Posts Tagged ‘suburbia’

American Style!

June 24, 2021

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(Dedicated to Elvis Gratton)

Love, Love American Style!
Truer than the Red, White and Blue-hoo-hoo-hoo!
Lo-ve, American Sty-y-y-yle!
That’s me and you!

Theme song for “Love, American Style”
Lyrics by Fox and Margolin
(altered by author to reflect what they sounded like to a very young child)

Hobbies – American Style!

It’s 1972. The Limits to Growth has just been published – the end of industrial civilization is nigh. I read it, and as a boy, was impressed by the science of computers that lead to its conclusions.

But way out in suburbia, we’re watching TV and have no time for non-commercial food for thought like this. In the burbs, our information diet is mainly fast food-based – TV and radio.
Watching TV and calling it “family life” is as convenient and American-Style! as eating hamburgers in a crowded car while listening to car ads.

We were always careful to remove the chewing gum before eating our vegetable-oil-infused sandwiches and potato by-products.

We just received some Nielson’s Rating forms to fill out. I feel so grateful our suburban family has been selected to represent ordinary Canadian TV viewers. Already ten years old, I’m thrilled to be recognized for my average TV-viewing habits, which means: seven hours per day. That is how much TV the average suburbanite watched.

Of course, I’m going to lie on the form and write that we’re watching Canadian TV programs (like Front Page Challenge) while in reality we’re watching commercial crap like Love American Style. This was my favorite program when I was a young child with no close friends – only favorite shows.

One thing that TV has taught me is to lie and misrepresent in order to get what I want. Even if *what I want* is just something that someone else’s lies and misrepresentation made me desire in the first place. I’ve heard on Canadian media that Canadian media is a good thing, so I am willing to lie for this cause, though this cause is probably a lie anyways.

(By the way, there is no Love-Canadian Style. But I do remember Love-French-Canadian style from my grandparents, and it was something that happened in real life, and not on TV shows)

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Socialization – American Style!

It appears to me that many of my family, neighbors and schoolmates have only experienced, in their previous televison-less lives, a kind of lack-of-Love…Canadian Style. So, to remedy our tragic pre-TV condition, we all watch lots of American TV to learn a better way. A way to find *the love* that comes with following *this style*. Plus, what choice do you have when there’s nothing to do in your bungalow because every activity is so far away.

A pathetic attempt at a Love-Canadian-Style is represented by Canadian TV of the era – a series of boring government-funded TV shows that are guaranteed to drive you into the arms of ABC-NBC-CBS. Game shows about newspaper headlines, a show that gives you lightbulb-buying advice, sitcoms about normal people in Ontario that contain one forced laugh every 23 minutes.

For newly-bored suburban Canadians, Love-American-Style was The Television Show on a hill – an RGB beacon – a flickering light among the nations… where the stars came out every single night – Sonny and Cher, the Vietnam War, Superman and Lite Brite! They will save us! They will know what to do!

We watched and learned the ways of American-style Love: punchy sarcasm, fast one-liners, softcore porn moments that make you giggle, and the eternal search for new consumer products. All enjoyed from the isolation of a pre-fab bungalow.

And we heeded the American-style call-to-arms – to follow every trend, or risk dying of sadness and loneliness on a lawn in the middle of nowhere.

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Oligarchy – American Style!

The actors on Love American Style will, for decades, show up on other hit shows – along with their brothers and children. The lead actor’s sister does the soundtrack, his wife is the daughter of the casting director, and so on.

The casting normalizes nepotism, in the same way that the shows themselves normalize infidelity, cars and suburban products. The end credits of every production whisper things to the audience that very few can decode. The shows tell them not to even bother trying to decode them.

Tribalism American Style or the global village – are two ways to describe this incestuous, peasant-like hiring policy. And all of this incest-produced narrative-management is punctuated with car, processed food, and oil company commercials.

As we fled to suburbia to escape all the easy female polygamy opportunities in the as-seen-on-TV city, we never really experienced the free love that this show titilated its audience with, but we got car culture imprinted in our brains – psyc-op style.

