The Cat Burglar and the Chandelier

Have you ever met someone and realized they are a living work of art, honed to their specific purpose in such a way that you will never forget them? I hope you have, they are great to keep in mind when you’re writing.

I was fortunate enough in my youth to live on the street, and that isn’t exactly a joke. I mean, sure it sucked, hunger and illness and all that. I wasn’t even there for “the usual” reason of addiction (those quotes are a discussion for a different day), it was a combination of religion, lack of a supportive family, and getting stranded in another state. It was a harsh situation, but I was young, and I ended up in a variety of situations that will provide endless stories and insights into the lesser seen aspects of society.

Like the cat burglar. I doubt I’ll forget him.

I thought of him the other day, when one of those sudden and completely irrelevant and useless type revelations struck me. I realized I was surrounded by police at a party with a possible cat burglar, who may or may not have been laying low for a bit. He must have been shitting his pants. I mean, we all were, because we were high as a kite and surrounded by police, their commissioner, and the mayor of New Orleans. But I bet he was really feeling it.

If you don’t want to year about that particular party, you’re dead inside, but no worries because I already told it right over here, so go take a look when you like. For now, you probably want to know more about the possible cat burglar.

Our little crew was a little different from most of the gutter punks and street hippies around us. We were a collection of street pagans, I was the wandering nature loving mystic and my ex was one of those shock value ceremonialist teenage punks, the equivalent of a republican and a democrat getting married at times. Wingnut was Wingnut, but the point is that all day long we babbled about the nature of the universe like street philosophers, with occasional interjections of Rocky Horror quotes.

This guy Ducky though, I don’t know what he thought about anything. I don’t know if he believed in the occult (I like to dance from one side to the other myself in an eternal self debate between science and mystery), I don’t know if he ever saw Rocky Horror, I don’t know if he was fond of the 80s songs we would sing to keep our spirits up, or much about him at all. I only remember him speaking once, in this story. I was never sure if he was smiling to laugh at our jokes or to laugh at us.

Ducky was not just quiet. He turned quiet into an art form. We found this out one morning when we woke up in our squat, an abandoned play theater in pre-Katrina New Orleans. This was not the typical squat, rat filled and punk defiled, covered in filth you don’t want to imagine. There were some areas of such, behind the concession stand and in the halls leading to the bathroom. The bathroom itself, one of us wandered in and immediately back out and warned us not to go there, we believed him.

The rest of the place, the auditorium with its red velvet seats and the stage still framed by red sliding curtains, was near pristine, save for a layer of dust. It was admired, special. A small place of beauty that those who live on the street seldom get to enjoy. The centerpiece was a giant chandelier, with real crystal adornments, not cheap plastic.

I know that because one morning Wingnut woke up to glance over and see Ducky sliding up a grappling hook going from the banister to the chandelier, making not a single sound as he gently pried off a couple of pieces and slipped them into his pocket, then returned to the banister and unhooked his shady rope of thievery and returned it to a backpack probably holding abundant pilfered treasure.

Wingnut notified us by waking us up to cries of “HOlyShiT!!!” as he ran over, and we jumped up in a panic, rushing over to find a bashful Ducky, who smiled as he proved Wingnut’s story by pulling out the two pieces and clinking them together.

I looked at him and (here it comes, he’s about to speak) pointed out he was pretty short for a guy. Understandably defensive, he said, “Yeah, so?” to which I replied, “The perfect size to crawl into a window.”

(totally not the chandelier in question)

He just smiled. Just smiled and said not another word.

Oh, it all fit together then. The navy clothes that looked like a generic work uniform, able to pass off as a janitor, meter reader, delivery man. The stocking cap was the kind that could be hiding a mask when it was rolled up the way it was, his unassuming manner that wouldn’t draw attention to himself, his desire to quietly follow people more attention grabbing than he was, people who might distract from his presence. Hands to his sides, no flamboyant gestures, never saying anything that would cause him to stick in your mind.

And he clarified nothing. Nor did we ask, it’s not polite to ask questions to people who live on the street. So many people have someone looking for them, questions cause suspicion you might be a private investigator sent by their family, or even a narc. Besides, we knew the kinds of histories people might have when the sidewalk is their pillow. It’s just plain rude to bring up painful pasts as a topic of casual conversation.

But oh, man, the fuel for my imagination to go wild. As I grew older, the possibilities grew a little darker, not everyone who climbs into windows is a loveable type guy. He seemed okay, harmless, but by now I’ve learned how deceptive that can be. Still, I will always admire how he turned being a wallflower into an art form to serve his own purposes. After my little revelation, I’m also amazed at how well he kept his cool when faced with a largish gathering of the local police force.

I mean, wow. He needs to write a book on deep breathing techniques or something. Who have you met, who seems so perfect it’s like they walked out of the pages of a novel?

