At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Friday, June 13, 2014


After viewing the umpty-ump thousandth cat video on the internet, which was invented specifically for the dissemination of cat pictures and videos, I realized a fundamental truth: representations of outer space aliens often look exactly like cats. Same eyes, facial expressions, and skull width. Coincidence?

We should probably distrust our cats.


This also reminded me of an old friend, who lived alone with his cat. Together they occupied an ill-maintained house in Berkeley, a little bit uphill from Shattuck Avenue, and to the north of the campus. Not far, actually, from the apartment of the steamingly hot gun-nut I was all goo over in those days. Whenever I needed a break from her drunken rages after she had finished a bottle of Old Grand Dad, I'd stroll over to his house and let myself in with the key he had given me. He often wasn't home, but his cat was. After fixing myself some tea I'd sit on the couch in the messy backroom over the garage, smoking my pipe, stroking the cat, and reading. He had a fabulous collection of trashy paperbacks as well as all past issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which contained some of the stories my mom wrote when she was still single and living in the Bay Area.

My mom got married to my dad after a strange five-year courtship, moved down to Los Angeles, and eventually had kids (two). Children, like cats, tend to call a screeching halt to the creative process. Just look at your friends. Do they have children? Felines?
If they do, the closest they come to creativity is inventing new accounts about something cute or aggravating that one of those creatures did, and they've probably gotten rid of the bottle of Old Grand Dad.
Maybe even several bottles.

It's very annoying.
They used to be such fun!

One day, while rooting through the kitchen cupboard for a clean tea pot, I found a nearly empty whiskey bottle. The label was faded, and it looked like it was nearly twenty years old. Not the same typeface as the examples which my love-interest at the time kept dumping in the garbage. Was it still drinkable?
I was curious, but you never drink a man's bourbon when he isn't around to pour it for you. That's just not good manners. My dad had instilled that in me after I had emptied the liquor cabinet with a year's worth of depradations.

Besides, the cat would probably squeal on me.

For creatures whose sexual shenanigans are loud, public, and heard by the entire neighborhood at all hours of the night, cats are often the most frightful puritans. They can misbehave, but they disapprove completely of us doing so. Roger's cat always kept a very close eye on me to make sure that all I did was read, drink tea, and smoke my pipe. Nothing else. So I left the bottle where it was and went back to the room with all the books.

I didn't forget about it, though. Old Grand Dad. Disturbing. Why was it there? I had already started having bad mental associations because of that brand, perhaps due to the unhinged behaviour of the girl I was seeing whenever she had drunk a bit too much -- she kept her guns loaded at all times, by the way, and one of them was always under her pillow -- and in that day and age I hadn't yet discovered the noble Manhattan cocktail, which is one of the best things you can do to Bourbon. I preferred Irish whiskey. Sometimes Scotch. Despite not yet being of legal drinking age. Why on earth did he have Bourbon?
I had never seen him drink.

One should worry about, or distrust, people who sip in secret.
It's eccentric, and represents icebergs.
Rather like the maiden auntie who keeps a giant perfume bottle filled with gin on her dresser. You know it's gin, you smelled it one day when you were visiting. And you were very disappointed; you had expected something magical, something that would suggest a secret life.
Depravity and romance! Instead, vodka. How jejune!
And sneaky!

Far better they should have a bottle of Bourbon in plain view, like right next to the teevee, or on the kitchen counter at all times.
Even on the bedside table.

Solitary drinking is the path to ruin. There was nothing solitary about the gun toting girl's drinking, and she was often pissed that I was not yet old enough to go to bars. She liked getting high in bars, as there was always somebody to disagree with there. And as you might guess, I was a very agreeable sort of person, even then, besides being always right.
It just wasn't fun arguing with me.
It is hard to pick a fight with an equitably tempered man.
Frustrated, she sicced her cats on me.
They'd rub and purr.

Time for more bourbon.

Eventually, I'd let myself out and head over to Roger's house. If he wasn't there, his cat would come over and keenly sniff the evidence of a previous feline's attention, then set about erasing it. The cat liked it when I read aloud. He seemed to prefer Isaac Asimov and Cordwainer Smith, and I suspect he thought Robert Heinlein rather splendidly silly. Especially everything after Stranger In A Strange Land (1961).
I often felt guilty about enjoying Roger's hospitality when he wasn't there, particularly the tea, and would occasionally consider bringing over a dead mouse for the cat, which would recompense him for his kindness.
Instead I just bought a few cans of Ralston Purina every week, and left them on the kitchen counter.

Still. Dead mice. Juicy. I'm sure the cat would have thought it fitting. Whereas moist protein goo sealed in a tin casket is, if anything, frustrating.

I myself would prefer dead mice if I didn't have opposable thumbs.

My girlfriend would have approved too. She would have even volunteered to shoot the little beasts for me, and I'm sure she could have hit them dead on even when drunk. She was a very good shot.
Problem is, there would have been nothing left to bring the cat. A heavy bore blast kind of wreaks havoc on the tender rodent, you must understand.
She looked remarkably like a vengeful goddess when she suggested shooting things.

After a relationship that lasted a year, the gun nut and I split up, and she eventually started seeing a fancy-pants lawyer from New York, who was also a fire-arms fanatic.
I rather missed our days of making ammo together.
And cleaning gun barrels; it's romantic!
Besides, residue smells nice.

