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Greetings,

This prime strip of digital real estate is the online home of my collected works as a writer.  I am greatly honored that you would take the time to visit here and peruse my amusements. And that is what the stories listed in that little box to the right are –  amusements. I take keen joy in stitching a story together with quirky characters, sticky situations, and a steady stream of words that play well together. Whether I’ve ever accomplished any of those literary ambitions is certainly up for debate.

This site holds in it’s incomprehensible vaults a vast array of thoughts that I have, at some point in the past five years, captured. In that same time, just as many scenes, real or imagined, have slipped by unrecorded, or lost to the ages due to the complications involved in some dramatic revelations. I am glad that some of them made it to the “page,” as it were. And, actually, in some cases, I’ve been paid a pittance to craft a tale, though not as often as I would like.

To this date, the entire list of publications who have paid me actual money to create a story for them can fit on a drunken carpenters hand: consisting of the Aspen Daily News (who invited me to write a weekly sports column centering on the Roaring Fork valley of Colorado despite (a.) not living within 1000 mile of said valley, and (b.) not writing a word about actual sports for four months running, instead figuring that there might be some corollary between the random happenings that I ventured into on the road as a corporate AV man,)  a magazine called BEER, which touts itself (and proudly) as the “Maxim of beer publications,” and who refused to pay me the agreed upon rate for 8 months until I threatened to drive down to Dana Point and shake it out of the boozy buggers, and the Monterey County Weekly, a free entertainment weekly who at random times sends me on assignments that I swear are created just to see what carnage I might exact from a delicate situation.

If you are interested in a little exploratory reading, then there ought to be plenty drama for you to gander at here: Newspaper columns, magazine profiles, journals, music reviews, essays, book reviews and blurbs, press releases, poems and lyrics. If you like something that you read here, then by all means, please comment below it or repost the story in the bright light of your own special network. The way things work nowadays, a single well placed click can get an undiscovered story noticed overnight. I think that they call this phenomenon a “virus”, and for some reason, that is supposed to mean that it “spreads” in a good, healthy/productive way. These things confuse me to no end.

Right then. Enough with the blathering on. Have at it!

Yours in constant wonderment,

Corby Anderson

PS- And for GOD SAKES, please don’t call it a blog!

Marina, CA

2010

Peyton+Manning+Oakland+Raiders+v+Denver+Broncos+D7_5AHwRZZSl

Dear Editor:

I am no proctologist, I only play one on the internets, but my casual observance of the general health of this old, stiff town that we call Aspen is that we need a major shot of B18 in our collective glute.

The gears that make this place fun have gotten rusty over time. Our very identity has shifted generationally, from bustling silver town to Andy Griffith’s Rocky Mountain Mayberry doppelganger, to burgeoning post-war ski dream, to Fat City — the last bastion of hippy ideals, to Bogata North, to our current status as POG Run (Playground Of the Elite,) until time and attrition has zapped us of our collective zeitgeist – FUN!

So, like any good Aspenite (who has never actually LIVED in Aspen, mind you,) I have an idea…a cure for the common suck.

The Aspen City Council should officially rename Main Street into Manning Street.

Think about it!

Peyton Bleeping Manning (PFM) arrived in Colorado as a battered, but determined man of honor, a proven leader who could Get Shit Done at the exact time that we needed a winner to look up to as we meekly emerged from the Great Recession, hanging our sporting hopes and dreams on the noodle arm and cloud-based head of Tim Tebow.

He immediately went to work, whipped our asses into shape, and transformed our Broncos from a curiously talented, poorly-led laughingstock into a dominant force that is now on the verge of our first Super Bowl championship since most of us still had hair. He has become the very face of Colorado. He is our state symbol. The Rare Bird.

Furthermore, I would posit that we hardy Aspenites identify with #18 as well as any place in this great state. I leave you with the following points to consider:

  1. We, the people, identify with our Sheriff here as positively as any community I’ve ever seen. He is our bell cow. Our eyes. Our ears. Our back. Our gun. And, as it would turn out, Peyton Manning, the great Hall of Fame Bronco quarterback, has earned that very nickname in his time here. PFM is The Sherriff of Colorado.

    2. If any town has an issue with hapless helmet head, it is Aspen: Ever been to après and seen the coiffure catastrophe post-powder day? (Why did I even ask that question?) When Peyton flashes that Big Red Forehead, it is like our personal Bat Sign has been shot up from Denver to bounce off of the Maroon Bells and shine back off of the face of Red Mountain. It is something that we can all rally behind and identify with.