The sitcom-style sarcasm was another useful skill to learn from TV. Trapped suburban peasants often feel so bitter in their incestous suburban alienation, that we had lots of occasions to use sarcasm and irony on one another. As heard on TV.

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Community – American Style!

We learned to put on sitcom smiles by watching TV shows full of smiling, frolicking suburban kids. The instant recognition of sitcom smiles is very handy when the only time you run into people is while you’re driving and only have a few seconds to communicate community-belongingness.

(Stopped at traffic lights)
“Look, it’s Henry and Marge.”
(rolls down window)
“Hey Henry, Hey Marge! How are you enjoying your new ski-doo?”
(traffic light changes, sitcom smiles, gotta go! drive away)

Love-American-Style showcases a life made of soundbites and signalling. And suburban social contact is also mostly soundbites and signalling because, um, that’s about all you have time to do when you are always inside a motor vehicle, alone in a suburban bungalow, or inside a private facility like a mall, surrounded by a moat of parking lots.

There is no community in suburbia, only soundbites and sitcom smiles.

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Elvis – American Style!

My father’s generation decided, when they were young commercial radio fans, that they would forget their Acadian and Francophone culture and become true American-Style! As heard on the radio.

To be more like the the Shadow, they refused to speak French with their parents or relatives. They learned to smoke cigarettes, chew gum, talk back to their parents, eat hot dogs, to play baseball and to drive cars. The commercials for American products were like commandments they followed to get to Heaven-American Style!

My father and all his brothers listen to American radio dramas in the car alone, and marry anglophone women who speak no French – only the language of the Shadow. These women are all trying to be Donna Reed or that witch on Bewitched.

Boomer couples made up of one Shadow and one Donna Reed will – en masse, like sheep – move to car-dependent suburbs, and let American television act as the main socialization tool of their kids, who rarely see their own father’s shadow – he”s always gone in the car like the Shadow, while Donna beats her kids over the head with reeds.

Elvis Gratton is the result – obese dummies with no roots anywhere. American cities are the model to follow, and so are American actors and pop stars. We will all be fatter and more naive than our grandparents, and have fewer social contacts. We will sing American songs alone in our ugly and cheap bungalows. We will be bored and anxious all the time, and suffer from lack of community or social activities.

We grow up with television as our primary teacher and guide. American Commercial media is also our primary babysitter, just like morphine-brands like laudanum  were the primary babysitter a century before TV was invented.

To imitate the Shadow, we will live in the shadows of our own lives in the burbs. I wonder if my father’s generation ever figured out that these sainted icons like the Shadow and Donna Reed really didn’t know or care about their millions of viewers’ lives at all. That these icons were just part of a manipulative gang who only wanted viewers for their money.

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Lawn – American Style!

Our house is a 40 minute walk from a shopping mall, where all you can do is shop. It’s not a great place to hang around, and you cross paths with no one when you walk there. The sidewalk in front of it is just skinny enough to waddle towards the sliding door into an individual shopping unit (“store”).

The mall has a parking lot that extends all the way to the river, eliminating any kind of wetland transition or publically accesible trail. This is the largest infrastructure in our town – a parking lot.

The entire population of Rust River (3000) would fit in three-story housing in the parking lot of our mall. But we all spread out, cut down all the trees and wasted lots more land, with massive lawns which also dilute any urban proximity.

There is nowhere to walk as there are only bungalows and ugly lawns for an hour’s walk (on the road at times) in every direction. And people who walk are made to look like losers in all our TV shows and magazines. The same media that are filled with car ads…

All the children in my suburb watch too much TV, and grow up lonely and socially awkward. The nastiest people in North America can be found in spread out suburbs, and not in the poorest inner city ghettos.

Failed-Urbanism-American Style! (the car-dependent suburb) has eliminated *a life-fulfillment necessity* that mammals took for granted since they left the oceans – walking around and finding interesting things to see and do.

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Zombies – American Style!

My mother, myself and my sister are walking towards Walmart, when we see Davy Kass, a neighbor, walking towards the mall from a different parking place. We stop in the middle of the asphalt, and my mother initiates smalltalk.

Ma: “Hey, Davy. I hear Brian got a job at the plant. Not easy with all the lay-offs.”

