In my last entry I was afraid that I would be writ­ing a eulo­gy soon for my cat Socrates. Sad­ly, this is the case.

We had to put Socrates to sleep yes­ter­day. The growth that was obstruct­ing his low­er intes­tine was tech­ni­cal­ly oper­a­ble, but the oper­a­tion would have involved some dif­fi­cult and painful surgery, includ­ing break­ing the poor ani­mal’s pelvis in order to get at what­ev­er was there. After much painful delib­er­a­tion (espe­cial­ly because the seem­ing­ly nor­mal cat we were vis­it­ing for the last time did­n’t seem to be in any pain — yet), we decid­ed that it would be cru­el to put him through a pro­ce­dure that would be chal­leng­ing for a healthy young cat, and more impor­tant­ly, would leave him with poor uri­nary func­tion. With his poor heart and kid­neys, he might not even have sur­vived the operation.

Socrates was one of two cats that we got from a neigh­bor­hood lit­ter short­ly before we moved into our house. The lit­ter par­ents brought the whole lit­ter over to our house so that we could choose among them. One lit­tle cat snug­gled on my knee, where he stayed for near­ly the whole vis­it. The oth­er cat (who would be called Stef­fi after one of Pam’s rel­a­tives) was cho­sen main­ly because she seemed to be his playmate.

I liked to name cats with S’s in their names because I had heard that their hear­ing is well-attuned to the hiss­ing of the ‘S’. As I said the pre­vi­ous entry, we real­ly should have called him ‘Fran­cis’ like the Saint, and his chat­ter­ing sounds at the birds were a real delight to Pam.

While Stef­fi was a typ­i­cal cat, aloof, quick to use her claws and fierce­ly loy­al to us (and dis­trust­ful of strangers) Socrates was any­thing but that. As a neigh­bor (and some­times cat-sit­ter) once put it: That cat’s a dog! Out­go­ing and vocal, Socrates was a con­stant com­pan­ion to Pam and me, see­ing us through good times and bad. When his sis­ter died in 2001, he helped com­fort us, and adjust­ed to being an ‘only child’ sur­pris­ing­ly well. He did give us a cou­ple scares, and per­haps even lost one of his nine lives the time that he end­ed up under the floor for about 3 hours (in dread­ful 90-degree heat) in the heating/air con­di­tion­ing duct­work when a care­less installer left the open­ing in the util­i­ty room uncov­ered. He was our soft, purring part­ner on the sofa for count­less movies and episodes of ‘The Sopra­nos’, and nev­er seemed to scold us when we returned from trips. He came down the stairs every day (again, like a dog), when I came home from work. Toward the end, we had to start call­ing him ‘Limpy’, because our poor arthrit­ic kit­ty was hav­ing trou­ble nego­ti­at­ing all of those flights. He did get picky and needy as he grew old­er, demand­ing that he get brushed by Pam after break­fast, and refus­ing to drink any water that was­n’t com­ing out of the bath­tub tap.

His absence leaves a gap­ing hole in our lives, and our once-homey cocoon of a town­house now feels, as Pam says ‘Like a Hotel Room’.

A last anec­dote that sums it up:
At the ani­mal hos­pi­tal where he spent his final few days, he was pret­ty much nor­mal, so on what turned out to be his last night alive, they had a ‘slow’ night. Since he was fine and they had time, they let him out to roam the wait­ing room and front desk area. I’m told that he was his usu­al charm­ing and affec­tion­ate self, rub­bing against all these strange peo­ple and purring. The tech said they all ‘bond­ed’ with him, and appar­ent­ly there were many tears by the staff before we said our final good-byes. As I always said, he was the cat that every­body loved, even if they did­n’t like cats.

So, to my lit­tle bud­dy, my lit­tle gray friend, muf­fin-head, bright-eyes, but­ton, you’ll always be the cat who loved me back, not just as anoth­er acquain­tance, but as a spe­cial friend, and that I’ll always cherish.

Sick Kitty

Although I haven’t men­tioned much in this blog, we have a cat with an his­tor­i­cal­ly but not per­son­al­i­ty-wise accu­rate name of Socrates. Socrates is not a philoso­pher-cat, and in ret­ro­spect, the prop­er name for him should have been Fran­cis, as in St. Fran­cis of Assisi, who was known to preach to the birds (and oth­er ani­mals). Socrates (the cat) talks to the birds, mak­ing that fun­ny chat­ter­ing noise that mon­keys do.

