Quint

heave down the catfood an' heave-to yer dinghy

Every now and then we find bits of random detritus on the ol' hard drive and while I am not trying to imply there'll be any kind of lost blog entries from Abbie any time soon, I did want to bring to your attention a fine sea chantey that was written aboard Martha the Cat's own ship, the Flying Kitten. The appearance of the ink on the pages implies that the verses were added over time, and if the page numbering is anything to be believed (the song ends on a posthumous verse), there might be quite a few more verses out there. At any rate, here is what we currently have of the chantey about Martha the Cat, which was named by a crew member who apparently wasn't very imaginative.

THE CHANTEY ABOUT MARTHA THE CAT

Oh, Martha the Cat was a mighty fine pirate
The cleverest pirate 'pon these Seven Sinks,
When asked how she did it, she said "It's no secret:
A captain is only as good as she thinks."
Yes, boys,[1] yes
That is what Martha would do.
Martha the Cat helmed a mighty fast vessel
A frigate she was, Flying Kitten her name
Her figurehead was of a panther a-leaping
The colors she flew high resembled the same.
Yes, boys, yes
That is what Martha would do.
Now, Martha the Cat had a brother named Abbie
This brother, his appetite grew as he grew
For breakfast he'd start with a brunch and three lunches
And then finish off with a dinner or two.
Yes, boys, yes
That is what Abbie would do.
Well, Martha the Cat went out sailing one morning
The morning was fair and the water was nice
She sailed far away and came back in a fortnight
With her tail held up high and a holdful of mice.
Yes, boys, yes
That is what Martha would do.
Once Martha the Cat was brought up 'fore His Honor
His Honor, he said "We found you with the loot!
I've only one question to ask: did you nick it?"
And Martha replied, "I don't know... but I'm cute!"
Yes, boys, yes
That is what Martha would do.
Old Martha the Cat, she's now sailing far elsewhere
That elsewhere, it's somewhere you'll go and then stay
But a message I found in a bottle said "I'm good!
There's fine prizes here 'pon the old Milky Way."
Yes, boys, yes
That's where the good Kitten flew!

1. An annotation scribbled in the margin of the first page, written by Martha herself, explains that aboard The Flying Kitten, every crew member may be referred to as 'boy' because it is, in her particular cat dialect, the word for sailor. This has yet to be verified but we have top linguists working it right now. Top. Linguists.
Bankrupt

There must be a motivational poster which inspires execs to follow their most boneheaded visions

Just in case there is now a law which stipulates I always have to write about the wee beasties in this LJ, I will mention that Sonya and I left them alone for one night (one night!) and, upon returning home, discovered that they have transformed from kittens into miniature cats. Hestia's ears are growing into the large Siamese shape like her mother had; Autolycus is taking after his father with short equilateral triangles for ears. They will be four months old tomorrow. And now you know something completely innocuous about the kittens and that's all I should mention in this post, because it really is about a big big big loss for independent Boston theatre.

This is what I wrote back in January about the Factory Theatre, in which the Porpentine Players presented A Man for All Seasons during the cold month:
I maybe ought to take this opportunity to mention that the Factory Theatre is, indeed, located in a former piano factory in downtown Boston. The house appears to be in a former loading dock; it's a two-story bare brick room with enough length and width for a piano-totin' truck and all the mechanical hoisting thingamajiggers required to haul pianos into said truck. It is cold, it is drafty, there is only one bathroom and it's horrible; it is theatre in the rough and it is glorious, even if a bit masochistic.

The bathroom deserves special mention since it smells like a truck stop with kidney problems and the door locks every time and the key is usually lost so for god's sake prop the door open when you leave or we'll all be peeing out in the parking lot. The bathroom is also home to a very friendly cockroach who I presume acquired several nicknames, some of them pejorative and one of them pronounceable only by a shoe, from the cast and crew. (I called it Frankie.) And along with cockroaches, I learned this weekend that the place has spiders.
Yesterday word went quickly around Boston theatre people that the Factory had lost its lease and would be gone, gone, gone by the end of October. The rest of the renovated Factory was once artist loft space, but now it's mostly really expensive condo space which they call "high-end lofts" and let me tell you that's one of the greatest real estate euphemisms ever. Right next to "cozy with lots of character".