(Steel City has been in a depression since before I was born. Rust River-style suburbs were a way to escape the depressed housing stock and social problems of the inner city by staring at a TV or lawn)

Davy: “Yes, I know about the lay-offs. They say our economy is in trouble, but just look at all the new cars!” he says as he waves his arm at the parking lot – Vanna White style – with a huge sitcom smile on his red, round face.

Seconds later, a white Ford Bronco almost crushes my sister as it spins around a row of parked cars. This is obviously no place to be talking to a neighbor, it turns out – in front of a store. (Facebook still hasn’t been invented so we’re still stuck with face-to-face).

My mother angrily grabs my sister’s arm, sneers at her, and then smiles shamefully (but sitcomfully) at Davy, as we say bye and walk towards the Walmart entrance. She’s angry that my sister’s almost-getting-killed ruined a rare social moment of free conversation.

So we aren’t going to get an ice cream because little sister ruined the small talk by almost getting hit by a truck. As children, we have learned (by watching lots of TV) that getting hit by a vehicle is a huge mark of failure for a child and their parents. Later, in high school, we will find out that Darwin said the same thing – that losers walk and freedom rides around in a Trans Am.

I don’t know why Davy was so happy about all the cars in the parking lot. The main industry in slowly dying Steel City is rails for railroad tracks. Steel City (and Rust River) need to sell railroad track parts or we will not have jobs, or eventually, a reason to exist in the capitalist economy.

Cars and trucks are eliminating the need for rails. All those cars! means that our town is going to die a slow, painful death. – American style.

Why was Davy so Vanna White – so sitcom smile – about this sad fact?

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Fences – American Style!

Our streets have no sidewalks, and it takes about 45 minutes to walk anywhere. I don’t know much about any of our neighbors, but I know what kind of car they drive as they drive by me.

One of our neighbors – Mrs. McTall – is a young mother who recently moved to our subdivision. She knows no one. When she passes by me as I walk to the top of the street, she always offers to give me a lift. But I have never accepted because I like walking. I like my autonomy and find it awkward to sit right next to a stranger in an enclosed metal box.

After 20 years of living next to her, I still only know that she drives an Oldsmobile 98. I know most of my neighbors by the cars they drive, and very little else.

I think Mrs. McTall died a few years ago… I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the Oldsmobile division was discontinued in the year 2000. I don’t miss either one, though Mrs. McTall may have been an interesting person. Who knows. I only knew her car.

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MK Ultra – American Style!

Virtually everything in commercial media is trying to sell the audience products. When athletes aren’t joyfully consuming fastfood in ads, car sponsors are providing the heroes on the Action Series they fund.

And so it is with Love-American Style. During the 50s and 60s, the meta-product that commercial media is selling is suburbia. By getting people to move to suburbia, car sponsors, oil sponsors, media itself, and a whole series of corporations… are creating a captive audience for their products and marketing.

So in every episode of the show, the majority of gags are set up as a woman cheating on her husband. For married men watching this show, the message is that you can never trust women left alone in urban environments. By moving to suburbia, a male can *entrap* his wife in a situation that limits her opportunity to meet sexable men in parks and other urban settings.

I first saw this show when I was three, but my father didn’t like when my mom and I watched it because every second gag is about a woman cheating on her husband, or mocking marriage in some other way. A lot of men seem to be frightened of losing their wives to some dark-haired man in a city park. I guess this show is one reason why.

Love, love, love! And lawnmowers and station wagons and TV sets. Normalization of these products. A new normal in suburbia where your wife is safely locked away, and everyone needs the products that the sponsors sell you as you gawk at boredom-reducing entertainment products for hours on end.

Never underestimate the power of psychology when it is used against you.

Love, Love American Style!
Truer than the Red, White and Blue-hoo-hoo-hoo!
Lo-ve, American Sty-y-y-yle!
That was me and you!

“Speak White” – Michèle Lalonde

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(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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The Suburban Hearse

April 24, 2017

PBF Suburban Hearse

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Miss Glaciermelt leans into her powerpoint presentation, placing her index finger on a large grey square on the terrain view of an old human settlement.

“This large dead area was called a parking lot. It’s where the last generations of humans left their transportation machines when they interacted with shopping and activity centers.”

