Groggy 40

GROGGY 40 - the e-zine

From Eric Mayer

Thanksgiving 1997

On Thanksgiving, which this year was our anniversary, I ran a 10K race for the first time in two and half years. 10 kilometers, if you're not familiar with road racing, is 6.2 miles. I wasn't up to running that distance very fast (52 minutes) and finished well below the middle of the pack,
but I finished , and didn't have to walk along the route, for which I was thankful. Maybe next year I will be in better shape and will be able, as in the past, to aspire to mediocrity!

Running is an activity I've enjoyed for the past eight years. It is simple and straightforward. If you run enough miles, you improve. And it is rare, in today's world, to be guaranteed a reward for your efforts. (For instance, as I write this, hundreds of long-time workers at Rochester's biggest employer - Kodak- are being deprived of their livlihoods in the latest corporate bloodletting) Another attractivce feature of running is that every race has a finish line.

During the past few years I've often felt I'm running an endless marathon, that there is nothing left of my life but to endure, without any possibility of victory and with no end in sight.

Since I lost my job, nearly three years ago, Mary and I have survived - after a scary period when I couldn't find any work - on contract writing which always seems on the verge of running out - not that there is any security to be had anywhere in today's workplace. The idea, I grew up with, of establishing a career, working toward owning a home and reaching a finish line of comfortable retirement seems quaint, at best.

Nor does there seem to be any finish line, or reasonable end, in sight to our persecution by the government authorities who seem determined to take what little we have away from us, to pay child support I couldn't pay, and my kids (who live in a quarter million dollar house) didn't need, during the months following my job loss, when I had no income.

Probably that accounts, in part, for my reluctance to pub my ish, in electronic form or otherwise. Publishing a zine was always fun, but having to marshall into words an account of my life, right now - having to think about the whole situation - isn't a tempting prospect. The task is made even more difficult by the fact that there are many others, worse off than I am, facing greater problems and a bleaker future.

Then too - in the context of a web site - what is an issue? I have a paper mindset. I think of a cover, ordered pages, staples. (Alas, opening a browser window can't draw blood) An issue is an object completed, addressed, stamped. The goal is reached.

I could, I suppose, remove the entire site (and if it gets much bigger I might have to) and put up an entirely new one for each "issue." Failing that, where to draw the line? Is adding a couple new articles sufficient? Or one article? How about adopting a sort of quantum theory whereby even the correction of a typo would create a whole new issue?

Dave Locke has taken the sensible attitude with Slow Djinn. , that having reached a nice, even 100 issues on apper, the electronic version will forever remain at 101, no matter how much he adds to it. But since he's reached a nice even 100, it's easy for him to say!

I guess I need from my publishing the sense of completion that is often missing from life, that I get after I've kept my feet moving for 6.2 miles and there's a finish line painted on the macadam in the parking lot, and an electronic clock with a time, which might not be very good but is my time, and a couple people are saying "Nice race" to all us stragglers. (Which is another problem with web sites - not a lot of e-locs saying "Nice web site.")

So maybe if I just say that Groggy, issue 40, is a few pages I've put up at my site in a one batch, that I could e-mail to someone if I wanted, that's good enough. (You can also download the whole text part of the zine at once and read it off-line if you wish since I have put it in one file.)

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(Remember me saying there were some things going on I hated to even try to think about. Well, here they are. And this is only part of the story. For details of events leading up to the current situation, see my fathers' rights page.

The other night I woke up from a nightmare. A gang of men in suits and uniforms had broken into our home and were carting off what few possessions Mary and I have. It wasn't the loss of our few things that sickened and horrified me - I lost everything I'd worked half my life for when I was divorced seven years ago, and considered it a small price to pay for my freedom. What was so terrible about the dream was the sense that our lives had been violated by these strangers who had invaded our privacy and robbed us without justification.

And the nightmare was nothing more than a foreshadowing of what we face in reality.

You see, I'm a divorced dad. Worse, a middle aged divorced dad who lost his job nearly three years ago and since then has struggled to find enough work to survive.

In this country, in New York State, in Monroe County, that makes me worse than a criminal.

Violent criminals have their state appointed lawyers cop a plea for them and walk free, drunken drivers (like State Representative Susan John) are sentenced to take a driver awareness class in their spare time, but divorced dads, like me, who are "guilty" of simply not having the financial resources to pay more than $8,000 a year in child support - well, that's another story.

The government might not have enough resources to jail violent felons or to keep potentially deadly drunks off the roads, but it maintains platoons of lawyers and bureaucrats to deal with divorced dads - except when they need help to see the children they are supporting.