  2. Unfortunately, like our pro-fused (but never confused) hero, if any town in Colorado has a problem with a stiff neck, Aspen is it! *This town boasts less spinal flexibility per capita than anywhere in the universe.
  3. Nobody who lives here has any idea what the streets are named. Not only will this move garner Aspen some good press, on the practical side, changing the actual pronunciation of Main Street to Manning Street only requires a slight verbal tick, an Elvisian drawl that most citizens here take on after 9pm out of circumstance anyways. Say it with me…Main Street. Manning Street. Am I right?
  4. Above all, we MUST keep it weird, here, folks. Always. As the soul sisters and brothers who look after the livability and reputation of the world’s greatest ski town, this is our prime directive, our collective task, and our duty.

I hereby ask the good citizens of the Aspen City Council to take this request into official consideration. After the Orange Crush puts the clamps on that brutal ox Cam Newguy and his upstart Panthers, and PFM leaves his all-time great career and any hope of ever feeling his extremities on the field by leading the Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco/somewhere north of Fresno, we can all celebrate with a Super Bowl championship parade right down Manning Street, USA.

GO BRONCOS!

Corby Anderson

Emma

(*The preceding orthopedic “statistic” likely has no factual merit.)

The Phantom

Stalking the Phantom: Elk hunting in the West Elks

By Corby Anderson

(*This story was originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Edible Aspen magazine)

There is nothing in the world like silently moving through pitch-black wilderness on opening day of elk season in the Rocky Mountains.

The first mile in is a willful test of mind over body as your back, legs and lungs protest against their toil. If you packed right, you will easily haul 25 or more pounds of water and survival gear in a pack that is cinched snugly to your hips. Your brain, tired as it may normally be at the 5 am hour, reels with adrenaline as you get further away from your truck, and the comforts of civilization.

But calm your mind you must, for The Phantom is out there watching, waiting for the slightest aberration in its forested view before melting away, vanishing outright. As centuries of successful elk hunters have found, only the mindful can have this dance.

The first hill is the hardest. Here, on these first few climbs, all of those summer bike rides, trail runs and CrossFit “WOD’s” will pay off. We elk hunters eat miles like trail mix, often post-holing in knee deep snow or bush whacking through dense underbrush. When we get tired, we chug some water, crank down on the pack straps, and log some more. Later, if the Great Spirit blesses us with an elk, we will retrace our steps over these mountains with a hundred pounds of meat strapped to our backs. It is the nature of the beast. At some point in the course of a long week of hunting, we all ask ourselves why we are here at this ungodly hour, stalking phantoms through the snow.

The answer becomes crystal clear when pulling a packet labeled “Tenderloin, Bull 13” from the nice, neat rows of white paper packages in your old Frigidaire freezer. There is no tastier, healthier protein than elk. Despite (or because of?) the hard work, there’s no more satisfying way to spend a week than hunting in the high country. Few complain. Those who do generally eat fast food all winter.

You climb on—the plan is to be stationed somewhere on a mountainside overlooking one of the many meadows, or “parks” right at daybreak. The Phantom is a day sleeper. At night, the herd browses the meadows for the last tall grass before the snow piles high. When the western sky harkens a new day, the herd will move from the open meadows to the relative safety of deep green pine forest cover.

But on this day, the plan has changed before the sun even had a chance to yawn. Ullr, the Norse god of winter has blessed you with almost a foot of fresh snow overnight. The old foot and hoof traffic have been covered up. Even in the featureless murk of the pre-dawn forest, fresh tracks are visible. Close inspection of the scene reveals a shiny black pile of elk dung. If the nuggets squish, it’s recent. If it is warm, lock and load.

It’s warm.

So begins the dance. The Phantom is on this mountain.

You are well off the established trail now, following several tracks uphill through mixed aspen and pine. The sun is at your back, its rays splashing haphazardly in vertical sheaths that kiss the white aspen bark. A low blanket of haze hovers over the snowy forest floor.

The forest is NOT a quiet place. With the right ears, the wilderness can hold an almost deafening cacophony of sounds. Woodpeckers hammer their beaks into solid wood. Crows swoop and caw. Trees sway to and fro in the breeze, their branches creak and howl like rocking chairs on an old cabin porch. Squirrels screech their warnings as you traverse their neighborhood. “Busted,” you whisper to yourself after every startling rodent war-whoop.

