And finally, there’s the shopping.

This year what was called in my day “The Huckster’s Room” was moved to two floors of America’s Mart.  If you’re looking for blue jeans, sneakers, or a velvet Elvis painting, you’re probably out of luck.  But there were at least 3 vendors selling light up light sabers, reproduction movie props, and autographs.

My girlfriend and I invested in “Eternal Memberships” about twenty five years ago.  If you got in early enough and, after going to enough Dragon*Con’s to “make a profit” on them, we stopped going, other things took precedence, demanding our time and dollars.  Things like like getting married, graduating from school, starting a career, and the death of my parents.   You know: life.

And so the years rolled by.  A couple of years ago a large number of our very far-flung friends started to attend Dragon*Con and we started talking about flexing those Eternal Memberships and returning to D*C.  Plus – my sister lives near the Marta line, so we could attend for “free,” and had free housing.  All we had to spend was gas money (and eating out).  So on impulse, we decided to go down there.

And the Dragon*Con of my youth cannot be returned to, for it is gone forever.

Oh, it’s not all bad.  But it’s all different.

The single biggest change from back in the day is the crowding.  While the event has four times as much space as it did twenty years ago, it has six, eight, ten times as many people.  On three separate occasions I was literally unable to move in some of the passageways.  We were packed in so tight I couldn’t advance or retreat, and we were body-to-body.  I’m here to tell you, if you have claustrophobia or agoraphobia, Dragon*Con is not the ‘Con for you.  I don’t have either of those problems, but they crossed my mind.  And then I saw the lady in the scooter.  As bad as it was for those of us on our feet, the people in wheelchairs and scooters had all of that going on, and their faces (with noses) were at crotch/butt height. Ouch.  I quit feeling sorry for myself.

And since we’re on the subject, I wish to report that most of the time the legendary “Con Funk” was not very noticeable most of the time.  For the newcomer, there was a time where Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions had a reputation for conventioneers whose hygiene was . . . less than optimal.  Mind you, some folks still got a little whiffy. I still think that Cons should seek out both soap and deoderant companies and sponsors and give away product samples.  But I don’t think that it was nearly as bad as it was back in the day.  As a whole, the entire Con smelled . . . better.

Which brings me to the women. The proportion of women to men is vastly different than it was twenty years ago.  If you were to tell me that as many as 46% of the attendees of Dragon*Con 2013 were women I would not be in the least surprised.

As I mentioned above, Dragon*Con is bigger. It’s now spread to five major convention hotels downtown.  I’ve yet to see any official numbers, but the final headcount floating around Facebook is around sixty five thousand people. The various panel discussions started at eight o’clock in the morning and ran until after ten o’clock at  night.  There were more than a hundred talented artists in an art show so large and complex it rated it’s own five pages of panels.  Painters, sculptors, leather workers . . . the field was huge.  Of course, today the art show rigorously enforces copyright, so fan art is right out.  Back in the day, my bride bought most of her Xena art at the Dragon*Con art show.  Not so much any more.

The prices have gone up.  That’s no big surprise. A full membership to Dragon*Con cost $130 this year.  I think I may have paid as much as $45.00 for my first Dragon*Con membership.  The Eternal Memberships mentioned above could be had for $350.00 twenty years ago when we bought them. Today they cost $2000.00.  Hotel rates have gone up by about five hundred percent, while the cost of food has only tripled.

Lines.  The amount of time you spend waiting in line has gone up, up, up.  If you want to see a popular panelist, such as Lucy Lawless or Jame and Adam from Myth Busters, you will wait at least an hour and a half for a 55 minute presentation.  If you aren’t willing to do so, you won’t get to see them.  The line rules are also entertaining.  You’re not allowed to start lining up for a panel until a hour beforehand.  We did it anyway.  We called them the pre-line lines.  Dragon*Con staff spent a great deal of time and energy trying to shoo us away and get us to disperse if we showed up more than an hour ahead of time.  It was like trying to empty the ocean with a sieve.  We just came right back as soon as they turned their backs.  When I went to see Jim Butcher of Dresden Files fame, the line stretched out of the room, down the hall, along the catwalk, up the stairs, down the other hall, up more stairs, down one more corridor, and then into a room where there was a final queue.  Those of us waiting were stretched across five floors of the hotel.