The Factory building management have decided that they would rather take out one of the last good venues for Boston fringe theatre, an actual source of revenue, and instead (so the rumor mill goes) put in a gym, something which the South End desperately needs because that's the only direction in which you can swing a dead cat without hitting one. But the rumor mill churns out the possibility that the gym won't even be open to the public; it'll be for the residents only. There goes another source of revenue for these genius Captains of Industry. GENTLEMEN, WE ARE MAKING ENTIRELY TOO MUCH MONEY OFF THIS VENTURE. IF WE WANT A GOLDEN BAILOUT WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO DEVALUATE THE PROPERTY AND FAST. MIGHT AS WELL GET BIALYSTOCK AND BLOOM TO BLOW THE PLACE UP. The Factory's parking lot will be gated--not that theatergoing proles could park there anyway--but this will bar even pedestrian access, and apparently the theater itself is just too pedestrian to live.

Far from expressing relief that one would never again have to deal with the one-and-a-half-person-wide backstage area, the drafts, the cockroach bathroom, the light booth with practically no view of stage left ("I'll just count to ten after your line, bring up your special and have faith you're underneath it by then") and spiders who'll upstage you every chance they get, everybody what does theater around Boston is angry. The Factory Theatre may be a cramped, cold hole but it's our cramped, cold hole, goddammit. And what with it seating fifty people who are no more than fifteen feet from the players at any time, it presented a terrific opportunity for really intimate productions. AMFAS worked great there. You weren't sitting comfortably in an auditorium watching Sir Thomas More underneath a proscenium, no, you're practically sitting in his house. Or in his garden. Or on the banks of the Thames, or in the Tower of London, or or or, you get the idea.

The Factory is/was home to at least four or five resident companies; the Porpentines got their foot in the door (which isn't so hard to do when you have to keep it propped open with a rock). Nobody is going to take this without a fight, or at least a new venue search--but new venue searches happen all the time and turn incredibly depresso after a while. This is all I know for now, but I know that we collectively get mighty upset when a place we in which we play is taken from us. We'll see what happens. If it turns into a gym, I sure hope every single person paying to live there uses it and uses it often. I don't want the gym to fail if it comes to that; I just hope that the area is well and duly used regardless of what it ends up being. There's simply nothing worse than corporately-wasted space, and I can say this with great certainty and conviction because I was in Burlington this morning.

Long live the Factory Theatre; long live fringe with a capital or lower-case F[f].
Cone of Tragedy

in which kittens learn that freedom isn't free, or some other bumper sticker bromide

The kittens did not have a good Fourth of July.

Thursday the city of Somerville shot fireworks off at Trum Field, which is on the other side of Ball Square from us. We didn't go, having plans to later that evening to see the Boston fireworks from Prospect Hill. You could hear the percussive reports at home, nice bass thuds which were fun for us but sufficiently loud to unnerve kitten, um, nerves. Hestia ran into Sonya's room and hid underneath a picture frame; Autolycus was just really really really on guard for quite some time. The puir wee bairns.

The Boston fireworks had been pushed back from Friday night to Thursday because of * Arthur. The * means I am lazy and as of this writing have not looked to see if it's a tropical storm or an actual hurricane or what. I'll look it up later. Then the fireworks started fifteen minutes earlier than that due to another incoming storm with no name. Sonya and I knew about the former but not the latter as we traveled to Prospect Hill. All we knew was that good god that looks like the Esplanade fireworks and didn't they say 10:30 and maybe someone accidentally dropped a match in the fireworks box or something. (It's been known to happen.) We got to the hill, sat down with rushthatspeaks and gaudior and a friend of theirs, watched the rest of the show, and then we all got caught in the huge monsoon which hit us approximately five minutes after we started back to Highland. Rush kindly drove us home through glass-like sheets of water and the most ferocious cloud-to-cloud lightning (and a few ground strikes) I have ever seen on land. We made it home and discovered that the kittens aren't too fond of thunder, either, at least when they're not the ones responsible for it.

This, then, brings us to Friday, the actual Fourth, which saw us in Lexington for most of the day. The kittens were fed and watered and assured that no fireworks were going to go off near them tonight. They were cool with that.