Your mantra has taken over your thoughts. “FEEL,” you say to yourself with every tenth step. It is a trick a mountain climbing friend taught you way back when. FEEL. There in the middle of the fresh tracks is a cantaloupe colored hole in the snow. You reach down into the snow and smell. The urine is warm, the smell strong. You rub the scent on your coat to help mask your own. The native drums are strong in your head now.

BOOM BOOM BOOM boom. BOOM BOOM BOOM boom.

FEEL.

Breathe deeply. Smell the cold morning air. The musk of elk wafts in amongst the piney breeze. Your pace quickens. Instinctually, you walk on the balls of your booted feet, avoiding the alarming snap of a broken branch underfoot. Luckily, the new snow is soft enough to walk quickly but quietly.

Cresting the hill, you notice a few strangely colored boulders lying in the open slope. Like any forest animal, your instinct is to stop and study the strange. The rock nearest you is an umber color, almost orange, and shines in the light. Slightly further away are a cluster of brownish stones. Stock still, you watch for a few seconds, minutes, or is it eons? The drums in your head march on, louder now.

The rock stands up.

Before you know it, you have leveled your rifle at The Phantom that stands majestically before you. Though you won’t remember doing so later, you have already flipped open the plastic covers to your scope, racked a 180 grain, .308 inch Springfield bullet into your elk rifle, and flipped off your safety.

The Phantom snorts the air, smelling for the direction of the danger that it instinctually feels. You count the tines on one side of its fearsome rack. One, two, three, four, five, SIX! It stands still, quartering away from your position. It’s muscles tense and ripple under pelt. But it does not see you, yet. Silently, you wait, watching through the crosshairs of your scope. Calm. Be calm, you tell yourself. Your heart races, the drums in your brain beat on.

BOOM BOOM BOOM boom.

The Phantom turns slightly, showing you its right shoulder. Its vitals come into view.

BOOM BOOM BOOM boom. FEEL.

BOOM.

*Corby Anderson is a writer, videographer, teacher and musician who works out of the A-frame loft of an old cabin in Emma, Colorado. His short stories, essays, poetry, and assorted works can be enjoyed at corbyanderson.wordpress.com. His first novel, Washing Out, is nearly complete and will be available in the winter of 13-14.

Making the sausage sidebar:

Step 1: Beg, borrow, buy or buy a commercial grade meat grinder. Your neighbor with the big muddy truck has one, and will gladly trade its use for some fresh elk or venison bratwurst.

Step 2: Pick up some sausage casings. Epicurious in El Jebel usually has them. Soak for two hours (the casings and yourself, if either of you are just coming in from the woods) and wash away the brine that the casings are packed in when you get home. While you are out, stop by your local grocer and scoop up several pounds of good ol’ pork fat. If your local butcher is fresh out, ground pork will do. Mix this with the naturally lean elk or venison to keep your homemade brats moistened when cooked. A good rule of thumb for the mixture is 60/40 meat-to-fat ratio.

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground elk or venison

2 lbs pork fat or ground pork

1 large onion, minced

½ teaspoon sugar

2 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoons caraway seed

½ teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon marjoram

1 teaspoon pepper

2/3 cup milk

Making the sausage: Pour yourself a tall, refreshing beverage and turn on the Broncos game. (Due to the hands-on nature of the brat-making process, this will be the last time you touch the remote until the brats are in the freezer.) Mix all of your ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl. (This might be a good time to enlist a loved on as an assistant.) Scoop the mixed meat into the grinder. Place the casing over the stuffing tube and hold fast. Turn the grinder on. If the casing fills with air, squeeze it out. Fill the casing with the ground meat mix and tie it off at the end. Fill with mix until approximately bratwurst-length, then gently pinch and twist four or five times, and start on the next link. Let the sausage links coil as you fill. When done, throw a few links on the grill and freeze the rest in plastic wrap and butcher paper.

*Be sure to give a pack or two of bratwurst to your hunting buddies who helped you haul 300 pounds of delicious meat out of the backcountry!

Editors Note: This letter was initially sent to the two local papers here in the Aspen area, though neither paper chose to publish. The issue in question is whether our small community should or should not vote to approve the taxes to fund a killer new rec center, which I believe is sorely needed in our “mid-valley” area. 

Don’t Believe the Greedy: Working Class Residents of the Mid-Valley Need the Crown Mountain Recreation Center

Bro’s and dudettes,
It is with fierce urgencyness that I write to the editors of this steamed journalistic endeavor in high hopes that my personal evacuations can be spiked into the public record.