I still headed over to Roger's house two or three times a week. The cat would welcome me, and sniff my pants to check if I had been seeing any other felines. Upon encountering the odour of my Grandmother's three neurotic toms, he would nuzzle and rub and do his damndest to remove their foul stench.
Roger was still rarely in; as a retired academic and a bachelor, he tended to be elsewhere in the country at any given moment. The sleekness of the cat was the only thing that indicated that he did, in fact, regularly descend on Berkeley. No, that wasn't because I brought over cans of Ralston Purina, because I never opened them. It must have been him.
Occasionally I'd check the old bottle in the kitchen cupboard. The fluid level never went down. I'll confess that I was somewhat obsessed with that bottle. Even if it was Old Grand Dad, it seemed such a waste that it never got enjoyed. And, several months after the break-up with the gun nut, I was starting to miss the smell of Bourbon.
You know, there's nothing quite like whiskey-drenched cuddling.
It's warm and sleek and wriggly. Sweet!
Just hold me tight.

Guns, bourbon, and a sexy beast.
That's a recipe right there!

I recall that her cats always tried to interrupt. The damned furballs never understood that some things are exclusionary, and would eventually end-up yowling behind a locked closet door.
They keenly resented not being part of whatever was going on.
Like all felines, they had a sense of entitlement.
And attention-hog sensibilities.

The first bottle of liquor I bought once I turned twenty-one and could legally do so was Old Grand Dad. That was over a year after my re-ascent back into bachelorhood.
I had to hide the bottle from my Grandmother. Not per se because she disapproved of Bourbon, or even of cheap hooch, but she had never entirely cottoned to my crazy girlfriend's lifestyle, and worried that in some ways I resembled my ancestors a bit too much.
Guns and whiskey have a history in some branches of the family.
So do dead mice and cats, but I never said anything.
I've always distrusted cats.

After a while the gun nut and her husband moved back east. I heard she was looking for someone to take the cats, so I diplomatically suggested through the grape-vine that a previous boy friend (who also collected guns) was perfect and made myself rather mysteriously unavailable for several weeks so that no one could dump them on me. I knew he hated them; the only animalistic thing that he liked was the girl herself. He was the person who first told me that she growled when asleep.
Yes, she was amazingly bestial at those times.
Drowsing wolverine. A fierce beast.
Do NOT awaken her.
She's feral

No, I haven't a clue what any of those people are doing now.
I lost touch with most of the Berkeley crowd.

After my Grandmother passed away, I tried taking care of her neurotic toms, but they despised me, and I eventually persuaded some of her friends to adopt the little creeps. I'm afraid my Grandmother was far too tolerant of unbalanced males.
Many women are.


Roger ended up in the hospital by the time I moved to San Francisco. He asked me to take care of the cat -- "let him live with you, so he has a home" -- and also told me to 'adopt' the bottle of Bourbon in the kitchen cupboard, as it really needed to be enjoyed before it was too late.
He also gravely informed me that he hadn't ever appreciated the smell of pipe tobacco in the house. It always reminded him of cheap hotels and low dives. But the cat liked it. Which made it okay.
And I should NEVER ask the cat about the past.
There were embarrassing things there.
Connected with pipes.
And pussies.

The landlord of my Ivy Street digs had specifically forbidden any pets, but he was far more worried about what the drugdealer who lived above me was doing to bother about the beast. During that year the upstairs tenant resisted any attempt to evict him, and managed to sell all the furniture that was stored in the basement.
The cat "guarded" the apartment while I was out during the day, and then spent all night loudly courting the wild pussies in the neighborhood.
That cat had a more active love life than I did by a mile.
Entirely without the help of liquor.
I rather resented that.

At present, I do not own a bottle of Old Grand Dad.
And I do not have a pussycat.


After all these years I'd like to meet the gun nut again sometime. She was a warm and creative person, and she's probably grown up to be a fabulous woman by now. No, I wouldn't want to rekindle anything, but it would be fun to have cocktails with her and speak sneeringly of what Berkeley has become.
I hope she's happy.


Purists will insist that a Manhattan be made with rye whiskey. Which is both ridiculous and a snobbish affectation. Most Manhattans are made by experienced bar tenders serving a clientele that knows precisely what they want, and would scream if the mixologist deviated from the tried and true. Which is decent basic Bourbon, cheap vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a maraschino cherry or twist of lemon peel to garnish.

What you will need:

Three ounces of Old Grand Dad.
Half an ounce sweet vermouth.
Dash of Pechaud's Bitters.
One cherry, or one twist of peel.

A cocktail shaker, and ice cubes.

Fill the shaker half full with ice cubes. Pour in the whiskey and vermouth and add the bitters. Lid it, and shake fiercely and briefly. Decant into a wine glass or tumbler, then garnish.

Do not use standard cocktail glasses; they're silly.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.



  • At 9:46 AM, Anonymous e-kvetcher said…

    If you get tired of cat videos, you can start on pig videos

  • At 10:50 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    I applaud porcine boldness and abenteuerlust!

  • At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "After all these years I'd like to meet the gun nut again sometime."

    And that is what Facebook is for.

  • At 8:47 PM, Anonymous The Sane Man said…

    Damn you're weird. Must be those years in Berkeley.


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