Pepper the Cat, may he rest in peace.
After a week of not eating or drinking and barely hanging on to her resilient thread of life, Pepper the Cat finally passed on. She was fifteen years of age, supremely kind, loving, and full of character. I’ve not met many cats of this caliber, and Chris was very, very attached to her. Understandably, I hadn’t factored in grieving to my Baltimore experience, but death has its own, clarifying way of breaking down contexts—and building up connections between people. As such, I spent the evening with Chris and Rowena and their artist friends Dave and Lauren, with whom I raised many a glass of wine, and made merry in a checked sort of way. It was unexpectedly tender, sad, and joyous all at the same time. I will never forget the experience of that strangely melancholy and rainy night.
I don’t know if it’s because of my de facto proximity to Chris, or simply that Baltimore has an uncommonly creative population, but I’ve been hanging out with a lot of working artists, or more specifically, artists who make a living with their art. Art is their nine-to-five. There’s Dave, the ebullient South African sculpture pedagogue; Lauren, the talented jeweler and farmer’s market aficionado; Jill, the custom wedding dress-maker and mother of two; and, obviously, Chris, my mentor in metal.
These folk aren’t in the midst of an every day societal revolution per se; their art is tempered by reality, and, from time to time, they talk about their work as work, not norm-rending epiphany, or resume boosters for their creative ego. Dave was of particular interest to me. His somewhat sardonic, lazy eyes give him the perfect cover for an arsenal of witticisms, pith, and hilarious South African colloquialisms. I listened to him—happily—for the better part of an hour recount his experiences as a draftee in the South African military, which included brushes with Meningitis, harsh treatment by drill instructors, severe cold, and malnourishment. Towards the end of his monologue, he stopped, checked himself, and bemoaned his tirade in heavy brogue:
“Wot wos I tawking about?”
I reminded him that he started out telling me how he loved the color of a certain variety of succulent plant, the kind with small, dusty gray paddles. Somewhere along the way, he ended up reminiscing about the military.
“Ah yes,” he chimed victoriously, “well, in the army, they made us croowl [crawl] through those plants oowl [all] the time. I hated the croowling, but loved the color of the plants.”
Once again, the conversation came full circle: from the death of a beloved cat to a celebratory dinner party; from me in Baltimore four years ago to me in Baltimore now; from a South African artist crawling through mountain scrub in the army to that same artist recounting his love of dusty gray succulents. Maybe this is how life unfolds all the time. Maybe my day-to-day skein of experiences, associations, and relationships actually refer to a point of control, a locus. Perhaps the rest of my life will abide in relative shadow of perspective, but in the meantime, I’m noticing abundantly bizarre and surprisingly relevant concatenations that suggest a certain kind of teleology. It’s enough to make me think that all those socks I lost over the last decade of doing my own laundry will someday appear in my refrigerator, food cupboard, or glove-compartment.