Rockers, I urge you all to get your reps in like big dogs and vote often to pass Measurables 4C and 4D and let the mid-valley finally have the sweat factory it needs and deserves. It’s time to stop the bitching and start the lifting you Sally’s!

That wet, white stuff is falling again, and with it I find myself seeking an indoor place to push some iron, shoot some hoops, and make some waves. The prob is, to do so, we working-class mid-valleyerianites have to travel from here to Muscle Beach and back just to use the sweet facilities that our bro-munities have built for themselves. That’s a lot of time on the roads, bros!  We loc’s need the Crown Mountain Recreation Center to get our groove on here in our own burly neck of the woods without wasting all of that fuel and GTL time getting to the rack and back.

Call me kooky, but it seems to me that the greedy yup’s writing to the paper to complain about having to pay $2000 per year extra on their property taxes either made that number up, did the math wrong (what with the published $60 per year per $100,000 of appraised home value proposed as funding for the killer new gym) or, if I did their math right, have houses worth millions and maybe not oughta complain about not being able to pay for their kids’ schoolitation. Like, maybe have the kid get a job at the Rec, yo? That should help get their college fund AND their bod’s pumped up!

We regular Joe Old Snowmastadons, Basaltines, Emmaites, and El Jebelinarians have suffered enough from the migratory greed that has flowed DV ever since The Crippler got 86’ed. Give us and our kids a spot and let’s pass these Measurements and build this prime slice of radness so that we can reach our maxes here at home in the MV!

Sensationally,

C. Madison Anderson

Emma, CO

 

  

“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.” – Thomas Jefferson

48261_301408206640767_665255221_o*Recently I was asked to write a new bio for a musician friend whose music I have long admired. This is the bio that I sent to him. The entire post below didn’t make it though the editing process, so rather than leave hard-thought words flailing on the cutting room floor, I am posting the bio here. The final version can be found at Billy’s website, billyshaddox.com.

Billy Shaddox is blessed with the ability to blend the Western dualities of coastal dreamer and high mountain drifter into his deep, easy flowing songs.

Rooted in stories of love and fortune lost, perspective and enlightenment gained, Shaddox captures the mystique of the West with indelible lyrical imagery and sharply original musicality: the displaced modern man weary of coping with vanishing ideals, the present-minded realist, the uncontrollable jealousy of the downtrodden miner, and the bright-eyed morning traveler setting out to make his mark on the world.

The characters who inhabit Shaddox’s tunesy tales have a depth of personality and situational believability that leaves the listener feeling affected by their being long after their songs have woven their course.

Golden Fate, Shaddox’s newest record, builds on a strong decade of songwriting and musical performance that has now seen two solo records that easily fit into the Americana genre, along with four releases by his powerful, unheralded San Diego-based country-rock band Billy Midnight.

The record is generously layered with Shaddox’s signature lonesome Telecaster twang, picture perfect acoustic guitar and banjo work, and the soulful wail of his homemade lap steel. The lyrics are neck hair bristling at times, captivatingly laced with references to the wondrous powers of nature and destiny, the joys and travails of living simply, and the introspective importance of home and family. It is one of those rare records that, without being over ambitious in an effort to, seems to eerily match the listeners life circumstances in subtle ways that are revealed deep into multiple listening sessions.

Bouncy and evocative like the best Woody Guthrie dustbowl gospels at times, dark and forlorn in Cashesque grandeur at others, Golden Fate verily demands for to be taken out on a long, thoughtful desert drive where it should be played through barely adequate speakers that compete with the crackling of a sage and juniper campfire, echoing on and on off of steep canyon walls.

Corby Anderson

Emma, Colorado

January 4, 2013

I’ve never used Down Canyon as a place to simply link to other content, but today I am making an exception. 

My buddies Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers have recorded a GREAT GREAT rock song, and I want to share it with you. 

“It’s A Little Too Late to Die Young” – now streaming for free at Relix. It’ll go live for download on Jan. 15. Check it out!

http://www.relix.com/news/2013/01/14/premiere-nicki-bluhm-and-the-gramblers-little-too-late

HPIM1667.JPGThe Dying of the Cotton

“Dude, I think that you need a cat.”

Those fateful words were uttered in the middle of another sleep-deprived Colorado night back in the year of Ought-Four. My redheaded lady friend at the time – now my sweet wife – was the utterer. The ancient timber walls of the rancher’s cabin that I lived in were alive with mysterious activities. Every night, the dance of the deer mice began somewhere in the vicinity of the headboard of my double bed, then ran a hidden course that looped all the way around the small cabin in a loud circuit. Small shadows darted about the pine floors. Food supplies, both human and canine, were regularly attacked. The constant scurrying had my old dog Bear in a frenzy of frustrated patrols.