Not today, though. Yes­ter­day, our old friend of 13 1/2 years start­ed cry­ing and try­ing to use his lit­ter box at 5:00 AM, and then every 15 min­utes or so with no suc­cess. With­out giv­ing a com­plete med­ical his­to­ry, he’s show­ing many of the signs of being an senior feline. He’s got a slight­ly irreg­u­lar heart-beat, shrink­ing kid­neys, and needs to drink water a great deal. He now only drinks water from the bath­tub tap — a lab tech at the vet sug­gest­ed that this is an instinc­tu­al pref­er­ence for run­ning water because in the wild water­falls and brooks are usu­al­ly clean­er and safer, hence more attrac­tive to ani­mals as they age and don’t have the resis­tance to the microbes in stand­ing water. While I’ve nev­er seen this in print, it makes a heck of a lot of sense. This need for so much water (prob­a­bly due to not only the kid­neys, but some mild dia­betes) has an asso­ci­at­ed prob­lem; when the body can’t get enough water exter­nal­ly, it begins to draw it from inter­nal sources, like the colon. This con­tributes to (with­out minc­ing any words) hard stools. Com­bine this with less mus­cle tone, and our poor kit­ty can’t get his waste out of him. Add to this some swelling back there, and, well, you get the pic­ture. Poor Socrates threw up all of his break­fast, and we took him to the vet about mid-morn­ing. Then, after it was­n’t clear from X‑rays what was exact­ly going on, he was going to need to be sedat­ed for ultra­sound, but the vet was clos­ing at 4. On to the ani­mal hos­pi­tal, where Socrates’s sis­ter Stef­fi spent her last hours back in 2001 (oh what a great year that was…).

Which brings us to today. He’s still there, and we’re going to vis­it him from 1 to 3. He’s going to be at the hos­pi­tal overnight tonight as well, and hope­ful­ly ultra­sound tomor­row (as well as mul­ti­ple ene­mas — poor thing!) will tell us what to do next. I hope that I don’t have to pre­pare a eulo­gy for my lit­tle friend so soon, but I have to say that I have it in the back of my mind. I’ll stop now before I get more into that.

Selling the Piano, part deux

Since we’ve had absolute­ly zero inquiries from the posters about the piano for sale, I decid­ed to esca­late it a bit. It’s now list­ed on Craigslist. I tried to base the list­ing some­what on the poster (left out some of the mar­ket­ing, which to me always looks cheesi­er on web pages). If this does­n’t work, we’ll have to esca­late to the next lev­el, which will be, I think, the Boston Globe clas­si­fieds. I’m hop­ing it does­n’t come to that, but we’ll have to see.

Also, more doc­u­ments have arrived, notably a sealed tran­script from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cincin­nati. That leaves the let­ters from HR Depart­ments, pass­port pho­tos, a com­plete phys­i­cal and the noti­fi­ca­tion from the Cam­bridge Police Depart­ment. I’m not too wor­ried about any of these except for the last two (and of those two the very last one for sure). Oh, and all the forms for Cana­di­an immi­gra­tion filled out, which is pret­ty mam­moth as well.

I’ll be in Van­cou­ver again in about 3 weeks, this time for a Multimedia/Technology/Internet con­fer­ence at the geo­des­ic dome that hous­es the BC Sci­ence Cen­tre. Ah, what a plea­sure it is to spell that with the ‘r’ before the ‘e’ again (takes me back to my days as a British student).

Remembering a Famous Conductor

Sergiu Commissiona
When I was grow­ing up in Bal­ti­more, the con­duc­tor of the sym­pho­ny orches­tra was a man with the impres­sive name of Sergiu Com­mis­siona. I found out that he died sud­den­ly yes­ter­day of a heart attack in Okla­homa. He’d been guest con­duct­ing all over the world and I’m guess­ing that when he did­n’t show up for morn­ing rehearsals, they found him in his hotel room.

