A Misspelling Bee Begets Blasphemy


Misspelled words annoy me and always have since grade school at St Pius X. However, I have come to appreciate that the MOST flagrant and offensive of such errors are those of folks’ names!

Our names are at once our badge, trademark, and the outermost core of what defines us. They are the first “words” we learn to scribble in kindergarten, with lifelong encouragement that it is a source of not only pride, but heritage, and identity as well.

So when we see our first or last name incorrectly posted on a letter, plaque, announcement, it naturally bothers us! The oversight suggests that the speller either didn’t take the time to spell said name correctly, or simply felt it was unimportant. To some people, it might be construed as unfeeling, lazy, and often rude.

Imagine getting a long-awaited letter from a dear friend and your name were spelled incorrectly. Wouldn’t you wonder how, after years, they could make such a mistake?

If an employee had your name listed incorrectly, wouldn’t you doubt other accuracies?

Would an invitation to a fundraiser (with such an addressee), although hand-written, bespeak of an impersonal mailing list, and not of personal intent? Would it perhaps follow that the charity may not be as detail-oriented or professional as to merit your donation?

We all make this type of error ALMOST every day, but shouldn’t we make every effort to avoid it? Why create unnecessary doubt, insecurity, anger, resentment? Have we become so dependent on spellcheck that we feel that, if IT doesn’t catch the mistake, it isn’t important?

I mention this tonight as a result of a correspondence I had with a good friend this morning. He responded to me quickly with: “thank you for spelling my name right!” Immediately, I replied: “you’re welcome, but a misspelled name is the WORST type of misspelling!” Continuing to think about it later in the day, I realized how important such correctness might be.

Please remember this post when you address your Valentines  and holiday cards this year. Our friends are worth the courtesy and extra effort.

Though I am certain Sr Mary Patrick would be proud of me for this plea, the satisfaction would be all mine. She used to chastise me that I didn’t know how to spell my name; and that the correct spelling is S-E-I-B-E-R. My spelling, of course, is the derivative of the original and correct Germanic spelling. Once again. I digress.


(Image: “Self Portrait as Wunderkabinett” by Julie Heffernan, 2003.)

The Real Housewives of Mykonos


Alas, the tawdry franchise has gone global and now gathers and presents five nubile homemakers in their own Helvetic milieux, each more consumed with hubris than the next. Reported to be 39, Tina is the oldest of the group and is a daughter of Zeus with Heather Lochlear.

In the premiere episode, the Face of Boe has a guest turn as viewers and historians alike attempt to determine who he is.  Again disgraced, Demetria gets caught in flagranti with her oracle. Athena, the resident agoraphile, is ejected curiously from Neiman-Markos. Tina, an unscrupulous agent with Century 21BC, welcomes Helena and Mel with her special homemade baklava, which is purportedly made with Baclofen, which the handy starlet (no, an actual starlet!) makes from scratch. And the twins, Kinetica and Kwikki Kardashian, reality ingenues from the Home Shopping Network, are the new K-k-kids on the Block. Both had starring and pivotal roles in older sister Kim’s “red hot” explosive hit, “Kim and her Remote” (of the battery-operated variety.) Like cousin Kim, whose real name is Kiwi, the two have been honored with the prestigious “Kim Kardashian Overexposed” Award. Kim, of course, is still aglow from her recent best-seller, “Vanna, I’d like to Buy a K”. She kwelled rumors just the other day by announcing her sequel, “Khloé and Kourtney Couldn’t Succeed With Both of their C’s!

Meanwhile the menfolk are neither amused nor bemused, as the “Five” increasingly direct their musings to each other. At the end of Season One, there are two new housewives. Cameos by Bacchus, Dionysius, Lindsay Lohan,and Paris Hilton. In its debut episode, “in-law” Kanye West calls Kim “his little equator.”

“The Real Housewives of Mykonos” airs Tuesday nights 9PM after “Grecian Idol.”