The last straw came when, lost in a pre-dawn codeine stupor while fighting the lingering Crud, I awoke to the tapping of a clammy nose upon my feverish cheek. Cracking one bloodshot eye, I made out the hazy image of a ragged-looking mouse sitting up on my chest. He was holding the keys to my truck in his outstretched hand. “We’re gonna take the Ford for a spin up to the Cardamone place. There’s a mouse party goin’ down up yonder…Cheese, milk, cereal by the barrel…the whole nine centimeters,” the rodent said nonchalantly. “Thought that you might want to know that you’ll probably be late for work today. We’ll be back around 11… Ish…” it added.

“Ohhh. OK. Thanks…I guess. But hey…can you put some fuel in the truck? I’m almost out,” I replied. My head was woozy. The room was spinning. “Sure, sure, bub. We’ll “put some fuel in it” the mouse retorted with a sarcastic wink and the flicking of his rubbery paws in the universal sign of mocked quotation.

When I emerged from my narcotic slumber it was past noon. I looked out of the window and saw that my truck was parked halfway into Miss Carolyn’s prized azaleas. I looked down at the kitchen floor and was not surprised by what I saw. At least a baker’s dozen mice were passed out haphazardly on the linoleum, smiles cast on their milk-stained faces, yellow curds clutched greedily in their awful paws. “Bear! Get em!” I shrieked. The half-Shepherd, half-Chow, half-human leapt into action from his nap at the foot of the bed. The mice all sat up slowly, watching his progress across the 10 feet that separated them with bemused looks, not unlike Monty Python’s French castle guards. Bear growled fiercely as he narrowed the gap, and was about to tear into the mess of them with a year’s worth of pent up, stolen-Alpo doggie fury when the entire stoned colony of mice bolted in every direction at once. All of them, that is, but one.

The Bear stood above him snarling like I had never seen him snarl before – well, other than every day the UPS man comes by that is. But rather than cower at the sight of the relatively enormous monster before it, the mouse produced a tiny white glove from beneath it, methodically straightened out each of its fingers, and then rudely slapped the menacing dog once each way across the nose in rapid succession before hopping off towards a large hole underneath the sink cabinets. Just before it vanished into its hole, the mouse looked back at the two of us, both frozen in stunned silence, and flipped us an exaggerated, arched back double bird, then wheeled and slipped into the darkness. We were still stilling there in frozen astonishment when we saw a creepy ribbed tail emerge backwards from the hole, followed by a hairy rat’s ass. Then, preceded by a discernibly gross, cheesy fart, and there before Jah Rastafari, Bear Anderson, and a shelve full of shocked-looking antique action figures, the Francophile mouse shat a row of shining black poo pebbles onto the kitchen floor. Prior to that moment, I did not think it possible for a dog to wince, but it became clear to me then by looking at the pained look on Bear’s face told me that it was indeed Time To Get A Cat.

Two weeks later, almost as if on cue, a mixed litter of black, white, and grey barn kittens were born in a loft of the ranch where I lived. My girlfriend (and now my wife) had by then moved into the 500 square foot cabin, along with her three beloved ferrets, and was insistent that we claim one of the litter when they were old enough to leave their mother, Muffin.

I had never owned a cat. Never really been around cats other than one that my roommates had in college – an orange tabby named Goat who mostly lived outside with the chickens and the couches. My parents had never had a cat, and I am fairly certain that their parents hadn’t either. I generally mocked those friends of mine that had cats as being soft. The concept was totally foreign to me. But Sharon had grown up with cats and after her own run-in’s with the mousey mafia that ruled our roost, I was assigned, literally, a tiny, bright-eyed white kitten with snappy black patches on its face and one paw and a long grey-stripped raccoon tail.

We brought him into the cabin and Sharon, her ferrets, Bear and I all watched in awe as this little furbearing rocket flew around our house, leaping from dresser to the bed, from the bed to the door sill, performing consistent acts of gravity defiance. Our neighbors Adrian and Susan came over to check on the brother of their two kittens, Pancho and Lefty. We all sat in a circle watching the kitten frolic, drinking Tullamore Dew scotch whiskey from the bottle, and pitching names for the thing. It was Adrian, a native North Carolinian like myself with deep roots across the south, who came up with the name that stuck: Cotton. I would later add an unofficial prefix to the name – Rotten.

