Thursday, June 28, 2007


"A cat may looke on a King"
John Heywood, Proverbs (1546)

Trying to do something with one of the three cats that my
roommate and I harbored, I was getting, after the fashion of
cats, no respect. My then-boyfriend Danny was happy to explain
what I should be doing instead and to tell me how much better he
managed with the cats he lived with: "My cats obey me," he said.
His cats, indeed -- they belonged to the landlady. He doesn't
even like cats much.

A day or so later, one of "his" cats sat itself down under
the table in his room and showed no inclination to move. He
pointed at the door and ordered the cat to leave. The cat stayed
put. Danny doesn't, on principle, countenance opposition from his
natural inferiors (this, as I later found out, includes wives;
but that's a series of very long stories). He pointed and ordered
again. The cat, after the fashion of cats, sat still and looked
at him.

Danny, as someone once observed, never drops anything until
it's absolutely finished. He doesn't compromise with Error. He
probably wouldn't, for example, roll something out the door in
the hope that the cat would chase it, or go into the kitchen and
pick up the can opener. Having determined what should happen and
issued an order in accordance therewith, it would be weak and
possibly sinful to back off or change his tactics. If ever I saw
an irresistible force confronting an immovable object, it was
Danny giving orders to a cat. I laughed so hard I couldn't stand

The cat won the first round. As Danny was scrambling under
the table in the undignified fashion of a human negotiating with
a cat, I managed to choke out, "Danny, I'm glad your cats obey

Danny ultimately won, of course. Humans win most encounters
with animals, at least in the short run, and a small animal in a
confined space is at a great disadvantage. The cat was hauled out
from under the table and deposited ignominiously outside, leaving
Danny triumphantly in possession of the space under his table --
albeit with some sacrifice of face and dignity. I was inclined to
give the moral victory to the cat.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Off and on for years, we have heard what sounded like
chirping and fluttering in the hose that vents the dryer. Once
we went so far as to look behind the dryer and, by shaking and
poking the hose, satisfy ourselves that at that time, at least,
no one was living there. This spring, however, the fluttering
and twittering were more pronounced than ever before. We had
many discussions entitled We Have to Do Something About the Birds
in the Dryer; but getting at the hose is nontrivial. We are
easily daunted by such projects.

The dryer is in the pantry, on a waist-high shelf. The hose
is vented out a window at nearly ceiling height. It is illegal
to vent a dryer out a window: the fire department thinks every
window should be available for egress in case of fire. This is
hysterically funny when applied to a condominium where all the
windows are blocked by potted plants, electronic equipment, a
seven-foot Steinway, and much other stuff, and particularly when
applied to the pantry window, which is a couple of feet high and
a foot wide and accessible only from that shelf.

The dryer, like all new-ish appliances, is huge -- much
bigger than we need. It's maybe three inches from the wall on one
side and five from the pantry shelves on the other, and that's a
generous estimate.

The interface between the hose and the window is one of my
famous jury-rigs. It works fine and even looks more coherent than
much of my handiwork, but it is next to impossible to remove or
work on it without taking it apart completely. When I put it
together, I didn't know that an unprotected dryer hose is prime
avian real estate.

This spring, after a month or so of declining performance,
the dryer substantially stopped drying. It got warm and tossed
stuff around, but the stuff didn't dry. There was nothing for it
but to relocate the boxes stacked from the top of the dryer to
the eight-foot ceiling, coax the dryer away from the wall, and
see what was going on.

We pulled and twisted the dryer forward and tipped it off
the shelf, resting it on the top of the step stool -- which
filled most of the pantry -- in what would have been a precarious
position if there had been any room for it to fall. I was able
to step onto the shelf and move gingerly around the dryer into a
position where I could reach the top of the window.

We found that we couldn't see even a glimmer of light
through the hose. There definitely had to be a nest in there.
Hoping there weren't any baby birds in the nursery, I amputated
the house several inches below the window and disconnected the
other end from the dryer. Several inches from the top was a neat
little nest, empty: no birds; not even any eggs. Greatly
relieved, I folded a piece of stout wire screening into a hollow
cube, crammed it into the entrance to the hose, and grafted a new
hose from there to the bottom of the dryer.

This all sounds straightforward enough; but it was rather
like building a ship in a bottle from inside the bottle, and then
trying to get out. Also, with the dryer and the step stool
effectively filling the pantry, we couldn't get at our main stash
of tools and were confined to the contents of a small tool box
that happened to be on the floor. Thus, for example, we had no
hammer and only a small pair of wire cutters.

Even before we finished, somebody came home, took one look,
and flew away. Before I finished connecting the hose to the
bottom of the dryer, the homeowner was back, first with a flutter
and an irate chirp, thereafter with clicks and scritches and
great persistence.

I didn't fasten the cube in place with a couple of skewers,
as I thought I might, because I didn't have any skewers, I didn't
like to make holes in the hose, and I was tired of the whole
project. There's no knowing how long it took the little beasties
to get the wire cube out. By the time the dryer failed again,
about a week later, they had done so, rebuilt the nest, and laid
a couple of eggs. We found out about the eggs when Laurie put
his thumb in one and the other fell on the floor.

We broke down and bought a plastic bird guard from the
hardware store. It would have been a whole lot easier to adapt
the bird guard to my venting system from outside the window; but
we live on the second floor and don't own a ladder. My husband
doesn't do ladders and gets the blue willies if I threaten to do
so. Fortunately, I have achieved sufficient maturity not to do it
anyway just to prove that he can't tell me what to do. I probably
wouldn't have driven my motorcycle to the maternity ward either,
but it was great fun to tell my first husband that I planned to.

I was absorbed in trying to incorporate the bird guard into
my original jury-rig, with much difficulty and ill temper, a
scratched knuckle, and a couple of broken fingernails, when the
phone rang: my son, offering to move a potted plant that I had
asked him about the day before. "Good," I said, "you can finish
sticking this thing in the dryer." The dryer had come up in the
previous day's conversation as well.

Justin finished the job, not exactly easily, but more expe-
ditiously than my husband and I were managing to do. With it all
together and the dryer back in place, Justin noticed the screen
to the bird guard lying around somewhere. I had wondered about
that -- It had fallen off while I was working with it, much too
easily, it seemed to me.

He pulled the dryer out from its position yet again -- for
the fourth time counting the prior week's event -- and wired the
screen back onto the bird guard with paper clips, one of his
favorite building materials (have I mentioned that jury-rigs run
in my family?). We offered him anything he wanted as a reward for
his efforts. He settled for a burrito from Anna's for himself and
another for Amanda.

If the birds have tried to get in again, their efforts
haven't been audible from inside the house. I regret their
frustration and disappointed expectations -- but we need the