(Image: “Woman with Head of Roses”, Salvador Dalí, 1935.)

An Outsider’s Nod of Acquiescence


For the most part, I have always resisted if not detested change of any significant degree. I learned, as a young boy, however, that to bite my tongue, acquiesce, and politely nod usually went further toward realizing my own goals and gaining acceptance. Such behavior often made me quite the poster boy for co-dependency and enabled what seemed like everyone else in setting boundaries. My issue with change, though, never reflected a laziness, a lack of vision, or a fear of the unknown. I was simply a consummate nester and Cancerian prototype while still a pre-schooler.
     Before I even entered Mrs. Sawyer’s first grade class, all of my toys, games, and books were logically organized, usually so I could keep some sort of primitive inventory. I made my bed each morning before I dressed for the day, although I had yet discovered clever variations or creative options. My bedroom was always my haven and never a holding cell to which I might be confined for naughty behavior. For that matter, I rarely misbehaved until I was in middle school and such deviation was always intended and might influence some desired results. I might suggest that I was “goal oriented”, while youmight contend that I was, instead, both controlling and calculating.
     Of course, the biggest change of my childhood took place the following year. It was the year that Kennedy was assassinated but, even more horrific to a seven year old: it was the year my parents enrolled me in Saint Thomas More Elementary. Yes, friends, I was transfered to a Catholic school, the bastian of regimentation and discipline. I would much later learn that my school was indeed atypical. Individuality and independent study were valued and encouraged. No one chastised me for reading during recess. Although there was a more rigid structure, it was a system that also nurtured.
     In fifth grade, I finally discovered all of the stereotypes and reasons that Catholic schools are feared; their instructors, lampooned; and pupils, conflicted. Despite my subsequent protests and later need for both therapy and deprogramming, I made the best of Saint Pius X School. I was, though, clearly embarking on the most profound change of my life … up to that point. My father had moved us to Greensboro from Chapel Hill. I was at a new school, with different classmates. And the nuns were not the familiar, hip, and loving Sisters of Mercy, but the austere, conservative, and rather bland Daughters of Charity. Conformity was encouraged. Both kind words and smiles were rare. And I started to keep my creativity private. I still thrived but only by default and because of my innate desire to succeed.
     By the beginning of middle school, when my parents finally allowed me to go to public school, I had already set myself up as an outsider. No one (neither classmates nor teachers) had any idea. Like I said, I had learned to bite my tongue, acquiesce, and politely nod. I had also realized change’s “double edge” and the clockwork of both wonder and beauty in Mark’s very private world.
(Image: “The Burden of Humanity” by Kevin Sloan, 2012.)

Vlad Basks in a Chartreuse Damask



I’ve always been one of those zany designers that fights clichés yet feels quite at “home” in them. I’m certain that you know the type. If uninspired by the project, the tools, or (heaven forbid and forgive) the client, I might adopt my reserved persona and, if pressed, slip into indifference. However, if I sense the smallest window from which to crawl out of the “box”, my adrenalin perks, my mind races, and I become “Vlad”. Granted, this somewhat theatrical persona may only emerge when a magical client walks into the showroom, an eclectic point of commonality is mentioned, or when the moon is a cornflower blue.
     I never apologize for such enthusiasm because it is authentic and, if channeled properly, is my best tool for selling a concept or application. If the enthusiasm is returned, the client and I at once acquiesce to the moment. We have likely created a look that is not beige, not similar to those found at large retailers like that “Ceramic Silo” or “Palette and Peck”! My immediate world is a haven of sublime hues that is cloaked in a Universe of, naturally, the truest of earth tones. And that “beige” demographic seems to be encroaching on the unrestrained, imaginative, and color-driven (of what I call the) “Free World”.
     Clearly, if such a topic is twiddling on my foremind, I am indeed at work. Today, I amused myself thinking of the great clients that I have met in the past few months. Images swirl of: a vermillion sectional appointed with a multitude of eclectic throw pillows, the peacock blue velvet arced sofa backed with a modern and lush tapestry and finished with pillows of a French graphic; or the room that includes cork-covered upholstery, copper accent tables, and a huge floor lamp sculpted from a giant burl root. Fabrics can indeed evoke a reel of ecstasy.
     I have often thought of the design process to be not unlike “dating” with its nuances, filtered information, and specific level of flirtation. And the best dates “listen” so I strive to be attentive to dialogue, needs, and cues. Sadly, however, consultations never involve libations, although I once had several pomegranate martinis with a client in her 900 sq.ft. downstairs bar. One day, I shall reveal details of the chartreuse mohair livingroom that we created that evening … complete with Baker chairs dressed in a lavender Belgian toile.
     Already, I have worked myself into a frenzy of Neuro-delic design with an emphasis on the unbridled, overstimulated, perhaps under medicated, and occasionally misbegotten visionaries. Although few in numbers, this karmic brethren makes my job fulfilling and reaffirm my celebration of the individual.
     Vlad is content.