Days turned into months and Cotton steadily grew from his initial miniscularity into a fine looking full sized cat. Within weeks of his arrival into our little cabin world, our mouse problem had ebbed into just an occasional brave (or stupid) loner who hadn’t heard the news: There was a new sheriff in town, and he wasn’t taking any prisoners. I have never seen Bear more happy. Finally we could all sleep in peace, except for the occasional sudden midnight flurry, usually followed by a contented sounding CRUNCH CRUNCH from somewhere in the kitchen area. One morning I awoke to find the cat in his customary place –lodged like a shiv, forming a perfect dividing line with the Bear dog between Sharon and I. I was stroking the soft fur on his head when my hand coursed over his face, where something tangibly out of place found my touch. Bleary eyed, I sat up and peered over at him. Sticking out of his smiling mouth was a tiny white glove. Cotton had found his true calling at a very young age. We should all be so lucky.

II.

Cotton lived what I imagine to be the most happy and fulfilling life a cat can hope for on the Shipp Ranch for several years prior to our 2005 move to the clean (but busy) streets of Carbondale, Colorado.  In the winters, he curled up and lounged with us in the cozy cabins. When the snow melted enough that his paws would tolerate the frigidity of the earth, he booked it for the pasture fences, where he would stalk the rails in a low crouch, feeding on a veritable Arc of wildlife – field mice, rabbits, birds of a hundred feathers, lizards, snakes, and the occasional Formerly Sentient Being To Be Named Later.

Despite the anti-camouflage of his stark white coat and his daring do in a heavily hunted predatory zone, Cotton survived and thrived at ranch life. He outlasted his mother and the three of his litter mates that were kept on the ranch, all of whom were picked off by a particularly wily pack of coyotes, though he regularly came home with fresh scars that foretold of difficult battles with larger mammals.

The move to our new townhouse was a blessing for Sharon and myself. We finally had our own place, along with the room to spread out a bit that any co-habitative long-term cabin-dweller eventually yearns for. The “kids,” however, seemed to lose a little bounce in their new city lives. No longer free to roam wide pastures and open space, and confined to the house for fear of the many cars and trucks that buzzed our neighborhood, Cotton and Bear both whined and whimpered at the front and back doors of the house, often one at each, an achievement of stereophonic guilt.

Eventually, we relented. With his regular, mournful moan becoming intolerable, and after a few long man –to-cat talks, Cotton was given the run of Barber Drive. It was not an easy decision. The irony of the name Car-bon-dale was not lost on me. We knew the possibilities that his street walking might bring. In the end, we figured that with the ideal life that he had already led, he deserved a chance to go out (in this case, literally) on his own terms. Survival of the fittest, carpe meow, all ‘dat…

I was not surprised in the least that he took to the dangerous city streets as easily as he did to the predatorily hazardous ranch trails. He was the quickest cat I’ve ever known, with extra cat-like agility. Regularly I would be sitting on the back porch overlooking the hubbub of Hendrick Drive when I would see a white flash emerge from underneath a parked car, dash across the road comfortably ahead of oncoming traffic, and disappear under the cars and trucks parked across the way. And, ever evening, just like clockwork, when the wife or I would go out on the front stoop and clang a tuna can with a wooden spoon, here would come Cotton, just as dirty and bloody and happy as ever.

III.

It was three in the morning in Posen, Michigan when polite knuckles rapped on the door of Sharon’s childhood bedroom door. I was there to meet her parents and multitude of strapping, protective-looking siblings, and, if everything went well, to ask her father’s permission to marry his daughter. Bleary eyed from the late hour and the gallons of pilsner consumed earlier at the bonfire meet and greet, we heard the voice of Sharon’s mother, Rita. She sounded concerned, but ever so politely. “There is a girl on the phone for you Corby. I think that she speaks another language. She wants to talk to you,” she said. Her tone worried me. Her tone worried me. There are, after all,  very few potential positive outcomes when a French woman calls your girlfriends parents house in the middle of the night of your engagement party asking for you.

Thanking my future mother-in-law, I took the call. “Zee cat, eez squieeeshed!” said the voice on the other line. I recognized it to be that of my TV station intern, Cecile, a Frenchwoman who was at our house watching the animals for us. “Zee cat! Eet eez squished…oh no I feel zo tereeebley!” she said again in a Franco lilt. “Eer. Talk to zee veterinarian,” she said sadly, pronouncing every syllable of “vegetarian” with utmost care.