The teacher notices Cindy’s confused stare.

“Did you read the chapter 7 –The Suburban Hearse – of your Last Days of the Humans textbook, Cind?”

“I did,” Cindy replies. “But I still don’t get the connection between their suburban habitat and the word hearse. A hearse was a machine for moving dead bodies from one place to another many kilometers away. What does this have to do with the low-density sprawl that humans ended their time on Earth in?”

Miss Glaciermelt is glad Cindy has decided to take the second part of her Post-Human Extinction course. Nothing works better as a teaching tool than a live back-and-forth between teacher and student.

“Well, the most popular vehicles of the last years were called SUVs, and they were a lot like hearses in shape and size. Many of them were great for transporting dead humans, though they were originally used by single people for going from one characterless suburban location to another. Ironically, it was the use of these machines and all the fuels that they required that created the need for billions of hearses. The hearses of the last years of Humanity.”

Hearse imageMiss Glaciermelt fidgets with her computer and then plays a short movie-clip while talking over the narrator.

“Over there, two young human boys are driving bicycles that are much too small for them. This harms their knees. And there’s an obese jogger – another end-time human activity that destroyed body parts – knees, ankles and hips. And look at that chubby human mowing a lawn. Noise actually causes obesity but he probably doesn’t know that. Most humans didn’t know very much near the end of their species’ existence.”

Cindy: “Were humans doing all these dumb, harmful activities because of the obesity epidemics or because of the boredom? Or did their slave-like jobs make them clueless?”

Glaciermelt: “Well, it’s not really one reason. All of your reasons were contributing factors: boredom, obesity and lack of freedom. You’re really animated today, aren’t you?”

They both smile.

Cindy: “I noticed that in the footnotes, the narrator talks about – and I quote – ‘the braindead termite-people of the Suburban Shitscape.’ What does he mean by termites? They didn’t go extinct. We still have lots of termites.”

Glaciermelt: “No, termites didn’t go extinct. But I think he’s referring to the fact that humans were consuming the planet the way that termites will eventually kill the tree they live off of. And the word ‘shitscape’ refers to the low-quality and ugly surroundings that end-time humans lived in. The author also mentions that all their machines sounded like chainsaws: lawn-mowers, ski-doos, leaf-blowers, the power tools of weekend gazebo projects… suburbia was one massive chainsaw massacre.”

Cindy: “Maybe the noise and ugliness drove them crazy and they had nothing left to live for?”

Glaciermelt: “Let’s not speculate, Cindy. After all, we weren’t there ourselves.”

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Red Maple Tree

March 26, 2012

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(dedicated to all parents)

When I was a teenage paper delivery boy, I only made a buck an hour because our suburb was so sprawled out. Built on top of once-productive farmland, the driveways and lawns were massive, though the homes were modest and poorly constructed. Overall, it was bleak and boring. The miniputt got burned down by stoned teens. The McDonalds had a four-fatality robbery.

Suburbia is a failed trend – and a bit of a scam – that children pay for even more than their commuter-parents who got sucked into it by fast-talking TV. In a full hour of walking across gigantic lawns guarded by bored, growling dogs, I make what an urban paperboy makes in 10 minutes with no dog terror.

But even with this tiny amount of money to play with, I manage to save $12 to buy a red maple tree from Botrop’s Tree Farm. At twelve hours of labor, it’s like buying a $280 tree with the salary I make today.

After asking permission, I carefully plant the little sapling next to the walkway of our house, taking care to water it just enough the first few weeks to give it a chance at a healthy life. The old man even came out of the house the first time I watered it to quickly nod his approval. He only appeared for a half minute, and he was actually on his way to the car to go golfing – but he still nodded, which is like gold to me. “My daddy nodded at me!” (note to future parents: remember to nod at your children. – it might be their only fond memory of you)

Fast-forward five years: While in my freshman year at the local college, my mother explains over dinner that crows are attacking her new vegetable garden, and that the red maple tree is blocking the view. She says that this is “driving her crazy.” For me, my mother’s insanity is mainly due to the constant symphony of lawn mowers, gazebo-project chop saws, and  whipper snippers that she must listen to while trapped in a carless existence in an isolated bungalow built in sprawl. When I propose this as an explanation for her insanity, it infuriates her even more. Her suburban dream home can’t be wrong, it must be the tree and the crows.