(Image: “Picking Up the Pieces” by Julie Heffernan.)

More than a glimpse of Stocking


She was quite the “bee’s knees,” but never quite realized the irony. Coy, fetching, and certainly no fool, Daphne awaited her sister … more than a tad anxiously on this pivotal afternoon. She just had to explain, before the rumors grew even more out of control.
The tea was steeping; the petits fours were neatly cut; the scene was perfectly set. Confidantly, her “T’s” were indeed all crossed. Daphne had simply uncrossed her legs and in doing so, perhaps, crossed the line, but she was simply not sitting shiva any longer!

She had, in fact, moved on long before, as her mourning became quite sweet with deceit. But the day was indeed fresh and Daphne was no longer going to allow her life to be divisible, at least not by a prudish sibling.

No, she was nothing like Ariadne for she had held the world at bay too long already. Besides! Mr. Darcy would be over just past sunset. And, for once, Daphne would be able to see her own content and winsome expression, beyond that found in the eyes of others.

     Daphne’s domain would once more be unshrouded this evening. She smiled confidently and sweetly, as that was her intent from the start, no chorine she! The gossamer sheaths were neatly folded and, once again, returned to the bureau. Daylight will certainly fetch an anecdote to her naïveté.

(Image: “The Widow’s Tea Party” by Ray Caesar, 2003.)

Wilkommen. Begrüßungswert


Welcome, my friends, to Marklewood, just down a dirt road .. somewhere in the hinterlands of suburban Raleigh. The acreage embraces a long, winding and mossy driveway that leads to an old barn, nestled in the womb of an ancient and mighty pine forest. Never be timid about ringing the doorbell: warm coffee and odd musings always await the weary traveller. And if you can’t find the portal, just look for the stoop where, more than likely, the outdoor pusses keep sentry.
Please sign the guest book, and subscribe to these ramblings. Pfluffer, Henry, and Hermione always like to know who stopped by and they assure me they will not approach you for either “Pounce” or catnip. They already have their sources. Besides, there’s a bait shop nearby where they can do their own marketing, visit with the locals, and keep a steady eye on the minnows.
Over the next few days, I will mix new finds with posts that date back to 2009. After all, I am an archivist by compulsion.
You are welcome to explore here. Jon usually has coffee brewing. The outdoor cats will, however, attempt to abscond with treats. It’s a playful manifestation of adolescent misbehavior, a penchant they acquired from public access channels on cable.
(Image: “In the Pavillion of the Red Clown” by Robert Williams, 2007.)

A Variation to Nana’s ‘Nana Puddin’


My Southern friends often chastise me for my banana pudding. It’s certainly not because they do not enjoy it, as they tend to devour it like starved and unrestrained 70’s stoners. Rather, they assert that I am quick to bastardize a regional classic and brand it with my touch. Often I hear echoes of “Can’t you leave well enough alone” or “Only you, Marky!”