At this point I should mention that these cats are learning new and wonderful tricks. Hestia is getting very good at jumping onto things. She can get onto the kitchen counter with a running start half the time. The other half she reaches the counter with her front paws, flails at the cabinetry with her back paws, and flops to the ground for some composure grooming. Meanwhile Autolycus, who has more difficulty learning mobility what with oversized paws and all, is obsessed with bottle caps. He loves to scoop a cap up in both paws, rearing back on his hind legs in the process, then stick the cap in his mouth and run off it with all proud-like. Sometimes there's the problem of not enough loose bottle caps on the floor. Autolycus has observed us drinking from one-liter and 20-ounce bottles enough to understand that if you want the cap off the bottle, you have to turn it. We have watched him grasp the bottle cap in both paws, again rearing up on his hind legs (both of them are going to be bipedal cats before the year is out) and then attempt to hop-circle around the bottle. He doesn't have sufficient grip to create any kind of torque, but my god he's got the principle down.

(Anyway, the joke's on him; he was hopping righty-tighty, not lefty-loosey.)

While we were out, Hestia learned to jump over the gate we keep at the top of our entry stairs so that little cats don't lurk by the front door and accidentally on purpose get out. This is a slightly dangerous endeavor, jumping over gates at the tops of stairs, but Hestia had so much fun hopping over the gate she apparently convinced Autolycus to give it a try and wouldn't you know, the little fellow succeeded. What fun! What victory! What naughty kittens!

Then came this thing called consequence which cats will never seem to grasp, no matter how many cognitive skills they develop. The gate was high enough for the critters to hop over from the top of the landing, yes, but the other side is one step lower. The resulting ledge was too high to clamber back over and when we came home on Thursday evening we found two kittens sitting on that low step out there in NO CAT'S LAND. We have no idea how long they'd been there, though it appears thankfully not long enough for one of them to really need to use the now-inaccessible litter box. They freaked out a bit when they saw me round the stairstep corner, both flashed that "Oh, shit, we're nicked" look, and tried to jump back over the gate simultaneously and at the same time. This plan failed: they crashed into each other in mid-leap, landed on the low step, scrambled to get out of the way, tripped over each other again, and generally scrambled around in PURE KITTEN PANIC. Hestia recovered and, upset, managed to clear the gate from the lower level and ran off to the water dish. Autolycus, meanwhile, tumbled down three or four steps, was very annoyed by the whole deal, and ran off to the water dish as soon as I undid the gate.

They are doing fine several hours later though Autolycus has since fallen down the stairs twice; first while chasing a mouse toy he thought had gone that way. We hadn't put the gate back yet and I felt really bad about it. The mouse hadn't even gone down the stairs. After I put the gate back up Oly jumped over just to make sure. He landed hard on his paws, tumbled again, and was really shaken for a while. I went out to check on him while writing this and upon hearing my office door open he ran with a prrrp at a bottle cap by my feet, slid along the hardwood floor with cap in paw, bounced off the wainscoting and looked right up at me with big bright eyes. We're going to have to watch that gate, but yeah. The Ex-Runt is gonna be okay.
Howard Beale

OFFICIAL CAT BIDNISS

FROM THE OFFICE OF
Someone who just wanted to get a little work done

A PROCLAMATION.

WHEREAS the afternoon sun comes directly into the living room and the dining room, making such places broilingly hot; and

WHEREAS we made the wise decision of locating our offices on the northernish side of the house with a triple-decker next door; thereby keeping them away from direct sunlight

WE HEREBY PROCLAIM, PRONOUNCE, AND CERTIFY that

one _TYBALT AUTOLYCUS_, a.k.a. _THE EX-RUNT_, _THE RASCAL KING_, _THE KITTEN ITSELF_ and _DOOFUS_; and

one _HESTIA HERMIA_, a.k.a. _X THE UNKNOWN_, _LADY CAT_, _PESTIA_ and _NOBODY'S BUTTERFLY TODAY_

ARE HEREBY PERMITTED

__ACCESS TO THIS ONE GUY'S OFFICE__

UNDER THE STRICT PROVISIONS THAT THEY

Play By, Follow and Don't Mess Around with:

THE RULES
as set down by THE MANAGEMENT.

If youse guys want to stay in this nice, cool room, perfect for sleeping and being super quiet:

  1. DO NOT CLIMB UP LEGS. Even if you don't really mean it. Even if they're wearing long pants. If you want up on the chair, jump on the chair itself or ask politely. DO NOT attempt to SCALE THE VERTICAL HEIGHTS OF MT. LEGMORE. Too many attempts, O youth 'mid snow and ice, and you're out into the desert there under the harsh Tatooine suns.

