My day started with the slow climb up the stairs. Morning light slipped through the window and fought for dominance over the retreating shadows. At the top of the stairs, I eyed the door frame, which was splintered by the ritualistic scratching that delivered my daily freedom. Back behind the furnace, the remnants of breakfast lay spread out across the concrete floor. I reached high, flexing my back and began to scratch where I had left off the day before. Slivers of wood rained through the steps to the floor below. The sound reverberated upward through the walls and it wasn’t long before I heard the downward patter of footsteps from the place above.
The door opened allowing the sunlight to flow freely into the darkness below. I rushed through the light past my liberator and into the space above. “We need to work on your conditioning…your reaction time is too slow…I might have scratched my way through that door before you opened it! Oh…before I forget…I left something for you behind the furnace…you might want to check it out before your mother does the laundry!…where’s my milk?…acchtttt!…that’s yours too!”
“That’s what I’m talking about…hey…hey…don’t be pouring that on your cereal.” In a flash, I was up on the table, head-to-head with my nemesis – the red cereal box; Cap’n Crunch stared back menacingly. Before I could defend myself, I was placed unceremoniously back onto the floor; pushed toward a bowl in the corner. “C’mon…water again!” I could hear Cap’n Crunch wallowing contemptuously in the milk above. I detested that pompous, portly, milk-hoarding, swashbuckling man.
I lapped at the water with enthusiastic vigor, masking my true intent to spread as much of the water as possible onto the surrounding floor, then turning the bowl over as the final coup de grâce. With head held high, I strutted away from the bowl with confidence that all things find their place in time. As I headed toward the door to the outside, the red box was carried back to its place on the pantry shelf, aside the cellar stairs. “Heh…heh…see you later, Cap’n!”
I sat at the door, momentarily staring back at the mundane activity in the kitchen. “Hey…I don’t have all day!” “This door is not going to open itself!” “Abrir la puerta por favor!” I started to scratch at the door. “Oh yeah…that gets your attention…so predictable…keep playing with Mr. Potato Head…you’ll go far…jeez!” The door opened, but before I exited I made a few passes around and against his legs to measure his commitment to my well-being. He scratched behind my ears, which, in my experience, was his signal to me that it was safe to move into the world beyond the door and, more importantly, his intention to let me back into the house later. It’s good to have a house buddy, so out the door I went.
I sat and assessed my surroundings. This was truly my realm…well…at least among the three or four streets that demarcated the neighborhood around my house. Beyond that was the realm of “Mr. Pickles!” I spent the first part of my day marking my territory and property. Marking was necessary on a daily basis to establish ownership rights among my contemporaries. On this day, I owned the grass outside the front door, the rosebush on the side of the house, the neighbor’s hibachi, and little Janie’s doll…left outside…so fair game! When I physically could “own” no more, I moved across the street to sit for a while and watch the neighbor’s dog run, jump and bark itself silly on the other side of a tall chain-link fence. He’ll sleep well tonight! “You’re welcome!” With another task complete, I moved on.
As the early summer sun rose higher in the sky, I took the cue to check out the big sand box behind the house three doors down. The coolness of the sand softened the harshness of the building humidity, and within moments I was asleep. But only for a moment…for in the next, I parried and lunged and Cap’n Crunch’s little sword fell from his little hand. With his captain’s hat askew, a look of defeat spread across his mustachioed face. He begged for his salvation, “It’s got corn for crunch, oats for punch, and it stays crunchy, even in milk.” “The milk will be mine, Cap’n!” I promised. That moment of euphoria was suddenly interrupted by the sharp pain of a pincer, then another. I awoke to red ants parading up my back. So close I thought! I completed a quick roll in the sand to abate the ants, then moved on to other business. My business in a box…just like at home. “Do it in the box!” they would say. So I did it in this box…daily!
As I was finishing my business…shuffling my back feet, I was interrupted by two kids charging out the backdoor, each carrying beach toys…shovels and pails. I dashed from the box as they plopped down and began to dig. None of my business…it was now theirs. “You enjoy that kids…there’s a surprise in every box…like Cracker Jacks…be back tomorrow.” “Say hi to your mother for me!” I pranced back across the street and into another backyard. A basket of clothes was set upon the lawn; a few sheets remained hanging from the clothesline, continuing to dance in the warm summer air. I jumped into the basket and rolled around the sun-warmed clothes until I was content that most of the remaining sand and ants were removed. The back screen door opened and I was quickly eschewed to my next task.
Throughout the day, I continued to chase the sun as it moved across the sky. I completed various other responsibilities, which included chasing a butterfly until I ate it…chasing a grasshopper until I ate it….becoming the owner of a GI Joe…and playing with a mouse in the garage until I…“acchttt!…I’ll come back for that later!” All the while, keeping an eye out for Mr. Pickles.
The last hour of my day beyond the door was spent following the boys around the neighborhood assisting in the delivery of the evening newspaper. I followed them and the sun as they both fell behind the houses. Having completed the daily delivery at dusk, we entered the house through the back door. The boys washed up and joined the others for the family dinner.
As they sat together at the dinner table, they engaged in discourse about the events of their day, and I sat aside my overturned bowl and offered discourse about my day. With a periodic nod in my direction, or an occasional reach-out to scratch behind my ears, I knew they were listening and that, despite my occasional sarcasm, they cared.
After dinner, we moved to the living room for a quiet end to the evening. We all had our places; mine demarcated by a layer of hair embedded into the couch cushion. Games were played or TV watched. Sometimes the TV would play my favorite shows, which included contemporaries singing about a favorite food, descriptions of the attributes of my favorite drink that remained out of reach, or about newly designed “business” boxes that cleaned themselves. I thought about the house three doors down…why change a good thing…the kids love it and it does seem to clean itself. Sometimes, my enemy, the Cap’n, would flash on the screen; his sword back at his side, his hat back on his head. “Stays crunchy, even in milk!” he boasted. “Tomorrow the milk would be mine!” I vowed.
One-by-one, the residents of the house went upstairs to bed. I woke to one of the kids lifting me from the couch. A little more of my hair left on the couch for posterity. “Time for bed Tuffy.” She put me down on the floor and I followed her to the cellar door. The door opened slightly, allowing the kitchen light to leak onto the pantry along the staircase wall. In the light, I could make out a red cereal box placed precariously on one of the pantry shelves. I walked through the open door onto the cellar staircase landing. The door swung closed pinching out the last of the light.
In the darkness, there was a Meow! “Hello Cap’n!”