Naturally, self-monickered perfectionista, connoisseur-wannabe, and goofball blend that I am, I attempt to make the less elegant, more so … or the mundane, more meaningful. Simply put, however, I try to give the noble pudding the pedigree it needs to be dished proudly next to any Peach Melba, Cherries Jubilee, or that upstart cousin, Bananas Foster!
So for you, my Canadian comrade in sweetened comforts, this is my humble and brief attempt at a recipe. Mind you, I usually “wing it” as I embark on all such matters in a stream of free form expression:

Take your favorite and most appropriate casserole or dessert dish and make certain it is adequately washed, as mine are often dusty from casual storage. No matter how tasty a morsel is, a random cat hair or pillow feather tends to negate any cravings, except for the above mentioned 70’s stoner.

Prepare your pudding mixture. I suggest you use the recipe that brings you comfort, ease, and familiarity in preparation. I add to that quartered banana slices and a 1/3 cup of amaretto. If you should add any liqueur (as I often will) be certain to reduce the amount of milk, so as to avoid a running consistency upon serving.

Fill the sparkling and pristine dish with your pudding mixture, to about the 1/3 mark., allowing room for the rise when adding bananas and wafers.

Take Lorna Doone shortbread cookies (substitute the Walker variety, my UK buds) and place them artfully and geometrically in the designated dish. I opt for meticulous rows and columns, usually about ½ inch apart.

Once all the shortbread is in place and at attention, pour the remainder of the pudding mixture to just above the tops of the cookies.

Place the pudding in the icebox for twenty-four hours to allow ample time for it to congeal and “set up” (as it were, Scarlet). I find banana pudding primes better for the taste and the presentation if it is not rushed or quickly chilled.

Before serving, I generously fold crème fraiche over the top and sprinkle on that a mixture of crumbled shortbread and nutmeg. Yes, CoolWhip, RediWhip, or any other prepared dessert topping will suffice. But if you, my friends, were coming to Marklewood for dessert and coffee, I would most certainly use crème fraiche.

Spoon, dish, and serve the banana pudding, then, in the manner that best suits your style, the tempo of your get-together, and the appetite of your guests.
So create, enjoy, and entertain thus and remember my banana pudding. Please do not judge it harshly, for it was I who chose to exclude the revered Vanilla Wafers and embellish a classic.
Bon appétit.

(Image: “Untitled” by Ekatarina Panikanova, 2011.)

Tokens of Appreciation



I have a friend (we’ll just call her Nicole) who was involved with a certain writer (we’ll just call him Mr. Bill) and, for the sake of this tale, we’ll just set it in Greensboro. It’s just down the interstate from Marklewood by a few counties, and I know it well.

It was the mid-90’s and no one knew precisely whether or not Nicole and Bill lived together. However, more often than not, they awakened side by side. Each had a schedule of sorts, however, both being writers by profession, they enjoyed a degree of flexibility. Bill, a recently published author of semi-autobiographical musings, was a newspaper columnist for the “News-Record” … a tall, somewhat intimidating strapper whose words were both his livelihood and his sport. Nicole, equally gifted with prose, was more casual, working for various area publications, still searching for her niche.

They were both attractive, dramatic, and rather high profile (at least within the downtown “arts & draft” community). No couple could enter a café, nightclub, or corner tavern with any greater fanfare: Bill stood a good three or four inches taller than other man at any such venue and he had a bit of a scowl, some might even say a sneer, albeit it a “fetching” sneer. Nicole, beautiful and exotic with large vibrant eyes, adored attention and was likely to don a slinky silk cocktail dress, leopard boots, and a fur coat. At a young age, she had keenly honed her style that at once was elegant, provocative, and campy.

On one particular morning and in Bill’s apartment, the two got up and separately prepared for their day. Knowing the two but, of course, not privy to all the details, I imagine Bill showered, dressed, and was out the door and behind the wheel of his tomato red ’57 Chevy convertible in about fifteen minutes.