  2. DO NOT FREAK OUT AND RUN AROUND ALL CRAZY. To do so requires nice, long stretches of surface upon which to work up a good running speed, and WOULDN'T YOU KNOW the best place for that would be the HOT SALT FLATS out there under the harsh Tatooine suns to which you will be SUMMARILY DISPATCHED.

  3. DO NOT FIGHT AND MEAN IT. Master Blaster rules Thudnerdome. Master Blaster knows sometimes kittens want to take a round or two in the Thudnerdome, AS LONG AS IT DON'T GET PERSONAL. Once it do get personal, and someone CRIES UNCLE, combatants must CEASE ALL FIGHTING YOU CHOWDAHEADS and COOL YUH JETS ALREDDY. Should HOSTILITIES CONTINUE, the combatant with whom Master Blaster is MOST DISPLEASED shall be BANISHED to the DINING ROOM WASTELAND under the harsh Tatooine suns and maybe we're overdoing it with the science-fiction here.

  4. DON'T EAT ANYTHING YOU SHOULDN'T. The Management reserves the right and will do its utmost to remove from the floor WHATEVER IMPLEMENTS IT FINDS that YOU WEIRDOS might find APPETIZING. This includes but is not limited to
    • PLASTIC BAGS
    • PAPER BAGS
    • ANY OTHER BAG THERE IS
    • FOOD
    • NOT FOOD
    • ETC.
    Previous experience with PROPER MOOCHERS has reminded us that CATS are STUPID HUNGRY and will TRY TO CONSUME anything that looks like oh seriously cat what are you thinking that's caramel off a wrapper no Abbie you damn idjit just no.

  5. ANYTHING ELSE THAT COMES UP AND YOU KNOW IT WILL BECAUSE CATS.
SO SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED, IT'S OURS ON THIS _EIGHTEENTH_ DAY OF _JUNE_, _2014_

_____what_____ T. AUTOLYCUS (cat)

___whatever___ HESTIA H. (cat)

______us______ THE PEOPLE. (people)

AND ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE CAN GO TO TOSHI STATION AND PICK UP SOME POWER CONVERTERS.
Spike Dancing The Hula

ASK THE GUY WHO GETS ASKED THINGS

Today's letter comes from Mr. P. Paternoster from Fort Worth, Texas, who writes:
Dear Guy Who Gets Asked Things,

In the song "Charlie on the MTA", which is all about Charlie on the MTA, there's a verse about Charlie's wife giving him a sandwich every day when his train comes through the station. Why doesn't she just hand him a nickel so he can get off the train and be done with it?

Yours drooly,
P. Paternoster

Dear Pat,

The answer to this one is simple: Charlie the eternal subway rider and his train are caught in a trans-dimensional wormhole where time goes by a lot differently than it does here on our home planet. Thus, if Mrs. Charlie were to hand her husband a nickel this afternoon as the wormholed train comes a-rumbling through, Charlie would receive it in roughly 50,000 years--enough time for both the nickel to devaluate and the exit fare to be abolished, return, and get hiked up exponentially. Even if Mrs. Charlie (whose name is Sylvia, by the way, and she very kindly did not hang up on me today) were to deposit that nickel in an account at the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank, the interest accrued by the time Charlie receives the passbook would not be enough to cover the fare. Besides, the Five Cents Savings Bank was bought by Citizens Bank a long time ago and the account gets socked fifteen bucks every month. You do the math.

Signed,
The Guy Who Gets Asked Things

But, Guy Who Gets Asked Things,

Wouldn't this time dilation also mean that every sandwich Charlie's wife gives him arrives completely rotted and inedible?

P. (not Pat) Paternoster

Dear Pete,

Yes, but he's too nice a guy to say anything about it.

-TGWGAT




The Guy Who Gets Asked Things (right) is a six-time Battle of the Network Stars team captain and has many amusing stories about his Uncle Max.
Typewriter Guy

quick, they're napping for fifteen minutes

Oh, say do you see what I see?
Kitten sittin' here in sweet serenity
I could cheer; the reason's clear
For the first time in a year Psycho Kitty isn't here
And look, a cat is napping there
On my lap down in this chair, and he's not eating my hair--

I sing hosanna, hosanna
Hosanna, hosanna
And he's cool

Come ye cool, cool, considerate cats
Not the kind who run around amok and get in spats
You have thread, trash to shred,
Towel beds, fuzzy heads
It's real nice, there's cat food to suffice
And fun toys to entice, like well-chewed-up felt mice

We sing hosanna, hosanna
Their inbreeding and weird manner
Means they're cool...