And never mind that my kids are not in any need - never have been - live in a quarter million dollar house. Never mind that their mom hasn't worked since they were born, has had three more children by her new husband since we were divorced (and refuses to work on the grounds that she now has five kids). Never mind that her family income is at least three times what Mary and I make and that she, simply going by the equity in the home she and her new husband built, is worth - well, I can't even say ten times what I'm worth because the only reason my divorce left me in the house I'm in is because even then it had declined in value from what its original price.

Never mind, for that matter that she refused to let me see my kids for two years.

Never mind any of that. The government knows a real threat to society when it sees it. Divorced dads!

Maybe that's why the Monroe County Support Unit has been known to answer a woman's call for information with a cheery "Don't worry, we'll get him."

I don't intend to detail here the grotesque child support legislation that treats responsible men who happen to be divorced dads as criminals.(I refer to "legislation" not "law" because "law" is more than just an immoral exercise of brute power, otherwise we would consider as perfectly "legal" Hitler's death camps and Stalin's pogroms.) It is enough to point out that certain politicians, Daniel Patrick Moynihan for example, who sponsored some of this heinous and unjust legislation, willingly perpetrate lies and injustices and destroy families for the sake of a vote. If you don't believe it, look the law up.

When I was divorced I had no chance to gain physical custody of my two kids, even though their mother was, in my opinion, an alcoholic, shopaholic, physically abusive (according to her arrest record) and had left me to function as a single father for over a year while she had an affair with a younger man who she eventually married. He built her the aforementioned quarter million dollar house.

The "law" doesn't care about such unimportant matters.

What the "law" cares about - the only thing it cares about - is money.

I was forced into exorbitant and unrealistic child support payments, and then, when I lost my job,and couldn't keep up, I was dragged into court where the state of New York and the Monroe County Child Support Enforcement Unit provided my ex-wife with a lawyer.

At the very time when my ex-wife was refusing to allow me to see my two kids, while Mary and I were fighting, without any assistance from the government, to regain that simple right (according to the "law" I had joint custody!) I was cheated in a kangaroo court hearing before Leonard Maas, (who'd been kicked out of his judgeship by the voters and appointed a hearing examiner) who refused to even look at my actual separation agreement, which, as bad as it was, was not so absurd as to require me to pay out money when none was coming in. (It sat in front of him for an hour and he never picked it up off the desk) Incredibly, I was found to be in arrears for the period I'd had no work.

When I found work again, Mary and I did our best, as we had when I was regularly employed, to make the outlandish support payments, even though we weren't left with enough for basic necessities like health care.

Through all this, no official we have spoken to has ever explained how destroying a child's father helps the child. And even if dad can survive the government's relentless attacks, he has no resources or energy left to fight to see his kids. The state certainly will not help.

Again and again we are told that to protect our rights we need to hire a lawyer. No one seems to comprehend that if we had money to hire a lawyer, we'd be paying the support and wouldn't need a lawyer. (Which goes to show that the only people who can get "justice" under the current scheme are those who are cheating!)

Despite our sacrifices, we've been subjected to relentless persecution. My credit has been destroyed, my driver's license threatened (I suppose divorced dads kill a lot more people on highways than drunk drivers...) And as if the politically motivated legislation that now threatens to rob us of our home and everything we have, isn't bad enough, the support authorities and their political masters have lied to us and about us at every turn.

Mary, especially, has fought long and hard to bring this injustice, generally - not just our situation - to the attention of the public - a difficult task since the media, notably our single local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, has thus far refused to cover the problem, despite many "news" stories parroting official propaganda about "deadbeat" dads.

There have been some breakthroughs. For example, we were both interviewed for an excellent article that appeared in last July's Men's Fitness magazine.

And we have found elected officials who recognize the unfairness of the system and are making an effort, probably at great risk to their own political fortunes, to change it. I expect that these officials are hampered because they are burdened, unlike their enemies, with a sense of ethics.

It isn't enough that the support authorities can destroy innocent people "legally" - they have to lie also.

Manager Sherri Wood, recently elevated from prosecuting dads in the court room has carried a lawyer's flexible definition of the truth into her new command post. In correspondence with us and elected officials who have been trying to help, she has offered numerous, contradictory accounts of the Unit's supposed procedures. Perhaps it is uncharitable to characterize these communications as "lies." Maybe saying one thing to one person, and the opposite to another is simply good legal strategy. However, I don't know any other way to decribe the letter from Ms Wood to our state assembyman in which she stated my income was a figure well in excess of what my tax return clearly showed it to be.