Nicole, on the other hand, probably spent a couple of hours in preparation … not that she is given to vanity. Rather, she is the type to savor the nuances of morning: hot freshly-brewed coffee, several energizing cigarettes, scanning the newspaper. Don’t get me wrong, friends, she also realizes the impact of wearing precisely the perfect ensemble for each day and occasion. As a recovering beauty pageant winner, Nicole has always been skilled in the arts & sciences related to effective grooming and maximizing one’s given assets. Damn, she has ALWAYS been a hottie. Always … even when she was a sweet young thing growing up in a small city (we’ll just say Thomasville!).

As she was headed out the door, Nicole remembered her funds on hand were rather depleted. (She and Mr. Bill had enjoyed late night cognacs and a game of pool, well several games of pool.) She went into the bedroom to scout any available “cash” and spied a large bowl filled with an assortment of coinage: all sizes of metallic booty. She quickly filled her handbag and hastily left. She would soon be squiring a group of young children on a field trip and ultimately be taking them to McDonald’s for a special and festive luncheon. (One of her many vague jobs at the time included some sort of quasi-volunteer teacher’s aide and glamour consultant.)

Just before noon, Nicole and a half dozen primary students were awaiting their happy meals and Nicole was collecting her resources and emptied her large coin purse onto the counter. At once, there was a substantial pile of change between her eyes and those of the cashier. As she started to count, Nicole quickly realized, the vast majority of the coins were in fact bookstore tokens. No, not Barnes & Nobles doubloons, rather they were assorted tokens for various Adult Bookstores. My friends, I am certain none of you have ever seen any such metal pieces so be assured they usually feature (on one side) a naked person in some suggestive position and, on the other, some form of advertising. The jury is still out as to which side suggests head and which suggests tail. In any case, it was indeed an awkward moment, at least for the cashier.

Nicole, as expected, gracefully scooped them back into her handbag and presented her credit card. The children got their happy meals; the cashier got one of those “you’re not gonna believe what happened today” stories; and Nicole walked away with a funny memory. The children all wanted to see the tokens but Nicole wisely secreted them away.

Non-judgmental woman that she is, Nicole was neither angry nor embarrassed by the transaction. She did, however, learn several valuable lessons:

One should always take extra time to count one’s funds if one expects an issue of how much funding one actually has.
Never make assumptions about what goes on when you’re not around.
Never underestimate the power of distraction that a fur coat and crimson lipstick together can have.
Wear protective dark sunglasses whenever escorting youngin’s for fast food … even on Sundays.
And never tell a crony such a story unless, of course, you don’t object to reading about it years later in a Facebook post. 

Mr. Bill has since gotten in his ’57 convertible and relocated to a large metropolis in the mid-west (we’ll just say Detroit).

Nicole continues to write, charm, and turn heads in Greensboro. And, when stopping for fast food, she always counts her money before even opening the car door. It’s simply a habit these days.


(Image: “Double Header” by Bruce Helander.)

Tip-Toeing Late at Night


“My tears are like the quiet drift off petals from some magic rose;
And all my grief flows from the rift of unremembered skies and snows.
I think, that if I touched the earth,It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful, so tremulously like a dream.”

(“Clown in the Moon” by Dylan Thomas.)

Sleep soundly, my friends, and may such a poet whisper sweet prose into your ears. Let the moon exhale softly and quickly warm any chill of tomorrow.

The memories of today are but a pillow for tonight, at once plucked by dawn’s quick first peek. The poet takes such cushions with him as he makes your bed for the new day.

(Image: “Dream of Becoming” by Fred Stonehouse, 2011.)


Giving Spring Its Dew



As I shared today’s sunrise with the outdoor pusses, I spied even more blooms than on Friday, the last dry day. Our tentative spring is scattering smatterings of hopeful buds while the villa pots remain lifeless and the usually eager dogwoods and azaleas, barren. Yes, Mr Beecher, we are getting restless as we vainly search for the sweetest of God’s soul-less creations.