I think the thing that I miss the most, though, is the access to guests.  One of my fondest memories of attending Cons was running into James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek) and getting five minutes with him, one-to-one and being able to chat.  In that five minutes I got told to call him “Jimmy,” I was able to move past the “Scotty” persona and come to appreciate him as an professional and a human being.  That was when I learned he’d lost a finger while leading troops on Juno Beach during the invasion of Normandy during Operation Overlord in World War II.  I once met Virgina Heinlein in a meeting room when she came to read some of Robert’s work.  She was a wonderful lady.  I got to shake Margaret Weis’ hand and she gave me her contact information and offered to read one of my novel efforts.  (That came to nothing – I never finished it.)  Personal contacts like that are simply not possible at Dragon*Con today.  The convention venues are vast piles of re-bar and concrete that are riddled with hidden back corridors and staff-only elevators so that the staff can cater meetings without having to drag food and equipment through the guest areas, and it is through these accesses that the VIP’s move so that we don’t mob them.  And I can’t really say that it’s wrong.  If Jimmy were still alive today and only one-tenth of the population of Dragon*Con stopped him in the halls, that would be sixty-five hundred people.  If he spent just five minutes talking with each of them, he’d be standing there for five-hundred forty one hours, or twenty two days.  It’s just not possible.  But it still makes me sad.

I’m glad I went.  It was great to see old friends and make new ones.  All in all, I had a good time, and I’m looking forward to next year.  But I also have to admit – I missed the old days, too.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | July 2, 2013

Sercuring Your Trailer

Master William’s Advice to SCA Trailer Owners:
I am advised by my trailer dealer that East Tennessee is one of the leading areas for trailer theft in the United States. With this in mind, I thought I would share with ya’ll some tips regarding avoiding trailer theft. Bear in mind that I am not a credentialed security expert, I’m just a guy who had his trailer boosted and then read a bunch of stuff on the internet to try to keep from losing another one.

Further, you can’t prevent a determined thief from taking your trailer. Given time, he will defeat any security measures you attempt to install. The key characteristic of thieves is that they are lazy.  If they weren’t lazy, they’d work to earn stuff, not take stuff that belonged to other people.  And that’s what we’re going to try to exploit.  We’re going to try to  make our trailers too much work to bother stealing.

That said, we start with the low-hanging fruit You probably already use a padlock on your latch. I’ve been warned, again, by my trailer dealer, that the bad guys will simply back up to your trailer, hook up the safety chains, and drag your trailer off by the chains, to cut your padlock off later. To delay this, simply clip your safety chains to your hitch, using the same lock you are using to secure your hitch. This will extend the process of stealing your trailer and delay the thief, making him more likely to go look for another trailer to steal.

Once you have a padlock on your trailer hitch that locks it in a “closed” position, and you are locking your safety chains in with your hitch it’s time for the bad news: that padlock is almost entirely ceremonial. Lemme tell ya a story. This one time, at Gulf Wars, I lost my trailer keys. So I showed up at my trailer with a hacksaw and a tire iron, and thinking that I would need to get my battery operated grinder out of the van. But I figured I’d just try the tire iron, thinking I could maybe jerk the hasp out of the mechanism. I stuck the tire iron into the lock and pushed gently, just to gauge how much force would be needed. The hasp shattered into five pieces with almost no effort. So let me say it even more blatantly: a padlock on your trailer hitch prevents NOTHING but casual impulse theft. But there IS something you can do.

Trailer Tongue Lock

Click to Order

Here’s the tongue lock that I like. It’s almost completely immune to tire irons. The ball on it fills the socket on the hitch. And the bar that holds it in place is over an inch thick. It takes an angle-grinder to remove it. I also like the fact that it’s made by a well-known company that has significant investment in name recognition. And before anyone brings up boots again, yes – you need one.

This is perhaps the most critical of my posts regarding trailer security. We have already covered locking back your safety chains and the fact that a padlock is largely ceremonial. We’ve also discussed real tongue locks that prevent the hitch from being connected to the ball. But here’s the thing: even with the hitch completely blocked, the bad guys can, will, and have butted an “un-useable” hitch to a ball and then expended a half a roll of duct tape on it and rolled off, do deal with the hitch lock later, in private, and with angle grinders. And angle grinders WILL defeat any lock you install. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve seen a demonstration. Yes, enough wraps of duct tape will effectively bypass ANY hitch-securing mechanism you can purchase. So what do we do about this?