Then there was the matter of our supposed failure to agree to a plan to pay off arrears. I say "supposed" because we had for over a year followed the instructions for paying off arrears sent to us by the Support Unit and, when the Unit objected to us following their own instructions and we asked for something they would consider a plan, Ms Wood told us I didn't qualify since I was self employed. Although she conveniantly told the assemblyman that we did qualify for a plan. Ms Wood, as someone once remarked, only talks out of two sides of her mouth because a third is not available.

Mary and I were so infuriated we actually sent the letter and a tax return to Ms Wood's boss, County Executive Jack Doyle, who apparently approved the lie, saying he didn't think anything inappropriate had been done.

It is a sad thing, that for all our pretenses of being a civilized society, we elevate into positions of power unprincipaled hypocrites like Jack Doyle, Sherri Wood and Dan Moynihan - people so low they'll deprive kids of their families for the sake of gaining a vote or furthering their careers - all the while protesting that they are working on behalf of kids they are cynically using and abusing!

This then, is what Mary and I are up against. We've been caught up in a political witch hunt and, as a result, have fewer rights, and less assistance, than would available to cold blooded murderers for whom the state would at least provide a defense and some semblance of due process.

So I have nightmares and Mary's heart leaps into her throat when she sees a strange car pull into the driveway because - you see- they could come at any time.

There will be no notice or hearing, now that the Unit has the state tax authorities (and, no, we don't owe any taxes) doing its dirty work They'll arrive with a tow truck, we hear, and a police escort (for their own safety, we were told). And we have committed no crimes. We have lived our lives in an entirely responsible manner.

If you think I'm exaggerating - read the laws. Educate yourself. We have found, in speaking to people, that one of the main reasons the government is getting away with this horrific campaign of terror against families is that the whole thing is so utterly senseless and monstrous that most people can't believe it is true. That, of course, is why a Big Lie is often easier to perpetrate than a small one.

When I was a kid I read a lot of sf books in which the hero battled an oppressive government. It isn't so easy in real life. We haven't discovered any secret organization of divorced dads, or even people who believe in a just society, poised to send the powerful liars scuttling. Nor do there seem to be any spaceships handy to carry us off to an untainted world.

So we remain caught in a situation which is almost too incredible to believe. Sometimes I don't know if the nightmare begins when I go to sleep or when I wake up. About all we can do now is bear witness to what is happening in this country and hope that someday, enough decent people will be repelled to put an end to it.

(Well, if you have read that you'll know we were left alone long enough to at least get this out on the web. Our computer equipment should be safe, since I absolutely have to have it to do my work, but who knows...The next bit is, at least, kind of bittersweet...)

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RACHEL (A.K.A. Flubbycat)

For our fifth anniversary Mary bought me a Kit-Cat Klock.. He hangs on the office wall, black tail flicking, bulgy eyes darting back and forth, a big grin stuck between his whiskers and his bow tie. Quite pleasant, so long as you haven't been drinking.

Years ago I purchased another Kit-Cat, at an eerie little store in Jersey City - a dim, cobwebby place piled with dusty bottles, Victorian knick-knacks and genie lamps, the sort of place you'd expect would have vanished when you returned the next day. That clock ran backwards, of course, but that's another story.

As Mary and I admired our new Kit-Cat, we couldn't help thinking it would make a suitable final resting place for our old cat, Rachel, whose ashes have been sitting in a tin in the spare room since he died in mid September, the week after Pincess Diana and Mother Theresa.

I'm not prone to sentimentality over animals - we should be more worried about people - and the current commercial craze for cats, in particular, has become ridiculous. (Before long it won't be possible to choose either a cat-free greeting card or mystery novel.) But at times the loss of a pet can be keenly felt, maybe because it is less overwhelming and numbing than human tragedy. Maybe because we are grieving, really, for something more than the pet.

Rachel was the last link to the life I was supposed to lead, but didn't. He reminded me of a time before my first marriage ended and my kids were taken away.

He lived in my household for fourteen or fifteen years. I don't recall exactly which cold November it was when he arrived, a starving black stray, mewling under the back window. First my ex-wife and I set a tin of food - we already had an older cat named Luna - on the icy ground beside the door. We did so grudgingly, knowing that we would inevitably open the door. Which we did.

From the beginning Rachel was a "character." For the first week he was, as the old Doublemint gum commercial might put it - "Two! Two! Two pets in one!" The second pet being the enormous tapeworm which made the mistake of sticking its head out into the light.