I’m prob­a­bly what one would call a ‘sym­pho­ny brat’. I used to hang around for rehearsals, and after con­certs, I’d go back­stage to the Green Room and talk to the per­form­ers (some­times get­ting an auto­graph to add to my col­lec­tion). I got to see Mae­stro Com­mis­siona on a fair­ly reg­u­lar basis. It’s not that I was par­tic­u­lar­ly drawn to the sym­pho­ny; it was a fam­i­ly affair. My father was the orches­tra’s staff pianist — that’s the pianist who plays the piano parts in non-con­cer­to pieces, includ­ing pieces like Saint-Saën’s Organ Sym­pho­ny and Respighi’s Pines of Rome, as well as the celes­ta solos (like the Sug­ar Plum fairy in the Nut­crack­er Suite and the like). My moth­er was an occa­sion­al vocal soloist with the sym­pho­ny as well, and opened one sea­son singing in the last move­ment of Mahler’s Fourth Sym­pho­ny. If you’ve nev­er heard it, it’s a big part, more a sym­phon­ic lieder than a move­ment from a sym­pho­ny. Between their work with the sym­pho­ny and my inter­est in the music (and per­haps some of the glam­our) I was as reg­u­lar as a 14-year old kid can be at sym­pho­ny con­certs. Com­mis­siona was a good con­duc­tor, if a bit eccen­tric. He could make old chest­nuts like Beethoven Piano Con­cer­ti or Dvo­rak Sym­phonies sound like new again. He was not par­tic­u­lar­ly clear or pre­cise, which made him mad­den­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to fol­low (as my father would have to report after gru­el­ing rehearsals). How­ev­er, when it came time to make the orches­tra give an inspired and grip­ping per­for­mance, you could count on him every time. As the sym­pho­ny brochures would quote from some crit­ic years ago: “Light­ning has struck the podi­um.”. While I would­n’t quite go that far, I’d def­i­nite­ly say that he had inter­est­ing musi­cal ideas, along with a ton of pure charis­ma, and he was­n’t afraid to use it.

Com­mis­siona was an impres­sive man to meet as well. He was from Roma­nia and hence had an accent sim­i­lar to Bela Lugosi’s. He was tall with a hawk nose, wild wavy hair and flashy clothes. He talked fast, and moved swift­ly, almost brusque­ly. He was mar­ried to a bal­le­ri­na (also Roman­ian) and they were cer­tain­ly in every sense, jet-set­ters. As Bar­ry Levin­son shows in his films, Bal­ti­more in the 60s and 70s was a pret­ty provin­cial town, so these Euro­pean cognoscen­ti were quite the celebri­ties for us. Like many, I was part­ly in awe of him, but that changed over time.
When I went away to col­lege in Cincin­nati, Com­mis­siona would some­times come to town to guest con­duct the Cincin­nati Sym­pho­ny. On those vis­its, I would take time off from my class­es and go to many of the rehearsals. What bet­ter train­ing for a young music stu­dent who was even doing a lit­tle con­duct­ing him­self? ( but not much yet, as I real­ly did­n’t con­duct much until grad school) I’d meet him in the morn­ing, go with him to rehearsal (car­ry­ing his scores), and aft­ward we’d go to lunch at his hotel. We talked about music a lot. We were both big fans of Scri­abin, and I was thrilled to hear that he liked his music too. Being a Scri­abin fan is like being in a small secret club; Scri­abin’s music is exot­ic, com­plex and idio­syn­crat­ic. Peo­ple tend to either love it or hate it. Although I played the part of a young and eager aide-de-camp at his side, we enjoyed each oth­er’s com­pa­ny, and I looked for­ward to his visits.
He was kind of fun­ny, too. Once when he was rehears­ing Bar­tok’s Piano Con­cer­to No. 2, he had just fin­ished rehears­ing the first move­ment. As they fin­ished the read-through of the move­ment and took a breath, he imme­di­ate­ly called out ‘Strings too loud!’. The string sec­tion chuck­led; They had­n’t played a sin­gle note. Bar­tok scored the first move­ment of that con­cer­to for piano and winds alone.

With our upcom­ing move to Van­cou­ver, I was look­ing for­ward to see­ing Sergiu again, this time as an adult. He had been the Van­cou­ver Sym­pho­ny’s con­duc­tor until 2000 or so and I was hop­ing that our paths might have crossed again there. It would have been nice.
Instead, I’m left with some nice mem­o­ries of the grande Mae­stro who I got to hang out with as a stu­dent. I’m hap­py I have those, at least.