450px-Picture_of_a_person_putting_a_%22boot%22_or_wheel_clamp_on[1]If I may be permitted a bilingual pun, the answer is: Das Boot. A boot applied to one of the wheels of your trailer that prevents the wheel from turning will keep your trailer from rolling off with all but the most determined thieves  .I’ve actually watched people case my trailer from my hotel room window. They walk up to my rig, start walking around it, and when they see the boot they stop and walk away. Now, I use a cheap boot. I’m hoping to upgrade this month if I can manage it. My boot looks like this one:  The boot clamps around the wheel, preventing it from turning without making a lot of noise and damaging the vehicle in the process, rendering theft useless. This particular boot is not ideal because it can be defeated by removing the tire. It does make stealing the trailer more work than most thieves are willing to undertake. The longer it takes to drive off with my trailer, the more time there is for me to show up with a baseball bat, or worse. I went with this style of boot because a) it was cheap, but better than nothing, and b) because it was what my trailer dealer had in stock when I was buying the trailer that replaced the one that was stolen.

car-wheel-lock[1]This month I hope to upgrade to this model. This model is superior because in addition to jamming up the wheel if the bad guy tries to drive off with your trailer, it also covers the lug nuts and prevents him from removing defeating the boot by removing the wheel. Extra boot hint: always boot your trailer on the wheel facing the street, where the boot will be clearly visible to anyone casing your trailer.Please be aware that all three of these steps, securing the safety chains, locking the hitch, and even booting one of the wheels only makes it more work to steal the trailer. We have probably eliminated the dishonest and lazy. But I can think of at least two ways to defeat even a good boot. If a professional trailer thief targets you, you should probably have good insurance.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | February 22, 2013

The Long Drive


Sebastian – Sebs – Sebber – The Olde Man, in happier days. Two eyes, and, I think, teeth.

I don’t think anyone else calls it the Long Drive, but any adult pet owner recognizes the term whenever I use it. It’s the drive you take to the vet when your elderly, sick pet is almost certainly not going to recover, and you know it.  You know it in the back of your mind, even if the front of your mind fails to accept it.  Denial, they say, isn’t just a river in Egypt.  But it’s not all powerful.  We know.  That’s what explains the tears that show up for no reason to which you will admit and the hot pressure inside your sinuses that is the tears you won’t let out.  Other people may try to tell you the facts, and you deny them.  Tell me, then, would you say “no!” so vigorously if you didn’t actually already know?

It was almost twenty years ago that my godson, then three, walked up our back steps with an adolescent orange tabby and said “White kitty wants to come in!”  And in they came.  White kitty (who was orange) was friendly, practically boneless, and had no reservations whatsoever about a three-year-old grabbing him about his middle and hauling him around like a sack of wheat.  He was wearing a badly – expired flea collar, so he must have belonged to somebody. But he was also eaten up with fleas.  Not wanting a passel of flea eggs laid in my shag carpet (long story – I know better now), I immediately tossed him back out on the porch.  He was wearing a flea collar and and clearly belonged to someone.

Herself sneaked him back into the house very shortly thereafter.  We have an odd relationship, she and I.  She thinks she’s Ellie Mae Clampett and I try to keep the house from begin buried in pet hair.   So – one flea bath later, we had another cat.  This put us at a count of two, which is my max.  It’s a rule that cats should not outnumber people in the house.

Our other cat at the same time was named Agatha, and for some reason, this new orange fellow was named Sebastian.  It was only much later we realized that St. Agatha is the patron saint of nurses, and St. Sebastian is the patron saint of archers.  Herself is a nurse.  I am an archer.  Coincidence?  Probably.  I would like to say that Sebastian was very, very fond of us.  I certainly took his purring and rubbing to heart.  But I have to admit, it might not have been personal.  You see, Sebastian was into PEEEPLE!  (You have to spell it that way to convey his enthusiasm.)  He just loved peeeple.

He loved rubbing up against legs.  He loved sitting in laps. He loved sneaking up on you and cramming his head up under your hand to sneak extra pats in.  When he was young and energetic, you could hold your hand out and he would whip himself around in figure-eights under your hand, doing all the work of patting, just for your convenience.  I used to tell folks he was aggressively submissive.  When someone new came into the house he would walk in front of them, flop down, and expose his throat and belly.  He wanted to be utterly clear that he was not the alpha, and if you could drop off a belly rub on your way by, that was fine with him.

He was the happiest individual I ever met.  He could find a reason to purr simply by sitting in a shaft of sunlight. He responded positively to any attention at all.  Petting, noogies, gentle tugs at his tail . . . he didn’t care.  It was all good, as long as there were peeeple and and they were paying attention to him. He was low-maintenance, too.  He liked anything we fed him.  He never got sick, and aside from when we got him snipped, only went to the vet for sporadic checkups most of the time.  We had two rough years out of the twenty we had with him.

