by RIP RENSE
Feb. 18, 2009
"There are two means of refuge from the miseries of
life: music and cats." - Albert Schweitzer.
Winky the Criminal Cat has struck.
It wasn’t enough for him to wolf down his food and
then puke it all over the carpet. Wasn’t enough for him to drive
me to spend vast sums of money to find out why he pukes all over
the carpet. (Never found out. He baffles science.) Wasn’t enough
that I had to cook chicken and rice for him for weeks---until,
you guessed it---he started puking that up, too.
I must conclude that he really enjoys puking. I know
my carpet cleaner enjoys his puking. He’s made about $500 off
And it wasn’t enough for Winky to beat up his sister,
Maggie, all the time. Turning her into a defensive, nervous
wreck who hides under blankets. Wasn’t enough for him to begin
humping the bedspread and leaving it vaguely smelling of sulphur.
(No, I have no idea.) Wasn’t enough that his “anal
glands” required draining, in order to make him stop
“scooting.” (This is a cutesy vet term meaning he uses the
carpet as toilet paper.) Wasn’t enough that he has “anal
Wasn’t enough that his cat box deposits should be
studied by the Defense Department. Harness the olfactory
impact, put it in bombs, and you win.
Wasn’t enough that, without warning, he jumps into
your lap, curls up, and purrs---after not allowing you near him
No. Winky has now found a new way to sabotage the
remnants of my rosy dreams of feline/human harmony.
He has begun “spraying.”
Now, I’m not exactly sure what spraying is, and
neither, I gather, are vets. Of course, it’s territorial. But he
already owns this place, essentially, and we had him “fixed”
when he was seven months old.
One month late, apparently.
Winky fired something into the front bathroom about a week
ago. He must have been saving this one up, brewing a specially
potent concoction of territorial demarcation fluid (probably
because his sister,
likes to sleep there, in the sink.) Imagine a skunk blasting
something that smells sort of like a cross between vinegar and
the Lakers’ locker room. Heavily concentrated.
It is, as was the smell in the car in that
“Seinfeld” episode, an “entity.” It lives. Cannot die.
Strength of a hundred smells. I have cleaned the floor with
cleanser, 409, and vinegar. It has as much effect as reason on
George W. Bush.
It has taken over the condo.
“Black Muddy River” is on the stereo right now. If
you’ve never heard it, it is an exquisite piece of Robert Hunter
poetry, matched in beauty by the stately music that Jerry Garcia
wrote for it, and his inimitable, world-weary vocal.
The song expresses, I think, the slight hope that
there is, as Tom Waits once put it, “more than flesh and bone”
after this whole Punch-and-Judy show ends. It is mournful,
poignant, gorgeous, profound, simple. The music sounds a hundred
years old. Or five hundred. The melody might have been sung by
troubadors in the Middle Ages, or a cowboy in the old west.
Black, muddy river
Roll on forever
I don’t care how deep or wide
If you’ve got another side. . .
The black muddy river, as I read it, is death.
When it feels like the night will last forever
And there’s nothing left to do but count the years
When the strings of my heart start to sever
And stones fall from my eyes instead of tears. . .
Robert Hunter wrote the words, and there is no more
underrated and under-celebrated songwriter in all of American
music. Perhaps he likes it that way, I have no idea. His lyrics
for Grateful Dead songs---the best of the Grateful Dead
songs---have a depth and purpose you just don’t find outside of
some of The Beatles, and some of Bob Dylan. And they have art,
playfulness, imagery rooted in legends, texts, tracts, symbols,
riddles, literature. It’s small wonder that Dylan has
a couple of Hunter tunes.
For those who have never grasped the popularity of
the Grateful Dead, suffice to say that without Hunter---the
behind-the-scenes lyricist---the band would never have accrued
the following and popularity that it did. Deadheads weren’t a
weird cult, though they were hardly immune to some of the
trappings. They were (are) a body of people who grasped, or at
least responded to, the underlying philosophy of Hunter’s
writing. You can’t sum it up, or at least, I can’t. You have to
“get it.” But it does have much to do with kindness,
appreciating the here and now, understanding the fragility of
existence, and The Rip Post motto, “persevering through
relentless absurdity.” Garcia’s roots in folk, bluegrass,
R&B---and his instinct for writing immutable, ageless
melody---was the right vehicle for Hunter’s words.
When the last rose of summer
pricks my finger
And the hot sun chills me to the bone
When I can’t hear the song for the singer
And I can’t tell my pillow from a stone
I will walk alone
And dream me a dream of my own
I played the song for my old man not long before he
became fatally ill. It was one of our last times to sit alone
together and shoot the breeze, when he was still healthy. Maybe
the last. He sat quietly through the song, as I recall, and said
nothing afterward, except to acknowledge its quality. Maybe it
had no real effect on him, but I’m glad he heard it before
crossing the black muddy river.
Winky apparently likes The Smell fine. He goes in and
out of the bathroom happily, as if it is full of roses. Of
course, I have no evidence that cats appreciate roses. In fact,
it could be quite the contrary, as I’ve held several cats right
up to the fat, bushy, odoriferous
double-delight specimens downstairs and gotten no reaction
But the smell in the bathroom has as much in common with roses
as Michael Jackson has in common with Sean Connery. They’re both
males (probably), and that’s about it.