(I'd write more but now I can get back to, like, actual work instead of pulling kittens out of places they shouldn't be.)
RUMBA RUMBA SNORT RIP

The Well-Ingrained Cat-herd

I swear this LJ shouldn't turn into All Kittens All The Time but really

Twice now in a row I have blinked awake to start my day and found a cat curled up next to me. This is one of the three best ways to wake up as far as I'm concerned, and it's something that hasn't happened in ten months. I still miss Abbie every single day in ways large and small, and most every time we visit Sonya's parents in Lexington I go put a stone on his cairn and say hey there buddy what's up. Most recently, the dandelions are blooming around the stones. He is turning into flowers.

To say that I have missed a feline presence like the dickens is an understatement. It is amazing, after the loss of a cat, how many procedures of which one simply lets go and forgets. The kittens, however, are bringing back so many damn cat-herding instincts I had forgotten I knew. Settling squabbles and other assorted disputes. "Okay, okay, somebody needs a time out." Giving a firm NO when discouraging something they oughtn't do but they're doing anyway. Holding fast and giving that NO when they grab you with claws out or bite without licking after. Securing every single cord as they find 'em or you remember 'em. Making a specific set of sounds when feeding to encourage the right kind of Pavlovian response. Knowing nuggets of folk wisdom, such as making the feeding sound can lure out a cat in hiding or just plain around here somewhere but I can't see. (Advanced cat luring involves actually making good on your feeding sound and giving a treat to the nice, well-behaved, no longer behind the toilet cat.)

We're keeping the kittens confined to the living room and the dining room for now; our offices, the bathroom, the kitchen and most of the third floor are strictly off-limits. The kitchen is protected behind two sets of box barricades, the closest one two boxes high and just annoying enough to step over to warrant putting in a gate NOW. The other box barricade is at the other end of the kitchen hallway; the center where the office and bathroom doors are located has been officially designated a DMZ by the Authority on Kitten Control.

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The two other best ways to wake up, not in any particular order, are 2. with one you love beside you, and 3. with the realization that you don't have to get up now so go ahead, drowse back to sleep. These three best ways can be had in any combination, which is the beauty of it.
Toonces the Driving Cat

Them cats

Earlier this evening Sonya sat on the living room couch occasionally making cat sounds. She made really happy sounds when the kitten sitting behind the couch made cat sounds back and the two of them ended up carrying on a decent conversation in spite of it all.

One of the things we wanted to do after we got married and settled in to our new digs was eventually adopt some cats, and now we are the proud ownees of two eight-month-old black polydactyl cats, a brother and sister. The girl is named Hestia after the goddess of home and hearth; she is also called X: The Unknown after our first visits to her foster home when we had absolutely no idea what kind of cat it was going to be. By the looks of it she is going to grow up to be like her mother, cunning and sleek with lovely almond-shaped orange eyes. Her brother, the seven-toed fellow we once thought was the runt of the litter, is Autolycus, after Hermes' trickster son and Shakespeare's rogue. He has sad-looking eyes which are turning green, and is learning how to get around on his extra-wide paws. I'm trying out Otto as a nickname, but that may have to wait until he gains fifteen pounds. Even then, we'd probably still keep calling him The Runt.

Neil kindly drove Sonya and I to Angell today to pick up the pair. They'd been spayed and neutered that morning--since when has that kinda stuff been outpatient?--and once we confirmed that yes, those were the two black cats out of the litter of black cats we wanted, we paid Angell a ton of money and got a ton of paperwork and promised never to feed them chocolate and left with the World's Most Pink Cat Carrier (And The Only One Left on the Shelf at Petsmart) full of four pounds of kittens.

The two were groggy from the sedation for most of the afternoon into the evening. They stayed in the carrier for an hour or so after we got home and then the Runt tentatively poked his head out, took a few courageous steps and began to explore his new digs. Hestia followed shortly thereafter, and we were entirely charmed and ready to take pictures. But the two discovered the under-the-couch and the behind-the-couch areas and promptly claimed that land in the name of Cat Forts. You cannot take pictures in Cat Fort Land; there is not enough light.