The vet got on the phone and told us that Cotton had been ran over by a car. He said that Cecile had brought him in that night, but that he suspected the accident to have happened earlier, maybe a full day earlier. She had found him after hearing a low moan outside of our bedroom window – usually a sound only heard coming from Peeping Juan, the town pervert. “He doesn’t look good. He’s got a broken leg and pelvis. We can’t know of the internal damage to his organs until we get into surgery,” he said calmly. “I need a credit card for that,” he added.

Sharon was listening over my shoulder. She started to cry, which in turn made me tear up. I repeated to her what the doctor was telling me. She cried more. So did I. “How much is it?” I asked, pondering the impossible question that faces every pet or car owner: how much is your old friend, your family member even – life worth?

I am not a rich man. Never have been. Hope to be someday, like most probably do or should, but at that time to say that my finances were limited is an understatement. The vet told us that while he couldn’t be sure what the total costs might be, depending on the injuries found in exploratory surgery, he thought that $3000 was a good number to start with. The number hit both of us like a brick. When he added that “even with surgery there is a very good chance that Cotton will never walk with his back legs again,” I felt a whole wall of bricks tumble down on my suddenly saddened brain. “Or, I could put him down in a painless procedure. That costs about $200 bucks.” More bricks.

We asked to have a minute to discuss the decision and told him that we would call back in a few minutes. We called Carolyn, the owner of the ranch where Cotton was born. Carolyn Shipp possesses a unique combination of qualities: great empathy towards all living creatures, along with a Libertarian sensibility when it comes to business. We gave her the facts. She paused. Then she told us what we knew in our hearts already: with no easy way to pay and no clear promise of recovery, we should let the vet euthanize the cat.

Fighting back tears, I called the vet back. “Doc, we have to let him go. For all of the reasons discussed before. I need you to ask Cecile to hold the phone up to Cotton’s little ears so that I can say goodbye.”

“Well, if THAT is your decision, then I’ll just see what I can fix and put him up for adoption,” the veterinarian replied unexpectedly. “Excuse me? Did you just sa…” I stammered, shocked. “Yes you did. I’ll repeat it. If you are asking me to put this cat to sleep, I will not do it. I will fix him and then adopt him out to a caring family.” Silence. The weird silence of slow motion bricks tumbling down onto more bricks.

I threatened to sue right then and there. “I’ll have your fucking license for this stunt!” I yelled. Sharon sat amazed, sad. The veterinarian tried to explain what he meant. I countered and shut him down. He tried again. “I’ll tell you what. Let me see what the injuries are and we can figure out the payment later,” he said, humbled. “Well, obviously if he can be fixed, fix the boy. But I ain’t able to pay that kind of money, nor will I, after this bullshit phone call,” I iterated. It pained me to argue for the death of a good friend, but there were principles at play, and I am, if anything, a man of principles. We agreed on surgery. I was connected to Cotton via cell phone speaker to cat ear. “Hang in there buddy. We love you. Bear loves you. Doc’s gonna fix you up good,” I said, expecting that would be the last time I spoke to him. He did not answer. I thanked Cecile and tried to explain to her that she was in no way responsible. I asked that she take care of the dude the best that she could if he made it out of surgery and that we would be home within four days.

I hung up, and we stayed up the rest of the night fretting for Cotton’s life and deciding whether to drive home in the morning or to carry on with our trip as planned. There were elderly grandparents to visit with yet, and I still had a secret, seriously convoluted engagement plan complete with documentary film crew, special after hours private tour and post-yes (I hoped!) catered dinner in a historic lighthouse on Mackinac Island to see to.

To all of our excitement, except possibly Cecile, who had to nurse a partially paralyzed cat for several days, Cotton came out on the topside of surgery. The car had indeed broken his rear leg and shattered his pelvis, but other than a bruised spleen and a hernia, his internal organs had survived intact. Cecile told me to stay on and to go through with my engagement plan/scheme. By the time that we returned, Cotton had graduated from dragging himself around our condo with his front paws to gingerly walking. It was a miracle of sorts. I had condemned a dead cat to being deader. He not only survived being hit by a car, but my own execution order. We kept him inside after that.

IV.

Two years later, on the last days of the year 2007, our herd moved from the frigid winter chill of the Rocky Mountains to the relatively balmy climes of Monterey, California. I wanted to write a book and to find a way to advance my career in media. Sharon wanted to study dentistry. Bear and Cotton wanted some space. Off we went, into the maw of a massive winter storm, our lives jam packed into a U-Haul truck and chase vehicle.

