It’s ALWAYS tragic to step on a snail.
  • It’s ALWAYS tragic to step on a snail.
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Cute! Cuddly! Humanly owned/operated livingthings whose lives were brutishly TERMINATED or BECLOUDED through fault of my own: fluff, snuggly!

Bunnies: possibly. Slammed one with the headlight of my ’49 Merc — reddened hi-beam as clear proof of impact. Question is, did it hop away or bounce away? (A kill or a mere mutilation?) And was it owned, housed, caged and out on recess, a dinner break — or just another hip hop nature-bunny, backroads Long Island ’66? Ascertainment of pethood: doubtful. So let’s not COUNT IT.

Count my snake, tho. Definitely. My little 7-8-9” ribbon snake or garter snake or whatever in heck the thing was. Bland dark coloration with yellowish stripes. No fangs. Bit me once and left barely an imprint. Wasn’t eating worms so I fed it a salamander. Both died. 1959. (It was a very dead year.)

It’s ALWAYS tragic to step on a snail. Lawn snails ... street snails (in precincts where applicable)... pond snails. Crunch, they’re done: could Arthur effing Miller be tragicker? Trample yer own snail, tho, and you’ve reached the acme — the ajax! — the pinnacle of gastropod illfortune. (Aeschylus could not do you justice.) You ... me ... you would have to be dwunk and I was. Couple beers, me and my snail, the petite little slimer was outside my door in the rain. Streetlamps reflecting off his delicate shell, I lifted cautiously with midfinger and thumb, inviting him in for a Pabst Blue Ribbon. We shared a sudsy glass: he, crawling upside the vessel with shell in tow, bending down at the lip to dip face in froth; I, sipping/slugging in conventional manner. One bottle gone, I stepped lively for another — about face, left turn, falsestep, CRUNCH — a crisp, aurally pleasing crunch — you don’t get such crunches from stepping on Rice Krispies — but a goresuffused crunch nonetheless. O me! o my! o mea culpa! (Have I ever fully recovered?)

Hamsters: none.

Dogs: are too worthless even to kick. Kicking a dog is like beating a rug; killing a dog is like washing one. Dogs are stupid and breathy, rugsmelly, dogloyal: who needs ’em? Stupids? Breathies? Ruggards? Loyalists? So you might kick one to get back at a jerk, for instance Carl Panter. I think I once kicked his. In a halfassed, halfhearted way. His chow chow the size of a pig. Or thought about it.

Thinking of kittendeath. Closeup of a whitewhite babycat. Meow meow — zoom in on face — drowned out by sounds of a car engine revving. Cut to gloved hand on stickshift toying with the gears. Swing up to dashboard, windshield, pull focus: red traffic signal from driver’s p.o.v. Back to kitten, howling wildly now, wider angle reveals five identical kitcats, each more adorable than the next, all inconsolable, their collars lashed to the rear wheel of an orange ’65 Mustang. Light turns green, driver lets ’er rip. Wide angle, intercut with closeups, exquisite slo-mo of kitty after kitty being mashed to wintered kitpaste by collision with blacktop. — Thinking isn’t doing.

And doing isn’t... okay, I don’t care for kittens, for itty bits of purr fur, but grownup cats, sheez ... I would give my write arm not to have done this. Phoebe Snell’s Catalan: not a man, not a bat- (or a super-) man, not a hybrid man/cat — a man like cat. Cats in gen’ral tend to be manlike, not that men are much to write home about, a lot more like ’em than dogs (dogs are closer to goats — or to pumpkins — than to humans), but this cat was quitelike a MAN. A unique male PERSON. With a distinct personality and presence. He’d walk up and start talking like there was no language barrier, no need for cat shorthand, none of this meow/feed me, meow/pet me bullshit. His utterances jyere strong, complex, and unambiguously specific, and could not’ve been read as expressing anything other (for inst) than Another day, huh? or Get these damn kids outta here — he didn’t much like children (or their so-called energy), and he didn’t like kittens. (Hissed at both.) Clawed the bejeez out of TV Guide (as a decent person would & should) but not Westways, not Car Craft, just the Guide. And like many persons he had pets of his own, a pet, Phoebe’s ultraneglected Phobia, in her own neurotic catright a person too: a stunted dumbperson.