Our new little curtain-climbers take after their mother in color, build, and the fact that they'll ritualistically scratch at the floor by the food dish before eating (semi-feral Mama had to bury her food to keep it from the other cats, see) so I know they're both going to grow up to be insanely clever. The two did some research and determined that the best way to climb up onto the couch was to climb up the wooden frame in back. This research I might add did not include the reports on the front of the couch, which is much easier to climb. However, they were having fun enough behind the wood frame couch that ascent didn't seem to be the goal. They're small enough that they would get as far as propping up their forepaws on the crossbeam in the back, standing on their hind paws, and moving back and forth like a ballet dancer at the barre. If they're learning to walk on two legs we really are doomed.

The Runt is one of the biggest charmers ever, eight weeks old and already purring like a motorcycle. He fell asleep on my shoulder and he fell asleep under Sonya's button-down shirt. He loves his naps and if you're mostly stationary and mostly warm, you are the perfect nap spot. He's bright and gregarious, he'll run up to us when we come into the room, and he is one of the most affectionate nuzzlers I've known.

Hestia got off to a shaky start. She was already shy and nervous to begin with while exploring this new and unfamiliar environment. When I tried to pick her up (staying extremely conscious of her surgical stitching) she leapt out of my hands, drawing first blood. She gave me some very nice scratches on my wrist and my palm and near my eyebrow I don't know how. I do know that it wasn't even in self-defense, it was a side effect of the flight response. These kittens are still learning their abilities, their strength, their balance.

Poor little Hestia kept up the nervous defense. When Sonya's father tried to wrap up her in a towel (all we wanted to do at that point was cut the shelter collar off!) she yelled a lot, bit him, and ran off behind the couch. We decided it'd be best not to pursue picking up the cat any further--we clearly weren't doing her belly any favors--and let her be. She stayed under the couch, occasionally venturing up to the edge but backing away if we so much as made eye contact with her. Sonya was extremely worried that we'd traumatized the poor dear to the point of neurosis. I remembered several cats from long ago who had grown up paranoid and in hiding; they turned so after considerable cruelty over a period of time. Hestia was upset, but I believed that so long as she was not injured, she would regain confidence and trust if left to recover.

The kitten turned out not to be injured and grew more social in stages. She grew playful behind the couch, jumping around on the crossbeam, and then started vocalizing. I've heard both kittens chirp and peep; Hestia also squeaks and mews. She'd stop mewing when she got the right kind of attention--people seated on the couch peering down behind it was just fine. Standing people with hands still weren't.

Several hours later Hestia had grown much bolder. We were able to make eye contact with her again, and she started making longer and longer forays out from under the couch. Eventually she began exploring the rest of the living room with her brother. Since then she's shaken off most of her anxiety and grown sociable; she's let me pet her and has played the bite-and-lick game with my hand. I was happy that she grew tolerable of hands again. We haven't tried to pick her up since, and I don't think we will for a while yet.

Hestia is now sleeping on the window sill next to me. She discovered birds and the rest of the Great Big Moving World Outside, and stared for a while, ears twitching as she taught herself how to Listen. Then she ran out of steam and fell asleep. The Runt is asleep somewhere else, having tired himself out finally by chasing a sock around the room. I watched him pick the damn thing up with his super mutant paw and stick it in his mouth. These kittens of destiny have shown that they are adorable critters, holy terrors and bright learners, and we haven't even had them for twelve hours yet.
Diner - Booth Service

WE EATS FOODS WHAT IS HOT

Back in the mists of the mid-90s, when I was a young sprat just barely turned twenty and believing myself to be invincible, I accompanied tikva to Washington DC and had a day's meal with her father who was then living in Georgetown. When I say "a day's meal" I do mean a full day because that's how long we spent eating with her dad, who had a fondness for fun ways to eat. He'd often have backwards meals, starting with dessert and ending with an appetizer. Or he'd go around from restaurant to restaurant, sampling a little here and a little there, and that is what we did on our fine culinary day out.