I have blasted the air conditioner. I have run the
wobbly, clunky bathroom fan until it probably has driven our
neighbor nuts. I have turned on two very expensive air cleaners
which I bought some time ago for the purpose of clearing out
animal dander so I would not sneeze to death at night.
And, as a last resort, I have gotten out the black
box. Yes, the evil black box that sits in the closet. A quack
device that is built to emit ozone, for all those nuts who think
that ozone helps them to breathe better. I purchased this in a
moment of bad judgement one spring when I was hit with allergies
so bad that they turned into a temporary, but nasty, case of
Well, what can I say? It actually seemed to help me at
that time. Probably predisposed me to six kinds of lung cancer,
So now I have loosed the evil black box on The
Smell. I have locked them together in the front bathroom, to
let them duel to the death. After the first couple of hours, to
my amazement, why, the box seemed to have an impact. The Smell
became very muted---or at least smothered by the acrid smell of
ozone. But then, I noticed a strange side-effect. It seemed to
have fled, at least part of it, crawling under the door and down
the hall in both directions, lodging somewhere else. Scent as
The other night, once again, I loosed The Box on The
Smell, and I turned it all the way up. I also stuck an opened
jar of peanut butter in there, because I heard it works against
skunks. Maybe the salmonella will help.
By the way, while I was sitting here, Winky entered
the room twice, meowed, and hopped up on the chair next to me,
where he now watches.
I think he knows I’m writing about him.
Double Naught Spy Car is the best band in L.A..
Now I speak without authority, as I almost never go
out to hear bands. I reject just about all contemporary pop
music as pure crap. Pretentious, derivative, self-indulgent,
unsophisticated, “impossible to categorize" (ha!), post-teenage
teenage angst. Often with an All-American dose of psychotic
hatred. Most of it is made by posing, extremely unhappy,
neurotic naifs and waifs.
Speaking of which, I am suddenly reminded of this
poor girl with the probably assumed name of Kristin Diablo.
She was singing and playing guitar and piano at McCabe’s, as
opening act for good old
Country Joe McDonald. Her songs were the undistinguished,
weepy, plaintive stuff that you often hear from young women. The
vocals had an unfortunate blurry quality, like a pathetic
emulation of a smacked-out Billie Holiday. Most were the
ubiquitous “me” and “you” songs, and tended to be about men not
being nice. (No shortage of material there.) In between singing,
made a little patter about having just moved to L.A., and said
something along the lines of how, despite all the problems and
traffic, there is so much sun and beauty here, well, “How bad
can it be?”
The crowd was stunned silent. I took it upon myself to
answer, on behalf of Los Angeles.
The whole place busted up, big-time. Including Country
Joe, in the wings.
But back to
Double-Naught Spy Car. Yeah, it’s a goofy name, but what
else is new? At least it isn’t full of artsy-fartsy importance
or some cretin's idea of clever spelling. Actually, it has a
noble origin, steeped in American pop culture arcana: it comes
from an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies" in which Jethro
becomes a "double naught spy." The members are teenagers, now in
their forties. Typical line-up of drums, two guitars, bass.
That's the only typical thing about it.
I don’t know, tbe music is, oh,‘50’s
science-fiction rock ‘n’ roll, or something. The bass
player, one Marc Doten, calls it “surf music if surf bands could
write music.” Which is to say, it’s fairly complicated. The lead
guitarist, Paul Lacques, is a sort of mad scientist (a “shaman,”
as Doten says)---a guy who has spent entirely too much time with
a guitar, and has left the world, or at least bars, better for
it. This is improvisational weirdness and wonderment of a like I
really have never quite heard before. Dick Dale in Purgatory?
Doten’s bass merrily and lyrically thumps along, a touch
kinetic. The drummer, Joseph Berardi, stomps a four-on-the-floor
when he has to, and executes changes that approach the
frightening meter juxtapositions of Frank Zappa. Rhythm
guitarist Marcus Watkins manages to gracefully complement the
One of the things I like best about the band, which I
have only seen once---on a Sunday night at a little bar in West
L.A. called (warning: cat tie-in ahead)
(against a startling backdrop of projected burlesque and
stripper films from the ‘60’s!)---is that there are absolutely
no puerile, weepy, me-and-you, and otherwise revolting
“lyrics.” This is because there are no lyrics. DNSC is an
instrumental band, anomalously enough, and the titles of the
songs perhaps suffice as “lyrics." A few:
Marina del Hayride. Naked Lurch. Danger High
Fight Song. Macedonia 6-5000. Kay Sara Sarah. Someone’s
Creeping in My Yard.
If the black box fails to kill The Smell that Winky
Left, I will put a boom box in there with a Double Naught Spy
Maggie, Sister of Winky, has finally come around to a
measure of sociability. In her fourth year. These were feral
kittens, obviously taken too soon from Mom, and a touch of the
But Maggie (variation of “moggie,” British slang for
kitties) who is a “patched tabby” (calico with tabby stripes),
has “blossomed.” Which is to say, she no longer runs for her
life when approached. She even has taken to being downright
pleasant, for lack of a more exact word---every morning, just
about all morning long.
As I sit here, working hard on my bad posture, she
enters the room again and again, meows, rolls over on her
back, and waits to be tickled, thumped, rubbed, wrestled---at
which point, she pulls herself across the carpet with her front
paws. Purring insanely.
I have tentatively concluded that this does more to
engender happiness in the world than writing.