One year we noticed he was loosing weight and there was a minor panic.  Feline leukemia? Something worse?  Were we going to lose the buddy? It was a bad-news/good-news thing.  He had developed periodontal disease.  We, of course, didn’t notice until it was too late, and his gums were rotten. It broke my heart to have all of those perfectly good teeth extracted, but the vet said that his gums were so bad that the teeth couldn’t be saved. By removing the tooth beds, they got all of the rotten tissue and he was able to heal.  The good news?  Turns out cats don’t use their teeth to chew.  Who knew, right?  Turns out that in the wild they use their fangs to strip flesh from bones, but then they just sort of gulp it down.  Once his gums healed up, he was able to return to nomming kibble like a champion.  He plumped right back up again.  The surgeon was very pleased with his recovery and told me that she’d seen cats return to mousing again, toothless, after they were no longer in pain.

Then there was the year of the eye.  The poor fellow got into a fight and suffered a minor eye injury that led to an infection, and we were forced to have an eye removed to prevent the infection from spreading.

Those were too expensive years, but in both cases the decision to treat Sebs was easy.  The rest of the time, he’d eaten cheap kibble and sat in my lap and purred.  He purred me through sad times.    He purred me through our best friends’ divorce and his subsequent move out of town.  He purred me through my parent’s deaths.  For two decades that amazingly loud purrbox could be heard from four feet away.  No matter what happened, he loved to be with us, and served as an example that, even in the darkest times, even when you are feeling your saddest, even if your balls have been cut off, life can still be good!

As I’ve said, he was with us for around twenty years.  He had a long, healthy, good life.  Last month he was still able to get up onto the kitchen counter (a forbidden place) stalking the cooked chicken.  But still, for the past couple of years, he’d been getting a little slower every day, jumping with a little less confidence, and just seeming more . . . frail.

I should have realized something was happening about ten days ago.  You see, the Old Man had always had a delicate tummy.  Cleaning up “cat yack” was one of the prices of having a roommate that was always, always glad to see you.  But about ten days ago, he quit getting sick.  Stupid me, I thought this was good news.  When we went to the vet this morning, the poor bastard had lost half his body weight.  I had actually made an appointment for him because of an eye infection.  He’s been expressing a little fluid for a few days. I didn’t think it was anything serious, but when you’re down to one eye, you don’t want to take chances.

But last night, when we got home from dinner, he was staggering around the house.  He just wasn’t walking right.  We had a vet appointment the next day, so I tried not to sweat it.  He had an infection in his head. That’ll make anybody woozy, right?  I went to my study and started to write.  Then, from the kitchen, I heard the harsh, hacking, gasping sounds.

You have to understand, my other housemate’s day job is hand-to-hand combat with the Angel of Death.  She’s a fifteen year veteran of the emergency department in a level one trauma center.  Her spine is made of tungsten carbide, an alloy that considers steel to be “flimsy” and iron to be “mushy.”  I’ve known her for a quarter-century, through the toughest times in her life, and I can count the times I’ve heard her cry on the fingers of one hand.  And there she sat, in the middle of the kitchen floor, petting the cat and crying.

She can smell Death, you see.  I think that working so closely with the bastard day in and day out all these years, she can recognized his footsteps in the hallway outside.  She smelled him on my parents not too many years ago.  She never says anything at the time. She doesn’t like to crush hope.  And she generally has no evidence. She just knows.

That night he sat on her chest for a couple of hours while we watched TV.  He didn’t move around much, and eventually she took him to the big bed, where he spent the night with us.  She work up about nine times, she said, to make sure he was still breathing.   Eventually dawn came, and she headed for the bathroom.  I was, I confess, entertained.  As soon as the door closed, his ears perked up.  Somewhere in the house, a door was closed, and that was not to be tolerated.  He could barely stand, but stand he did, and he dragged himself to the edge of the bed.  He stared down at the floor and waited.  I caved shortly and lifted him down to the floor where, with a dedication to duty and a iron will, he stalked the closed door to the bathroom and poked at it until someone (me) opened it.  Please note that he did not actually want to go into said room.  But a door was not to be closed.  Not on his watch.

Herself stalled, piddled around, and lollygagged, but eventually the relentless march of the clock forced The Nurse out the door and off to work, leaving Sebs and I to await his appointment.  She put him on the futon in my study where I tried to write while I waited for the clock to tick down.  Eventually, he got ambitious and started eying the floor again, so I lifted him down and followed him back into the bathroom, where he tried to jump into the tub. He was able to do it yesterday. But today he couldn’t get his hind legs up on to the rim.  He’d been sleeping on the tub floor for a couple of months now.  I think he liked the cool, but I was alarmed when I saw that he lay down partially in puddle of water. He’s a pretty easy going cat, but lying down in a puddle of water?  That’s not right.  But he was content, so I left him alone and continued at my keyboard for a little while.  I made breakfast and I gave him an hour nap, then got him back out of the tub.  He went to his food and water dishes, stared at them for a few minutes, but did not eat or drink, and then lay down on the kitchen floor and took another nap.