We started at some place I've completely forgotten--all I can remember honestly is that there was brick and vaulted ceilings and plants around us and it was kind of like a DC version of Fitzwilly's for anyone around who knows that stalwart of Northampton dining. I think they served sandwiches. We next took high tea at the Four Seasons, extending pinkies, nibbling on petit fours and listening to the pianist play the most delicate version of a bittersweet and beautiful tune which we eventually realized was the theme from Schindler's List. And then we went to Rocklands BBQ for our real meal. It was there that I had the first of many experiences with A Lot of Capsaicin.

Rocklands featured what it called a Wall of Fire: a large display featuring many, many kinds of hot sauces with names that promised certain death or at least an ass-kicking. I have since learned many barbecue joints feature similar Walls of Fire, including one in Marlboro which I frequented heavily during my exile there. To take a bottle from the Wall of Fire is to take your life into your own hands; the restaurant assumes no responsibility for what might happen should you make the conscious and sober decision to try some. I was at the time unaware of just how mind-blowingly hot some people liked to make their sauce, and I innocently picked one from the wall that came in a neat wooden coffin-like box wrapped in police caution tape. Clearly, I thought, this was a totally cool sauce from people who just liked to boast and that I'd sure enjoy it on my pulled whatever sandwich. (Whether I had the chicken or pork that day is immaterial. The relevant details have swirled back into that mist, anyway.)

I didn't know at the time that I was dealing with Dave's Insanity, one of the more prevalent hot sauces around and one which boasts on its label that you can strip your driveway with it. Not only that, but the wooden box-caution tape bottle was full of something called Dave's Insanity Special Reserve. It turned out to be a hydrogen bomb in a bottle but again, it was dealing with someone twenty years old and invincible.

A brief tangent on Scoville units, then: the Scoville is the measure of heat (the "pungency") of a pepper or similarly spicy food. A jalapeño or chipotle pepper can be anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000 Scovilles. Cayenne and tabasco rank around 50,000 or so. Dave's Insanity sauce, made primarily from habanero, tops off around 150,000 Scovilles.

The Internet tells me that the Private Reserve sauce I had has been "reportedly variously from 500,000 to 750,000 Scoville units". Sure, great, I know that now. Back then, I heeded the keen advice of the counter man and put one single, solitary drop in the middle of my pulled whatever sandwich. The next thing I knew my eyes were opened WIDE and my mouth had suddenly turned numb. My sinuses weren't clear, they had been Roto-Rootered. And the back of my throat was reminding me that it existed, too.

Knowing enough to remember that carbonation and/or water were bad ideas when you ate something hot, I gasped for some milk. The counter man, who clearly enjoyed watching people in surprise, presented me with milk in the tiniest cup possible, the kind that usually contain chutney from the take-out place. I finished that sandwich, mostly because after a few bites I grew too numb to everything to be concerned. And when we walked out of that fine establishment, I could see through time and IT WAS FUCKING AWESOME.

I have since learned many fine things about capsaicin and its effects on endorphins, the brain's own doggy treat. I have also learned that roller coaster riding and other adrenalin-inducing activities produce the same kind of endorphin effect, and I have learned how to temper my spicy food eating so I can enjoy without much regret later on. I ate at a small, family-run Indian restaurant frequently enough to get to know the family; they started cooking me vindaloo the way they liked it, with full-on heat, "spicy yes", not the toned-down version for American palates. I'd leave that place full of vindaloo and a little bit of rice pudding and I'd have a Goddamned Vision Quest on the way home. And I married sovay, who shares slivers of scotch bonnet with me and who once ate a habanero whole. (To be fair, she thought it was a much tamer pepper when she took it off the plate. But she soldiered forth through the thousand-yard stare and everything.) I don't think I have devoted my life to the pursuit of heat, no. Spicy is a sometimes food, and I enjoy it during those sometimes.

There is a subset of spicy food likers who treat it as an exercise in masochism; they boast of sweating through the searing pangs and surviving the experience for another day. They go for the stuff that's made for heat, not for flavor. Dave's Insanity caters to them. Sure, it's super-hot and will make your endorphins dance the fandango, but it'll obliterate the taste of whatever you put it on. There's a reason I don't remember whether my sandwich at Rocklands was pork or chicken; the protein underneath had pretty much melted at that point. But I don't go for the endurance. I like food that tastes good. So I'm happy when I eat food which both burns my mouth out and tastes delicious while doing so.

