John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eli witness to  ‘Castanza moment’ amidst damncats

By John Howell
If you are or were ever a Seinfeld fan and recall the always-tumultuous exchanges between character George Castanza’s parents, Frank and Estelle, then you can appreciate the exchanges between my wife and me on certain occasions.

Climbing ladders is one of those occasions. I climb the ladder and my wife stands on the ground below, hurling up threats of mayhem and revenge should I survive the fall that she is certain will be inevitable.

Little Eli Taylor got to witness another such occasion last Wednesday night at our home in New Orleans.

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As you may recall the Lowell and Linda Taylor, Eli’s other grandparents, had flown to Milwaukee to see Eli on his first birthday and then brought the boy and his mother back with them on their return.

“I hope you’ve got your running shoes on, Granddaddy,” Grandmother Linda told me when she and Lowell brought Eli and his mother to Annie-Glenn’s Bed and Breakfast on Eureka Street. Mary and Eli visited kith and kin in Batesville and then the three of us drove to New Orleans to visit Grandmother Rosemary.

There’s a reason they call them “toddlers,” and toddle he did. For most of Eli’s waking moments during his visits in Batesville and New Orleans, he toddled. Eli was interested in everything that he encountered on his level and determined to explore it thoroughly.

Perhaps his most interesting encounter was with his great-grandmother’s walking stick, a black, steel tubular affair affixed to a platform with four small feet that allow it to stand by itself upright on the floor.

The instant he spotted it, Eli saw such unlimited, wonderful potential for play that he squealed with delight. He pushed it around the kitchen floor, looked perplexed when he tried to walk through too narrow a doorway holding the walking stick crossways and could find no end to the possibilities of play it presented.

Later, during another visit, Great-grandmother Annie-Glenn had thoughtfully procured an auxiliary walking stick for her own use to free up her other walking stick for Eli’s play. Eli, however, immediately spotted even greater possibilities with two and might have jerked the auxiliary from her hand while she leaned on it had not his mother intervened.

If you are thinking that the next thing I did was buy the boy a walking stick to play with, you would be wrong, although I seriously entertained the thought while I weighed against it what his grandmother’s reaction should we come driving up on Laurel Street in my small car loaded with baby bed and mattress, high chair, car seat, stroller, assorted luggage, accumulated travel trash and …

“A what?” I could hear her ask, incredulously.

In New Orleans, he toddled more. All over the house. At Wisner Playground across the street, at the zoo, where a giraffe put on a fine show for Eli by running. Have you ever seen a giraffe run? Wonderful sight.

During the visit, I remembered a description that Jeff Autrey gave me once when I was trying to write copy for a car that he was advertising. “It’s a ‘Goin’ Jesse,’” Jeff said.

All these years later that came back to mind while I watched Eli. He’s a Goin’ Jesse. Always going, just-a-going, and so he was going when he unwittingly became witness to a Castanza moment meltdown.

There’s a fertile female feral damncat among those who take victuals, over-freely offered at our house, who has thus far successfully eluded our attempts to trap her and get her spayed. As her next due date has neared, she dropped a bit of caution in exchange for a better spot around the food bowl and during the twilight of last Wednesday was nervously pacing among the other ferals on the back porch, waiting.

Instead of setting the live trap, which is notoriously non-selective and usually catches less wary damncats who have already made the vet trip, I grabbed a fisherman’s net — the kind sold to fishermen to help land their catch.

I crept carefully to the screen door, threw it open and swatted the net down toward the damncat, trapping it and sending it into an escape frenzy that hopelessly entangled it in the netting. Thus began the Castanza moment.

“ROSEMARY!” I yelled from the back porch, “QUICK, BRING THE TRAP, I’VE GOT HER!”

She came running. Little Eli, already fascinated with the multiple damncat show always underway on the back porch at suppertime, was even more thrilled with the added adrenaline now pumping about.

“YOU’RE HURTING HER,” she yelled as she came outside.

“NO, I’M NOT. JUST SHUTUP AND HELP,” I yelled back.

The next few moments may have included expletive-punctuated epithets suitable for repetition neither in a general audience newspaper nor within shot of one-year-old ears. While my wife stood on the net handle to prevent the damncat’s escape, I wrestled the trap’s door open and stood it on its end. As we lifted the thoroughly-snared damncat to force her down into that trap door, she let out a squall.

‘’YOU’RE HURTING HER,” she yelled.

“NO, I’M NOT,” I yelled back. “GO GET SOME SCISSORS!”

“WHERE ARE THE €#@∞! SCISSORS?” she called from inside the house.
Once the damncat was lowered into the trap, we used the scissors to cut away enough netting so that the damncat squirmed herself free, now safely inside the trap.

What a relief! Not only had I managed to subdue the highest-value target for reducing the Laurel Street feral damncat population, we had managed it without getting a scratch.

“Is she hurt? Get me a light,” Rosemary said.

We quickly found a flashlight, turned it on. She peered into the cage and then said, calmly, coldly and through clenched teeth, “You’ve got the wrong damn cat.”