How To Make A Flying Carpet

I miss my flying carpet. I have a spinning wheel, an old friend named Molly Grue. She is an Ashford Traveler, designed to be portable. I named her after a cook for bandits, a fiercely domestic woman with a temper to raise storms and a love of adventure.

At one point in our friendship, I bought a book on the mythology of the stars. Not just the lore behind constellations we grew up with, but also hints of how the sky was seen by other civilizations through history, and a few tips on better reading the stars yourself. It was a story so beautifully told it filled my heart with magic, and I found myself buying five pounds of wool and shades of dye to match the midnight sky.

To the uninitiated, five pounds of wool is roughly two lawn bags full. The wool I bought was “raw”, unwashed, straight from the sheep, because I enjoy doing things the hard way. I washed it carefully, lock by lock, then dyed it various blues and purples, with only a hint of actual black. I hung it in my bedroom to dry for a few days, turning it every now and then, fluffing out bits for better circulation. This phase took me a week or two.

Next came the blending. Despite a variety of hues piled up around the room, I wanted a solid color, heathered and even; an interesting black made complex by the various tones on the evening horizon. First, I added a bit of mohair for the white of the stars, tossing it like a salad. Then I scattered the wool around my living room in handfuls, the mess came up past my knees. I patted it down and rolled it up, pulling the roll into a rope to break up clumps of color. I repeated the process a few times times.

This did not take an afternoon. It took about a month. After this step came the combing, using two paddles edged with two rows of four inch nails that I keep near the front door in case I need a weapon, but so far I’ve only needed it to comb wool into a fluffy bits like the top of a poodle’s head. The fluff is pulled through a tiny hole in a scrap of wood so that it becomes a rope of compact and even goodness. I rolled this into balls, and it was ready to spin. It took a couple of months.

The spinning itself went relatively fast, not much more than a month. But then I had to knit it. When it was all said and done, it took a year to make, and it was almost the only project I worked on that year. I think I made a pair of socks as well.

That is just knitting, here is the magic that made it a flying carpet.

The entire time, I thought about that book. I was a single mother and a college student, those years were full of late-night study breaks while my son slept. Hours were spent on the porch staring at the sky while I tried to clear math out of my head, then a little time with my wool before bed. This project filled my life with visions of stars and stories that connect all of us, now and throughout history.

It’s a common thing to look at the night sky and feel small. I never really felt that in my youth. I could picture the sky reaching out to eternity, but I felt myself being exactly the size I should be. My amazement was no more or less than when I find a tiny cluster of crystals on a pebble in the road, or discover a green bee.

But that book, I wasn’t just looking at stars anymore. I was looking at myth, legends and stories that guided people through the seasons and across oceans, shapes that held meaning, held culture, were seen by primal man, by honored historical figures, by people I love, by people long gone and will be seen by the yet to be born.

Even better, many of those legends involve spinning. Such a cherry to top off the ever-present wooly metaphors of spinning tales and weaving stories. I guess I am driven by story. Turn the stars into stories, and their weight will come crushing down on me in the low, steady epiphany that drives all the bards wild.

My blanket was circular, like the horizon, with eight spiraling spokes denoting the ever moving path of the stars, shown in those little flecks of mohair. It was thick, warm, and perfect to lay on the ground for some light yoga.

When I sat upon it to meditate, I sat upon the sky itself. I’m sure you can appreciate why it seemed to feel like a flying carpet. You can’t buy metaphors with that much power. It brought much insight and inspiration for a while, until it was lost in one of our chaotic moving fits.

I’ve thought of it frequently lately, as I’ve been too distracted and lackluster for much inspiration. Some time after I moved most recently, I thought maybe a re-creation of the experience might pull me from my funk of moving home, maybe stimulate a few creative juices.

Not the whole blanket, I have other things to do this year. But perhaps a shawl, I could let someone else dye it, but I would spun it and contemplate the moon; a different aspect of the sky to get to know. It seemed an interesting way to stimulate some creativity, so I found a lovely merino/camel/silk blend dyed in a colorway called Twilight. Hopefully, If I pretend hard enough, I will feel bathed in moonlight when it is draped across my shoulders, and it will whisper shadowy stories in my ear.

Greenwood Fiberworks can be found on Etsy.

In the meantime, I have cats to write for, so I also started a scarf in a simple cat’s paw lace, in a yarn I hope Joe doesn’t find the receipt for (the uninitiated are never prepared for the cost of top shelf yarn). Not long after casting on, I decided to listen to “cat lady” music, and figured cat ladies like classical. The combination made me quickly remember a few ladies who may or may not have owned cats, but took in stray children, and a few stray children I knew that never did find homes, and a scene from my childhood with a safe way to express it in fiction. It came to me in a flash that moved me to tears, only three rows into the scarf. That right-brain stimulation is powerful stuff.

These cats may end up opening a vein, as I start wandering through a different kind of darkness, away from monsters and serial killers and closer to subjects more terrifying to talk about, a little less play and a little more drama. Except for the hidden murderess, she could be fun. And there could be a little magic here and there.