How to get a Free Cup of Coffee in Lincoln City, Oregon
How to get a Free Cup of Coffee in Lincoln City, Oregon
First you need to go way back. Say like 10 years.
- And then head to Wayside Waifs, a no-kill shelter in Kansas City, which is a real and kind place. It is so real in fact, the ragged edges that led to its creation may tear at you during a visit.
- On the day you wander into that building there is a little nagging thought in the back of your mind. It’s not well-developed yet but at the heart of it is a moving shape; it’s this: two kittens playing.
- You and Andy enter a room within a bigger room and it is littered with mewling crawling kittens. And even through their brains are thimble-sized most are self-aware enough to know what they are doing. One dark orange kitten named Gary sits above them all on a carpeted shelf shimmering with light kitten fur. Gary orders the underlings about like a small lion. He alone does not want to be noticed by you, he simply wants to boss the passel. He makes no eye contact.
- You say to Gary as you move to the other side of the room, sliding along the edges to avoid crushing kittens with your extra-large feet, “You know Gary what they say about the futility of herding kittens?” Still, no eye contact.
- Gary’s miniature mouth opens and you are captured by the art of it, the orange and just-right pink and the evenly placed ivory points. Like many felines, Gary doesn’t appreciate a joke, even one that is likely fresh to him.
- You were told Gary’s name by the volunteer who let you into the room. You pointed at that guy who was all puffed up and bossing the passel from his furry perch. She laughs, “His name is Gary and he is not available. Everyone who works here wants him.”
- Already Andy is surrounded by bouncing fur balls. There is a particular kitten who is mottled of coat, a coat which is so akimbo and at-attention it could be used to scrub the mud off boots, well this one is the one for Andy, although he does not know it yet. He picks up the mottled kitten who is displaying an exuberant fondness for his shoes and places her back into the teeming puddle so others can have a shot at maybe getting a home outside the shelter. But the mottled one shows a single-minded determination to getting back onto Andy’s shoes and into his sightline. There is even a part of her she releases and orders to slip into the back regions of his mind and hunker there.
- The room reminds you of a scribble picture of moving random joy. Then there is one. A smaller one with an odd blue collar around her neck. The blue collar, which is the smallest diameter ever, contrasts well against the white and grey of her. She catches you looking at her, throws a side-eye and quickly looks ahead. She moves with purpose, her and her blue collar and short little striped legs. She picks her way around the diameter of the kitten mosh pit, she circles once and then circles again. Each time she passes you at the closest point she throws a side-eye. Just to let you know, she knows.
- Later you will tell people how Tenzing was smart enough to get noticed. She wasn’t the cutest, biggest, smallest. She was the most clever and you were simply caught by the trap she set. People will grow hazy-eyed when you tell this story. More than one person will interrupt saying, ‘You know she wasn’t really planning that out, right?” Their words formed of pure exasperation.
- Before you know it you are outside the kitten room pointing at two with the volunteer. Winner, winner the one with a scrub brush for a coat and the one with the blue collar, which you later realize is painters’ tape.
- That day at Wayside is a ‘two for one sale’. You will remind the cats -more than once- they were part of a larger fire sale. They return a sour-mouthed stare.
- You are also told the scrub brush kitten (later named Hopper) was dropped off at the shelter. Flat out abandoned. Her hind legs aren’t quite right, and you wonder if someone was worried about medical complications. But even now, more than a decade later, she jumps and runs with a random and powerful spark.
- The other one is named for Tenzing Norgay. She was found in a sack with other kittens on the side of a country road in Kansas just a few weeks earlier. Kansas; you can say it with a sneer or a sigh.
- Taken from the shelter, Tenzing and Hopper now live inside full time but they do have a cat tv where squirrels are lured onto a ledge next to a window. The cats grumble at the squirrels and this never grows old, unlike jokes about cats and fire sales.
- When they are 6 years old they travel by plane to Portland Oregon. They live the first summer there at the Oregon coast. It is the warmest summer on record and sunlight pours into the windows like an unfurled ethereal welcome carpet.
- By now their personalities are set. Hopper is brash and loud. She is a big female and an American tomboy trope. A friend begins to call her “Boy” when Hopper is still young, maybe 3. This handle remains an excellent fit years later.
- There are two catios at the beach house. Tenzing and Hopper take the morning sun in the back of the house and finish their day in the front catio, which is surrounded by 3 sides of windows. Big white and black birds sail by, temporarily blocking their sun. They grumble in Oregon too. Sometimes they watch the sun set over the ocean. Other times they choose to sleep through it.
- The years go on.
- Then week of July 22 in 2018, you all head to the coast (except Andy who works in the Midwest sometime) to avoid the Portland heat wave. Then Tenzing gets sick for no obvious reason. Her first round of vomiting contains food and you find gooey brown puddles of it hidden downstairs. Then gradually throughout the day the vomit turns into just foam, and she no longer can hide her sickness. You find splotches of the white foam throughout the house with your bare feet.