The medicine prescribed by the vet removed the tapeworm from Rachel's intestine but not from his psyche. He ate like he was starving for the rest of his life.

My kids, Fleur and Tristan, named him Rachel, mistaking his actual sex. He had a rakish look, thanks to the single fang that protruded from the corner of his mouth, and he had a slightly crippled leg which he stuck straight out when he sat down, maybe a result of his adventures in the wild, adventures he never spoke about.

Someone had owned him once - he was declawed and neutered. And we never knew if he had been turned out, or simply wandered off, and why. Once he came in from the cold he became an "inside cat." Over the years I had seen too many cats killed by cars.

Rachel dreamed of returning to the wild, but didn't seem to remember why. The few times he darted out the open door, he was immediately bewildered and easily corraled, except for the one, memorable occasion, when he was outside an entire night. Mary found him in the yard the next morning. Maybe he had had great adventure during his hours of freedom, maybe not.

In his youth he was rambunctious, compared to the older and more placid Luna, although he was always extremely tolerant of the kids who roughhoused with him as toddlers will. I never recall him scratching. As he got older, he mellowed, becoming lazier and slower and more and more like his old, departed friend Luna. After Mary arrived she nicknamed him "Flubbycat."

I recently drew some cartoons of Flubby, which my nephew Warren got a kick out of. The Flubby character was actually derived from "Bad Cat" a mini-comic I had drawn in the mid-eighties, based on Rachel and Luna.

The comic was not Rachel's greatest claim to fame either. Shortly after we acquired him, my ex-wife experienced some allergy problems which she thought might be related to the new, shorthaired cat (Luna being a longhair) She spoke about this with Mary, who was living in Illinois, and from these conversations Mary derived the idea for "Cat's Paw," her first published story, which appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and was later anthologized in MYSTERY CATS.

At the time, Mary had no way of guessing that she would one day be privileged to share a house with the inspiration for her professional career!

We often wondered how old Rachel was. The first year I had him, two vets gave differing estimates of his age - maybe 2 years old, maybe 4. And I couldn't recall whether he'd arrived in 1982 or 1983. He had shown up in countless family photos, posed with Tristan and Fleur, in the living room at the old house, in the playroom, or playing with them, or just sitting in the background by chance, because, he was, after all, a part of it. But all those photos have been taken away so I can't examine them for clues.

Rachel doesn't show up well in photos. Black cats seldom do. The most striking thing about him wasn't his looks - despite the jaunty fang and gimpy leg -but his character. He loved people and greeted strangers with a dog-like eagerness. Maybe he saw them as possible food sources. For whatever reason, he was the friendliest cat I ever knew. During the past few years, with the problems and uncertainties Mary and I have faced, there was something comforting about Rachel's placidity and predictability, even though some might say his demeanor was no more meaningful than the plastic smile on the Kit-Cat.

Sadly, time might sometimes run backwards for Kit-Cat Klocks, but not in the real world. In his final year Rachel began having thyroid problems. I purchased his prescriptions at the Pharmacy, signing, as required by law, as "Guardian" for "Rachel (Cat)."

"Do you have any questions about side effects?" I was asked. I should have asked whether he could take the medicine and still operate heavy equipment.

Finally the pills Mary had been forcing down his chops stopped working. Though we swore we wouldn't waste a lot of money on him when the time came, we did anyway. He spent two days at the animal hospital, but the prognosis was bleak.

Then we brought him home for a visit while more blood tests were done. He lay at the foot of the futon, in his usual spot, that evening, and Mary combed him, as she had been in the habit of doing. When it was time for him to retire to the basement for the night he tried dutifully to get up but was too weak. Mary carried him to his sleeping place by the stairs and when we woke the next morning he had gone.

Mary misses him, especially his loud and continually happy purr. She says it is a good thing the Lord of the Cats came for him while he was at home with his buddy. Our younger cat, Sabrina still looks for him occasionally, but she has taken on the boss cat role and the characteristics.

I recall, as I bent over him in his terrible stillness I could hardly believe that he was gone and all the life he had been part of was gone. I could only think how good he had been with the kids.

(Well, so he was only a cat. But, isn't it amazing, the differences to be found among those who are all classified as human? Some cry for animals, others gladly commit atrocities on other human beings. Of course sometimes its the same people. Writing about Rachel, I remembered Mary's article about her cat, Jean-Paul. This was published a few years ago but the magazine insisted on excluding Jean-Paul's final journey)

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Mary Reed

Unlike Thomas Gray's Selima who was, as poetry lovers will recall, the dearest of her kind, our tabby Jean-Paul was the most daring.