Another life-quality diminishing feature of my suburban existence is getting to school. My mother and her sisters used to walk a few miles in snow to school, and now, I have to commute many times that distance – alone. She had it so good. No one in my environment wants to give me – a college type – a lift to college. A wise war-veteran neighbor even sees my sub-zero hitchhiking as a kind of life lesson: the value of a snotty education versus the value of owning a nice, comfy car. No one questions why the college is on a highway in the middle of nowhere. Maybe if they went to college, they would. (It infuriates everyone when I say this out loud instead of just thinking it)

A few days after Mom’s anti-tree hate speech, when I get home from hitchhiking from an exam, all the leaves have dried up and fallen off. I ask my mother what happened, and she slowly and guiltily explains: “Your father killed it with soapy, hot water.” When I ask her why, she shrugs and says she doesn’t know. Like he was an Apache and she was a cowboy: “It is his way.”

Funny thing is that the maple tree was still small enough to move and replant when he poisoned it. But I guess the temptation to kill things is too strong to resist in the burbs. Maybe it’s because all those proud, honor-driven suburban hunters have nothing legitimate left to kill and eat: all the wild game and wild land has already been pre-killed to make room for suburbia and the predators who mow its lawns.

My little contribution to the crass commercial warscape – the tiny red tree I bought with my paperboy money – is sacrificed to the mighty surveillance state, to a private panopticon with an above-ground pool and earwigs. A year from now, my mother will give up gardening when she realizes she doesn’t really care for it. And soon after that, I’ll move away from home.

Last I heard – that double-wide bungalow still has no sound insulation and I’m still the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

Theodore

September 7, 2010

Theodore

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We were a postwar family – both my parents were born just before WW2. And taking a page from the veterans of that massive war who came back damaged and in desperate search of social isolation, my parents relocated to a prefab suburb of trailer-quality bungalows on massive lots. “A place where you could throw a ball,” I heard a neighbor’s father say.

Our barracks was just like our neighbors’ barracks, and we’d all wait by our picture windows for our dads’ tanks to roll into the driveway at five-thirty each day. What else was there to do when you weren’t throwing a ball?

Our main enemies were the lawn weeds and insect infestations of the suburban cartoonscape. We heroically doused these parasitic insurgents with the latest army-issue biopoisons, when we weren’t chopping them up with the noisiest machines we could buy on credit at the hardware megastore.

The human animals in our house were all expected to maintain stiff upper lips because this is what helped the English-speaking good guys to win all their nasty wars against foreign evil. Sometimes this protruding lip turned into a snarl, and there were times when my mother reminded me of Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols.

Once our French-Canadian grandparents died, hugs and kisses in our Anglicized household were limited to X’s and O’s as a cutesy sign-off on personal letters. It was as if our parents were rationing affection to prepare us for real life, where “real life” meant World War Two and the hunt for Germano-Japanese scalp.

a remnant of ceremonial burial in post-war suburbia

Into this suburban military compound of emotional marasmus fell little sister Charlene. The baby of the family, she started out in life getting non-stop hugs and kisses from affection-starved older brothers and sisters like myself. But as she got older and less cute, all the sibling affection dried up in favor of sarcasm and psychological torture.

We honed the art of cold, distant personal relations while watching TV with our parents and interacting with the people in the identical bungalows around us who were watching the same shows.  Hugging became something nostalgic that nowadays, only actors do.

Instead of accepting our natural human vulnerability and neediness, we learned to be poker-faced schemers so that we’d win our own personal wars. Prepared by New York TV writers for the adult lives we would eventually drive to, we were then ready to face any Nazis or Soviets we might come across at the mall.

Charlene grew increasingly desperate for affection as she neared nine-years old, so my mother temporarily suspended the house-ban on pets and allowed her to get a small gerbil, “as long as you clean his cage and I don’t have to look at him.”

About two weeks after she brought Theodore home from the pet shop, Charlene woke up screaming because she had accidentally crushed him in her sleep.