Time passed. And the time came to head out to the vet.  He’s always hated the carrier, which is normally a strict rule with me.  No loose cats wandering around in the car.  But today – I made an exception.  I guess because I knew. He loved cardboard boxes.  So much so that we’d started calling the loose boxes that seem to accumulate around our house “cat traps.” And he loved them so much that he’d cram himself into grossly under-sized boxes.  And the only thing better than a box to sit in was a stack of clean laundry. So I took a clean towel and lined a cardboard box. Then I picked up my friend and put him in the box.

We stepped outside into the brisk morning air. It was a crisp winter day, but the sky was clear and the sun was warm. He sat up right away. There was a bird, returned to East Tennessee early, singing.  And his head whipped around. I put the box on the floor between the seats.  The view wasn’t so hot from down there, but if I had to slam on the breaks, he wouldn’t go flying.  Whatever was going on with my friend did not need to be complicated by flying off of the seat. He perked up on the trip, active and interested in everything around him.  He was so – himself, a part of me key saying “hey: false alarm.” When we crossed the parking lot I had to stop for a second.  He was sitting up and looking around.  I’d developed a huge, hot burning pressure in my lower sinuses. Had to stop for  a second for it to clear.

We went in and I got immediately put into an exam room.  We waited just a few minutes and then the vet came in. She said, “So, let’s take a look at that – oh dear.”  She took my old friend away and weighed him.  He’s lost half of his body weight.  She was very kind, but she said that while she could treat his eye and give him some meds to stimulate his appetite. But his body was trying to shut down.  How does  your friend stop eating for seven days and  you not notice?  The reason my old friend was staggering, the reason he couldn’t jump up into the tube, was that he had almost no muscles left. Without food, his little body had been consuming his own muscles to keep him alive. The vet worked very hard not to influence my decision.  At every stage she gave me the facts, answered my questions, and left me to my own thoughts.

Did you know that, compared to dogs or sheep, cats are barely domesticated?  Unless your cat has a broken bone or other sharp pain, they are unlikely to let you know they are hurting.  Because showing weakness like that in the wild can get you killed.  So I wasn’t in a position to say that he wasn’t in any pain.  First – he wasn’t going to get any better, because there really wasn’t anything wrong with him.  His little body was just worn out. Second – his quality of life was non-existent.

There was only one call to make, and the decision was easy.  Getting the words out of my mouth was one of the hardest things I’d ever done.  Herself was working a short shift that day.  I should have waited for her. But I found that I lacked the courage.  Forty four years ago, I stood on a three meter diving board, looking down at a diving well so deep that the water seemed almost black.  I knew then that if I waited, I wouldn’t have the nerve to jump.  If I waited, I wasn’t going to have what it took to make this call.

You see, I saw my father’s last year.  I saw my wife’s grandmother’s last year.  I do not want either of those years for myself.  If that’s the case, what right or business do I have making my friend go through another two or three weeks of this because I can’t let go?

The process is both swift and simple.  The patient is given an intro-muscular injection of a sedative that literally puts him to sleep.  He was a good kitty, just like he’d always been.  He took his injection without hissing or biting.  Then I took him out of his box and held him in my lap and talked to him as he went to sleep.  I hadn’t actually heard him purr in a very long time, but some nights I could pet him and feel it under my fingers.  I’m probably projecting, but I’ll always believe that I felt that small vibration under my fingers one last time. Once he was fully asleep, the vet shaved his leg and revealed a tiny vein in his leg.  He was so dehydrated that she was afraid she’d have to do an abdominal injection, which takes a little longer, but she had no trouble hitting the vein.  I kept petting his head and flank until she told me that she couldn’t hear a heartbeat any more.  She cautioned me that I might see a reflex breath, but that my friend was gone.

She stayed with me as long as I wanted her, never hurrying or rushing.  She explained that he was so worn out that had we let him out of the house, he would mostly likely have found a thicket up on the ridge behind the house and gone to sleep and never woken up.  Weeks ago.  We were keeping him inside because it was so cold.  And I was so hoping he would make to one more spring.  He really liked lying on the front porch in the sunlight and warm breezes. All of the scents and sounds of spring made it his favorite time of year.

I’m going to miss my friend.

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