Violets, roses, magnolias, honeysuckle, they all nourish our spirits and bathe us in their dewy fragrance. Spring is here in name only, as this wretched winter continues its scourge.

Egads. It’s always either feast or famine here in the hinterlands. The Universe denies our souls its cravings and sustenance. We must, however, keep the promise alive that such a buffet is around the very bend that points to Marklewood.

At least that is what the jonquils tell me.

Stepping Out to Freedom


Her name is Madge, but please call her Jezebel. She has traded in that tattered and faded housefrock for a fetching, red-satin evening dress. Spinning deceit upon conceits, she’s off to the tonier side of the garden, scaling the wall, and quickly headed to Smoky Bub’s for a mid-afternoon libation.

This Madge fidgets nervously; it is the pattern she well knows. She woos, chews, spits out, and finally renders her men lifeless … but she views it more as “unable to keep her interest piqued.” 
By nine, she returns home, empty-handed, empty-souled, and a few martinis wearier. She grieves the father of her children that never really was. Sadly, and most assuredly, she faces yet another hollow night on the web!

(Image: “Madre” by Ray Caesar, 2006.)

Multi Purpose Personas and Odd Ids


I have a friend who is exceptionally kind, engaging and has, over the years, acquired and fine-tuned several personas.
First, there is, of course, Evelyn … a name given her by a stubborn client who refused to believe her name was anything but Evelyn. He would phone, ask for Evelyn, and upon full explanation that there was indeed no Evelyn, ask with determination: “yes, I understand, but is Evelyn there?” For several seasons, Evelyn became the “buzz name” for the champion of tasteful, sophisticated, and always appropriate.

From the loins of Evelyn’s imagination, emerged the free spirit Esmerelda. Esme is at once exotic and dramatic, given to animal prints and silk chemises. Most importantly, she is unyielding that there are indeed over a hundred shades of red haircolor, with different degrees of appropriateness and effect! Known to greet guests by “peekin’ out from under a stairway and calling a name that’s lighter than air.”     

Shirley denotes her more artistic bent and the youngest of multiple faces. However, it is still widely pondered that the chaos and brutality of recent years might nudge Monique from her nap, or coax Minerva from her newly refurnished reef, or force Heather to give in to the paternal system that demands that she carry a Social Security card. (I might add: one that is in her own name.) A few years back, both Shirl’s aura and mine were disastrously tainted. We coached each other while we were challenged to create a lush and novel, if not mind-blowing, million dollar tract house. One of a dozen similarly gaudy and over-designed manses, this assignment became the last one on which we’d transform a dreadful showcase home.

In the evenings, immediately before the requisite cocktail hour, she would grab her vintage crocodile handbag and jewel-embedded lorgnettes, and motor out to the latest gated community to open a furnished model. This alternate and part-time “face” of fashionable furnishings, known simply as the Moiré Marauder, would canvas cul-de-sacs confiscating: all the lace doilies, plaid upholstery fabric, pop-up sofa cupholders, kelly green kitchen millwork, and sheer dining room draperies that barely cover the window, let alone hang to the floor. She would graciously distribute catalogs that focused on the proper interior design jargon and condemn mispronunciations or incorrect usage (or term). A chaise has only one acceptable pronunciations: shez; and is never, ever “chase” or “chay.” Terms such as couch and curtains should be replaced with sofa and draperies. I could go on and on and, perhaps, type well into the wee hours, but I am certain that you get my point. Selfless and tireless, Shirl is the vanguard of lay design work, harbinger of good taste, albeit perhaps the Patron Saint of Throw Pillows.

In recent years, she has modified her business cards to read “top drawer design for ALL of your personas.” A certain homage to that other divine Miss M, she is the alpha of Psychic Acquaintances, the maven of Marseilles cloths, the Grande Dame of Damask, the Mistress of Mohair, and the Virtuosa of Velvet.

I will not venture into any mention of her confirmation and, much later, Hebrew names as that would entail discussion of her journey from Catholicism to Judaism, which is far too intimate a subject for casual posting, although the same design credos and rules in either house of “Worship”!