When my mother came out of Charlene’s room that morning, I asked her what happened, and she looked at me with a firm gaze and said, “Theodore’s dead.” It was like getting bad news from the front from a concerned corporal.

That same day after school, my mother held a military funeral for Theodore in the back yard, and her and Charlene  –  the only attendees –  fashioned a cross out of sticks, and buried him about three inches deep in the chem-tech lawn.

She got a new gerbil a week later, and killed him exactly the same way. I later found out her M.O.: Late at night, the noise from the nocturnal rodent would wake her up. Vulnerable and semi-conscious, Charlene would then take the helpless creature out of his cage, and start to hug him very gently until she fell asleep …on top of him …silently crushing him to death.

By the fourth gerbil, there were no more tears shed, and the ceremonial burial was replaced by the sound of a toilet flushing and my mother saying, “so long, comrade.”

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Little Fella

August 14, 2010

Little Fella header

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The MacIsaac’s camper trailer is dark brown and white with chrome accents – the perfect color scheme for hiding dirt and mold. But I don’t think Kipper’s barking at mold. He barks at shadows all the time, but it’s overcast today and the shadow under the trailer isn’t really moving, so there must be something out there. Or maybe I’m just dazed from all the low-grade pot we’ve been smoking.

After about 10 minutes, when his buzz starts to recede, Billy goes outside to empty a few cat litter boxes – the MacIsaacs have 17 cats and six active cat litters in total – and I go outside with him just to check out why Kipper’s barking.

I crouch down. The smell of wet dirt under the trailer helps explain the soggy piece of toilet paper lying in the shadow. I can’t believe Kipper has been barking at an inanimate object for what seems like an hour.

But wait. That isn’t a piece of dirty toilet paper. It’s… oh my god. It’s a beige kitten that’s been abandoned by its mom! Why would a post-partum cat abandon its own little kitten? Don’t they need to feed their kittens just to ease the pain from the milk pressure? Isn’t this instinctive? Time freezes for a few seconds because I can’t process what I’m seeing in front of me.

I have to bend over to get a closer look, my heart-rate doubling as my mind focuses and my emotions go red hot. The kitten, like me, has round bulging eyes. But his little eyes won’t open for a few weeks – if they ever open at all. And though his eyes are closed shut and the kitten is silent, I can feel his fear – his deep and unrelenting fear.

I rush him into the house and wash the dirt and placenta off his shivering little body in the kitchen sink. He looks sort of homely and morbid: like an abandoned biology project. But he’s moving and warm – alive.

Not knowing what to give him to eat or drink, I wet a piece of paper towel with milk and let him lick it a bit, which he does. He starts to move in a way that demonstrates that he is, perhaps, willing to live, but only if someone helps him. If someone will just pick him up and do what they’re supposed to do naturally, this kitten just might survive – he just might want to survive.

camper trailer 2

An hour later, Billy’s mother gets home from her job at Zellers and I explain what happened. Having raised a few dozen kittens in her time, Mrs. MacIsaac puts my mind at ease as I leave their house to go home to my own – my teenage emotions forever changed.

Eventually, one of the other mother cats at the MacIsaac’s – one who had just had kittens of her own a week earlier – adopts Little Fella and he starts to feed regularly and often. Within a week, he’s as healthy looking as his older cousins whose eyes have already opened as they stumble outside their homemade kitten pen.

Little Fella is always a step behind these siblings, and his biological mother – who is the grandmother of the kittens he is nursing with – seems to have completely given up on mothering. She just paces around in circles meowing for a few weeks, and then calms down. Perhaps she was just too old or too frail after all the other kittens she’s had in her lifetime. Or maybe she had problems of her own when she was a kitten. I have no idea.

When Little Fella got older, he didn’t really act like other cats. His best friend was Samo, the neighbor’s Chihuahua, and Little Fella would always jump up on people and lick them on the face as if he was a dog himself. He rarely meowed, and seemed to love human beings and want to be loyal to them. He liked to chase cars with Samo and even wagged his tail when he saw his favorite people.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here for all cats: mistreat your kittens, and they might reject their own community. I mean, wouldn’t you do the same if your own community had left you to die?

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