His mother was a friend's Siamese cat who produced a litter of kittens which were a veritable cornucopia of cat coloring - one was piebald, one was ginger, another had spots, a fourth was mottled grey and so on. They reminded me of nothing so much as a box of feline licorice allsorts. And in there, also, was the scraggliest kitten I have ever seen - thin, striped and tottery, with a spiky tail resembling a cross between a lavatory brush and a balding Christmas tree. Compared to his elegant siblings, he was a grim sight. So was I when I took him home, as he arrived stuck as far as he could crawl up my coat sleeve, giving me a temporary Quasimodo-like appearance.

We named him Jean-Paul, after the French writer and philosopher via Monty Python. Ugly Duckling-like, as an adult he was the most handsome cat I have ever met, an opinion shared by all who saw him. His shiny, tabby coat, set off by a white bib and socks, was bookended by his mother's inheritance - a Siamese head and ears and a question-mark shaped tail. Jean-Paul was a strangely silent cat, but when he spoke his "noise" (I hesitate to call it a meow) was a combined squeak and "oo-oo", with a rising inflection on the second syllable. And speaking of inflections, it had not occurred to us when naming him that it might prove an embarrassment when calliing him in at night. It did.

On the other paw, he would sometimes respond quicker if addresed in French.

The woods behind us were fascinating to Jean-Paul; a place where he could hide, stalk squirrels, or sleep in a marvellous nest made in a bamboo thicket. And there were field mice to catch and play with if we didn't take them away from him first.

Jean-Paul's favorite toys were simple things - sellotape-rings on string and screwed-up pieces of paper, which he batted around in games of feline football whose object seemed to be to get the ball under the 'fridge. He was also quite good at taking flying leaps and catching the "ball" in mid-air. Running water of any kind held a fascination to him (as a kitten he had to be discouraged from running up one's back whilst one was doing the washing-up) and this led him to tightrope-walk around the bath tub, whether or not it was occupied at the time. He would also take running leaps in an attempt to get into the hand-basin and we had to take extra care to keep the loo-door closed and latched, otherwise we might find him in it when we got home. He also took to climbing up to the top of the clothes-horse, where he would sit in regal satisfaction, precariously perched on the top rail among dripping tea towels and the like.

Jean-Paul was occasionally a bit of a trial, although it was pure coincidence that we almost sold him along with the car one time, when he fell asleep in the back seat. On the other hand, there is still, somewhere in England, a young man who believes that, as a child, he saw Tigger ride by one day, for Jean-Paul loved cars and often came along when journies were to be undertaken.

One morning, just before I emigrated, I opened the door and found Jean-Paul dead on the doorstep. The vet later ascertained that he had been hit by a car and died of internal hemorrhaging after he came home. The problem was how to dispose of him, since rigor mortis had set in. The water table was too high to bury him and we could hardly put him in the dustbin. Reached on the phone, the vet offered to cremate him. So we put Jean-Paul into an old sack and began our final journey.

It was a sunny Saturday morning, early spring, and the trees were all coming out. So were the neighborhood children. There seemed to be hundreds of them out playing in the streets, and the sack bottom started to rip. Jean-Paul was sudddenly heavier and BIGGER - his paw stuck rakishly out of the gathered top of the sack, and his tail hung a little out of its bottom. I picked up speed, trying to reach the vet before the bag ripped open and Jean-Paul was dumped on the ground in front of some unfortunate child.

We barely made it.

After he took his final journey I occasionally found the odd bit of screwed-up paper or a sellotape ring under the sofa or behind the dresser and a rather unkind friend suggested that we hold the Jean-Paul Cat's Memorial Tombola, to raffle off his bits and pieces. But we just didn't have the heart. So we gave away his feeding bowls and so on. No doubt the local field mice breathed a little easier for his departure, while, as far as we know, the neighbors did not miss our nightly calling-in-the-cat squawks of "JEAN PAUL!"

Jean Paul was such a remarkable cat that for fifteen years no other cat replaced him. But then I married into a two-cat household and observed the antics of timid tortoiseshell Sabrina and a black and lazy Tom called Rachel - but that's another story.

(So that is what has been happening in our lives, and, if you were once on our mailing list and were wondering, might explain why you haven't seen a GROGGY in so long. I hope there will be another issue. If we survive into the New Year I will make a point of announcing it. In the meantime, if I get any e-locs I will see about constructing a loccol).

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