And, at the end of what one may often refer to as Mid-Century Modern day from Hell, you can finally exhale. feel certain that the world is a little more tasteful and indeed imbued with even more divinely saturated hues. Her friends call her Nancy but she will often respond to any of the forementioned names … depending on her mood and your intent. I believe that her Cherokee name is: “She Who Will Not Haggle”!

I use all of these names interchangeably and she smiles, as she quietly selects her persona du jour, unpacks her fabric swatches, and powers up her trusty iPad.

(Image: “Untitled” by Moki.)

Wandering Words of Wonder


I see craft and talent in almost everyone I encounter. Nonetheless, I have recently vowed to embrace reality and its haughty and proud cousin, pragmatism. Revealing the popping assumptions, my reason wonders and my words wander. Are these skills, in fact, suited to our own very real and practical lives? Does such a quest demand some self-realization, faith, and commitment? On this balmy afternoon, I acquiesce to the Universe and admit that spirituality, chance, and faith are all the architects of such abilities, their manifestation, and the “keepers” of the well-polished tools that at once reveal Providence’s edge.

Does having the heart of a poet make easier the runner’s goal?
        Does a keen ability to nurture relationships give a chemist solace?
        Do a painter’s eyes enhance a mother’s almighty balancing act?

I often imagine what the world would be like if we all made use of our talents, both given and learned, in our daily lives. Would this earth indeed be a better, nobler place? Would we all be more satisfied from this greater contribution?

Perhaps, we would simply become a nation of homogeneous esthetes, living within some grand exposition. Pottery could be used as our currency and those previously mentioned tools, as our Grail. Of course, it will be a wise and humble man who maintains the luster, rubs away any taint, and keeps well lubricated, the mechanics. He who is generous of spirit is the wealthiest of mortals, having rendered impotent the soul-less scions.

I’d probably be a drummer.

Or a wandering minstrel, tuning my supple song.

(Image: Photograph of Salvador and Gala Dalí by Cecil Beaton, 1936.)

Miss Muffin and the Belles of Marklewood


A while back, we had an interloper here at Marklewood. The outdoor pusses were the first to encounter her.  A day later, the two of us had a determined stare-off when I first stepped onto the front stoop that dawn. As I slowly inhaled the moment’s nicotine, she guardedly peered at me from behind the giant cast iron plants that define the driveway’s foot. I stood up to fetch my coffee. She jerked, twitched, and scurried from my sight. That was when I first heard that damned bell!

Yes indeed, she is a “lost, but not yet found” cat: a diminutive marmalade with white boots, an unassuming face, and a bell secured to her neck with a pale pink ribbon. “How embarrassing!”, I thought, “to be thus branded in a juvenile and fey (if not “girlie”) manner.” As I approached her, she darted under the house, to the crawl space where those very same outdoor pusses often seek refuge, warmth, and safety.

Hmmmm. She must’ve spent the night since she knew exactly where the primary access points were! I imagined that she, Eve, and Lunesta braided each other’s fur and gossiped about the misfortune that prompted Precious to change her name and head downtown. At some point, they certainly giggled and mused of the neighborhood toms. Moreover, I assume they tried in vain to loosen the ribbon and remove the jingle.

When the air finally warmed and the sun was dancing atop the pine trees, I returned to the front stoop, this time with the cats’ breakfast. The seven regulars dashed toward and circled the food bowl, tails swaying in June Taylor synchronicity. As I again sat on the stoop (contemplating life, liberty, and the pursuit of a better credit rating), that bell stirred my concentration. She instinctively ran to the bowl, as if she had been a long-term guest, but I had to leave any detective work until that evening.

It was almost time to head across the wide span of Raleighwood to my new job. I warned Jon about this mystery puss, jokingly referring to her as”Twinkle” or “Muffin”. She was an innocent “valley puss”, unfairly tagged by those who rescued her from a shelter. And there I was making light of her situation!