His fleas, tho, while his, were not his pets — he didn’t want them. Nor I, altho catsitting while Phoebe was in jail I was forced to contend with them. Each day for a month I’d go feed him, him and Phobia, and right off I notice these shiny black specks on my white socks, white T-shirt — anything white — working through the weave to eat me, suck me dry — they quiteliked my flavor (apparently). In two-three days I’ve got 200 bites, 200 bloodscabby itchlumps. I start dressing dark and just to be safe tie a white plastic bag over each shoe and pants leg, bind ’em at the calf and sure ’nough, they’re covered with the bastards instantaneously. The moment I arrive. The system works, but after a week, ten days, two fresh baggies per visit are beginning to get expensive, and there’s always some fleas that go straight for the unguarded skin on my hands and my neck, y’know, anyway. Time to resort to chemicals and be done with it. So I get one of those flea bombs where you seal all the windows, stick towels under the door, newspaper in all the cracks, leave for two hours, come back and everything’s dead and you air the place out and start over. I do this, I’m back and I quickly learn two things are notdead. One, the fleas, they’re all over my socks (which this time are red) — whuh went wrong? The label, the can, I read it and realize the bomb was an egg bomb. Kills flea eggs and fleas that ain’t YET, but fleas that are — forget it. The monsters tunnel through to my ankles, legs, feet and suck like my flesh has got straws attached.

Two, I hear this catsound, yikes, where’s it coming? ’S faint. I’m thinking one more minute in this deathspice-scented air and I’ll faint from just the scent (not even the death) — I’ve yet to open a window. Two hours — where? who? Bathroom, no, bedroom, oh no, cowering behind a curtain is CatMan, fuckme, and the look on his face is Thanks, pal, for saving me. Me, his near-killer! — what grievous shit I was, am, for assuming he’d gone out through the catdoor and sealing it, for not beating the bushes more thoroughly, for not double-triple-beating goddamit, kickme, I nearly killed a cat, this cat!, this cat like a man (among men), fucking Fuck and I carry him, speed him to the porch and stand helpless as he wobbles down the stairs, sobs and disappears into an alley. To die? Die now? But he soon returns and I offer him food (he declines) and pour water, an entire bowl of which he drinks without pause and cats never drink more than a spoonful, spooking me, griefmg me into staying the rest of the day — and all night - and his BONES STICK OUT, 12 years old and suddenly 12 catyears OLD, lying there lethargic as lint, this cat who not a month (year?) before had averaged a birdcatch a WEEK and was hearty and bold as a tuna ... I did it. Me! Or the catclock (or both), and the fleas stab and feast and I scratch and wipe blood with my sleeve and make sure he is breathing. Mid night he gets up and goes to a closet, I follow him in and say, “Don’t die, I love you,” and only his eyes move, and needy puny Phobia lurks about demanding to be petted, and six weeks later he’s catdust.

Catfish: none.

Sea monkeys? None.

THE REVENGE OF “THEM” — I’m still waiting. 19 counts of anticide are bound to catch up with you. 19 ants — an ant farm — one of those $9.98 plastic jobs suitable for birthdays and weddings. I was their farmer. I’d sit and watch them dig, move sand around, tho it wasn’t actually sand, some kind of white talc-y sand substitute. There is no sub for interest, however, and, burrowing done, these miniworkaholics soon got bored & boring. Meaningful farmwork a thing of the past, they paced like 6-legged seniors on a geezer farm. — Where’s the checkers, Jethro? — I’m tired of checkers, Zeke. Days passed and weeks and I slipped them their dose of sugarwater as required. There must be more to being or owning ants — there MUST — till finally the burden of ownership got the better of me. On an outdoor ant tour I sought and found an off-species nest, one teeming with ants TWICE the length and girth of my own, antennas outstretched like junior TVs, fierce mandibles you couldn’t miss from eyeheight away. Selecting the largest — and fiercest! — I raced home and thrust him on the farm population. Common cause — stave off the invader: it’ll give ’em something t’ do.

Tougher and fiercer than I’d reckoned, the big fella slew 14 of my boys in the first hour, and by battle’s end (VICTORY!) their ranks had shrunk from 22 to 3. The courageous survivors had at the marauding sum-bitch, tearing him asunder and I do mean asunder, removing his limbs, etc. and HEAD and scattering them as far and wide as farm dimensions allowed. That’s showin’ him!

Roosters? No.

Roaches? Not exactly. In ’72 I was living in this okey doke apartment with the lowest cockroach count in New York; you might see a couple a week. There was one we’d see every so often, me and Ruth Honeyman, with vivid red highlights you could hardly have mistaken for anyroach else’s. Ruth named her Reddy, and every few days we’d leave her a glob of yogurt, whatever flavor Ruth might be eating, in a nook beside the bathroom sink. “It’ll encourage her,” said Ruth, “and I’m sure she is a her, to stay out of the kitchen.” She was right. Reddy came to know and trust us, never left the bathroom, and would not flee when either of us approached. One day Ruth took a bath. Perhaps she needed it; she liked her water hot. The tub filled, she was about to jump in when a limp, bloated bugmass caught her eye. Reddy — boiled deady! A rotten way to go. Ruth, for all her animallove, had been quite the executioner, and when roachword got out, the deluge: cucarachas in every cupboard and drawer, in our books, wineglasses, bedclothes, licking the glue off envelopes and stamps. It was them or us — let the slaughter begin! — but nonpet roachkills, like fleakills, don’t count, and I’m not counting PARROTS. □

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