There is another Washington restaurant which Sonya and I discovered did heat right: the Afterwords Cafe at Kramer Books in Dupont Circle features a goat stew made from scotch bonnet peppers and added to the menu, so it is told, by a chef homesick for his native island. We ate there in 2012 quite by accident, on the first night of a weekend in DC, and were so taken by the dish that we ate there again the following night. There's only one other dish I've ever immediately gone back for and that was the pickle-brined chicken at Cambridge Brewing Company. (Seriously. It is incredible. You eat it and then make mental plans to stock up on chickens and pickle brine for when you wash up on that desert island.) We've since had the goat stew at Highland Kitchen in Somerville, which is incredibly tasty but comes up short to the Afterwords stew.

Tonight in Somerville we had goat stew at Magoun's Saloon in Magoun Square as part of the place's monthly themed menu. Wednesdays of each month feature dishes on a certain theme: German biergarten stuff, Italian bar food, variations on burgers, or just plain bacon everywhere. We love what they do at the Magoun and try to make it as many months as we can. They've never failed us; the food has never been bad, just very rarely not-as-good-as-the-other-stuff. This month was the Heat & Hops menu, featuring a ton of spicy food and a ton of IPAs to go with. I'm not a big fan of IPA and Sonya hates the taste of hops, so we focused mostly on the food. I did, however, have a wonderful bitter (a room-temperature pint of bitter is a thing of beauty and a joy forever) and a mint chocolate stout which did its best to leave a wintergreen taste in your mouth.

The goat stew at Magoun featured a curry different from the Afterwords stew, not as sweet but no less flavorful. The menu said "West Indian curried goat" and I really really think green curry was involved because the last time I remember a taste like that it was at an old, long-since-gone noodle place in Amherst which would sell me huge take-out containers of green curry noodles with chicken for cheap. I have since forgotten that restaurant's name, alas (it was in that back section of buildings near Bueno Y Sano) but that taste will never leave my memory. The goat meat was incredibly tender and flavorful. We have grown to trust Magoun's to make good decisions when bringing out special dishes; we knew going in that they were going to focus on flavor as much as heat and damned if we weren't right about that. Even the plantains stayed sweet while the scotch bonnet and habanero peppers went to work. We both insisted the goat stew should go on Magoun's regular menu, but we'll settle for running over to have it whenever it's available. It just better be available in less than a year, that's all I'm saying.

We also had lamb meatballs in a bright orange harissa sauce which provided a much different burn. The stew had a slow burn, giving you a chance to enjoy the goat and the plantains and then gradually turning up the heat. The meatballs detonated upon impact, I mean WHAM--a mouthful of WHAT DID THEY PUT IN THIS AND IS THIS LEGAL. And yet the lamb tasted great through it all. You just had to chew very carefully and slowly so as to not get so much capsaicin-laden oil as once. So we did.

Since Sonya and I don't go in for the whole Ironman Don't Let 'Em See You Sweat thing (seriously, since water doesn't work as a cooling agent the whole concept of "eating it all without water" is silly--hydrate yourselves, people!) we were perfectly happy eating grilled pita, rice and french fries for our starch. Sonya said she welcomed each and every opportunity to scrape the oils from the roof of her mouth. I agreed, and the sweet pita was lovely in between. It wasn't a cure-all and I didn't want one. It kindly gave you a rest and let you continue at your own pace.

Dessert was a dark chocolate and chipotle pot de creme. I am not a big fan of chipotle usually; the smoky flavor usually tells me "Hey! You're eating at a place where chipotle is the New Hotness!" But somehow Magoun's did something fantastic with the pepper which let it show off a real dark, musky flavor which wasn't anything I'd tasted from chipotle before. They even put the damn pepper in the whipped cream garnish, which you could also use on the pieces of strawberries and candied ginger that came with. It was good and it went reasonably well with that stout.

We ate out in part to celebrate what would have been the cat's seventeenth birthday. Normally this would call for fish of some kind, sushi or 'n chips or whatever, but we were determined to make Magoun's before the monthly menu changed over to the Italian bar food. Thus we had a dinner tonight which would have, with the exception of maybe the whipped cream, been completely Cat Mooch-Proof, and wouldn't that have driven the little bastard crazy. We took the bus home riding some insane endorphin highs, and the smiles have not left our faces mostly because they kind of freeze into this rictus, y'see. Woo hah.