- Tenzing has grown into a brave cat. When someone visits she lingers to see what the change will bring. If people settle in to a chat, she sits near and waits to be engaged.
- Tenzing has honed a unique performance artist skill based on a documentary she sat through about Marina Abramovic. But instead of silently and intensely staring at visitors (which T perfected years earlier) T hugs visitors. Sometimes she hugs and presses her heart on the heart of the other. Other times she mummers a stillness spell.
- Sometimes Tenzing’s hugs are mink coats -luxurious and long that can end in little naps (hers, and maybe sometimes yours).
- T may be a healer. After a stroke you take frequent naps and T appears from the nowhere and curls up next to your scrambled brain. Her purrs lower you into a structured sleep and you share dreams. They are mostly about hiding, hunting, and pouncing. In those dreams T is your teacher. There is a rigor to the dreams that straighten the ragged edges of your blurry brain.
- By the end of foamy vomit day, T’s stocky legs are splayed when she walks. And she falls into walls if she takes too many steps.
- By age 6 Tenzing takes to slow dancing and to Neil Young. The dancing is not unlike her hugging performance. Razor Love and Harvest Moon are her favorite songs. Or maybe they are yours. Sometimes her heart is not into the dance, but she gives in to you while staring out at birds on the wires outside over your shoulder.
- Most of that horrid foam vomit night you spend holding Tenzing close. She is holding on to you for what feels like for her own dear life.
- You leave her downstairs in a comfy bed with a saucer of water and hope she lives through the night.
- The coast house is in Lincoln City, which is really like saying ‘the country’. There are no 24 hour vets
- The next morning you wake up early, 5am, and find T has crawled up the stairs on her shaky legs to sleep in the bed with you. You hug away the hours until an early vet office opens.
- The vet in Lincoln City could only order xrays and blood work. The data indicate significant problems with her kidneys. This is shocking, you are in shock, and lean back into the chair with the news.
- Now listen, the vet says loudly while looking straight at you: Now you are going to go save your cat, drive to Portland and get into surgery right away.
- On the way out of town you stop at a drive-through coffee shop and realize then you are crying.
- So you drive 80 miles through the mountains and back into Portland where it is close to 100 degrees for the 7th day in a row and Portlanders are cranky and leaving town in tidal waves. The roads are clogged, the sides of the roads dotted with vehicles that have been in accidents. It is an Armageddon-lite scene complete with an unnaturally hot blazing sun and palpable citizen anger. And your cat is dying in the backseat.
- T mewls her discomfort only occasionally. She remains brave.
- You tell her stories about how you met. The one where she was wearing a blue collar of painters’ tape. The one where Hopper bit her eye. The one about her trip across the country to the house with catios and big windows.
- When you are in the emergency pet clinic in Portland you wait 4 hours as they work to get T’s vitals up. An hour later you are offered 3 options. Two of them end in death. The first way is quick (euthanasia) and 2nd option is a slow torturous treatment that mostly ends in death. The 3rd option is surgery, but surgery is in Corvallis, about 75 miles south of Portland. And you need to leave now. You are informed T needs around the clock care.
- You and Tenzing get back into the car and enter rush hour traffic to the south. The interstate is still clogged with citizens leaving the city. Almost all vehicles that aren’t commercial trucks carry too much gear—cars are loaded with trailers and bikes stacked on top of kayaks. Side windows are blocked with camping gear.
- T urinates in her carrier throughout this leg of the journey. You continue to tell T stories about her life. You soften the hard edges of the car with “I love you, don’t die” chants.
- At the clinic in Corvallis you meet 1 of the 2 doctors who will do surgery on T the next morning. There is an assistant with him, taking notes during the debriefing. The assistant is a big man, youngish. As you tell the story of T’s day and the windshield hours, the assistant begins to cry. You are both crying now. It is the sweetest thing, this big big man in a lab coat, nodding his head along to T’s story and wiping away fat tears. At one point he pulls a urine-soaked T out of the carrier and she hugs him as he paces.
- You tell him, “She is the best cat”. He nods and sniffles, “I can see that, yes yes”.
- There is no need for you now. You have handed her over to others who have a plan to heal her. You drive back to Lincoln City on a country road.
- It is the most beautiful of drives. The sky is clear and the sun has fallen behind the mountains and on its way down it tossed orange and pink high into the sky for a final folly. It reminds you of Gary the kitten and a young T. The fields are golden and reflect the late light. Wildflowers line the road. There is something in bloom with a wispy head and is back lit by the setting sun. There is something divine inherent in the scene. The land here has always extended its comforting arms to you, offering up soothing moments and gentle reminders of its constancy.
- You now take the first sip of the coffee you got in Lincoln City 9 hours ago. And it’s only then you recall the words of the young man who works the window:
- “Here, just take this coffee, it looks like you’re having a bad day. I hope it gets better.”