That night, long after I had returned, I took an extra large scoop of kibble outside, hoping the cats would forgive my tardiness. As always is the case at sunset, two came from chairs in the garden. Three, from the nearby woods. One jumped down from atop the storage shed. The last one raced from the jasmine-covered swings, her abandoned seat still rocking “fro and to”. As the seven were soon scarfing and gobbling with barely a chew, I again heard that bell!

Had she been at Marklewood all day? Was she ever going to return to”Muffinwood” or wherever her home is? Nonetheless, I made certain she ate, quite confident that if she needed shelter that her four-legged hosts would be hospitable and offer her shelter in the inn. But wait! She was too, too small to be “with child” although I was having irreverent musings. To the contrary, she appeared prematurely spayed.

She was clean and obviously well-cared for. My cats were neither scared nor intimidated by her so she seemingly possessed decent social skills. And of course, the ribbon indicated that she was loved and likely missed. I immediately visualized a weepy and sullen young girl with pigtails, or a lonely housecat who was missing his playmate, if not little sister. Oy ve!

Essentially for the next few mornings and evenings, the routine was the same. At mealtime, the pusses came from every direction with “Pinkie”pulling up the rear. Maybe her name was “Tinker”, “Belle”, or some combination therein.  Or even “Rosey”. All I knew was that she was entirely too comfortable here.

I chuckled as I imagined her warbling “Take the Ribbon from My Fur!”

A few days later, she stopped coming when I fed the others. I no longer heard that bell announcing her proximity. I assumed she finally went home. That night as I sat on the stoop extinguishing my last cigarette of the day, I wondered if Eve and Lunesta would ever again have such a slumber party.

The next morning, I was checking email when I heard a loud knock on the front door. Jon was still asleep so I literally ran downstairs, at least as quickly as I could without tripping or accidentally stepping onto the creaky steps. Through the window I could see a big burly guy with a shaved head and tattoos. (Let’s just call him “Bubba”!) I opened the door and, with certain expectations, offered a reluctant “Yes?”

“Have you seen a small orange and white cat around here? She has a pink ribbon collar and a little silver bell.”

Oh my. I never saw that one coming. I recounted her plight but assured him that she had been gone for over twenty-four hours. I could see that he was worried, tearful, and “beside his big, beefy self”. I was surprised by the irony of the situation but knew what he was feeling … all too well.

I assured him that if she ever returned, she’d at least be well fed and safe from the roving raccoons and conniving coyotes. I told him that, if she ever got lost again he was welcome to survey our yard for a glimpse of ribbon. Or walk up our driveway and listen for the jingle.

That night, as I struggled to fall asleep, I wondered if she indeed ever did make it home and hoped that the Universe would care for her.

The next morning, since I was going to enjoy a day off, I slept a little later than usual and headed outside with my coffee, cigarettes, and a big scoop of cat food. Eve, Thom, Leopold, Yorick, DeWilde, Precious, and Sylvester Sue all came running. I count them at every meal, as if “taking attendance”, since we live in the hinterlands and are surrounded by woods. That evening, all seven were accounted for and present for chow time. Then I heard a faint jingle, listening as it grew louder and closer. She confidently rounded the corner and headed for the food dish.

She looked at me with a sweetness and a gratitude as if to say: “Call me Madam. Call me Miss Tibbs. Even call me Miss Ross. Just don’t call me Muffin!”  She then squeezed in between Eve and Yorick, taking her place in the ritual.

I quickly ran inside, forgetting to avoid the creaky steps. When I entered the bedroom, Jon was stirring and squinting his eyes.

“Honey, I think ‘Dr. Markle’s Finishing School for Wayward and Erstwhile Pusses’ has a new boarding student.” Perhaps, I was daydreaming again but I could’ve sworn she registered as Pinkie.

And then there were eight!

(Image: “Monkey Dog and His Mistress” by Lucy Gaylord-Lindholm, 2000.)