We wound up in a wonderfully spacious ranch-style four bedroom house in the old Army base town of Marina, formerly Fort Ord. The house had a large fenced back yard AND a large fenced front yard. The neighborhood traffic in rural California was perplexingly, and blessedly, light compared to that of the small mountain town in Colorado from whence we had migrated. An enormous sand dune and the four-lane Highway 1 embankment was all that separated us from the glory and danger of the Pacific Ocean. At night we could sit INSIDE the house and hear the ocean roar. Birds were everywhere, much to Cotton’s satisfaction. From little sparrows to cormorants, seagulls to Snowy Plovers — you couldn’t toss a sourdough crumb without a dozen flying creatures clamoring over the score.

After a few weeks of beach life, it was decided that Cotton would once again be an outside cat. Maybe the calm, serene atmosphere of fog and ocean breezes got us to lighten up, or maybe the cats own outdoorsy personality and the telepathically transmitted insistence of his innate need to be Out There won us over, but out he went. Right away he picked up his hunting and general carousing as he had before. His street smarts were evident immediately. We watched him gracefully maneuver Brookside Place and the surrounding feeder roads. Maybe it helped that there was less traffic. Maybe it was that the roads there were built wider enough for three tanks to drive parallel to one another and still have room for a fleet of jeeps to be parked on either side of the road.  Perhaps or boy, by now known affectionately as “the stupid cat” had learned a little something from his run in with the Michelin Man.

Whatever it was, he had the outside cat game fully wired now.

Though fixed, and not necessarily burly by cat standards, Cotton fought like a wildcat with the neighboring cats until it was clear by the noises of each scrap and by Cotton’s studly saunter while leaving each catty scene that he had ascended to alpha of the Brookside pride. He had girlfriends at seemingly every house on the block. When he came home and did not eat his food, we worried some, until we were told by several neighbors that he was wont to visitation and meal privileges in several neighborhood households. He and his buddy, the Bear dog, now visibly aging, tag teamed the local bird population. Not a morning went by that I did not hear my wife’s sing song voice emanating from the living room. “See the birdies?” she would say in her best baby mama voice. It nearly brought the house down every time, with both cat and dog howling in agreeance while clawing into the glass door. Oh, they saw the birdies alright.

Several months later we brought home a soul who was unwittingly to become Cotton’s best friend and worst tormentor. Hondo the dog was born in a Missoula, Montana English Shepherd puppy mill.

It was on New Years eve later that year when I was to realize the sordid nature of his origins, but I should have known. The breeder’s business was called Shady Lane Puppy Farms.  We had looked around all over the regional papers for a pup from this particular breed, but finally were forced to ship Hondo in from out of state. He arrived at the San Jose Airport in a plastic and steel dog crate. He was tiny and scared and visibly confounded by his plight. To comfort him, I had brought along a film crew to document our meeting, along with large photo print outs of his new family. “This is your mama,” I said, holding up a photo of Sharon to the open crate door. He stayed cowering in the back. “This is The Bear, your new brother. He’s the best dog ever,” I said. A tiny, fuzzy black, brown and white painted ear perked, but that was it. “And this, this is your kitty,” I said, holding up the 8×11 color photo of Cotton. YAP! The pup snapped out of his apoplexy, rushing forth to sniff the photo. HIS kitty. It was love/hate/terror/love at first sight.

V.

My intended mission for Hondo was for the youngster to grow to be my old boy Bear’s friend and understudy as he entered his golden years. And while he took to that role with a natural canine camaraderie (though his herding instincts kept the aging Bear on his guard for sneak attack “drive bys”), it was the depth of his friendship with Cotton the cat that surprised us all.

The two were fast friends, literally. Cotton was prone to the “midnight zoomies,” a crack head-like spasmodic reaction to God-knows-what provocation. As a night owl myself, I grew to appreciate these impressive displays of deep-night random energy and strange feline athleticism, but the same cannot be said for Hondo.

Hondo is a weird sleeper. He splays out upside down like a hairy, de-shelled turtle. Cotton seemed to time his evening calisthenics to just about the time that Hondo would grow bored with my Sportscenter fixation, roll over and grunt himself to sleep. Then, with a punk spirit, the Goddamn Cat (Hondo’s words, not mine) would deftly launch himself from the top shelf of the couch down onto the sleeping dogs’ exposed belly, touching down only briefly enough to gather himself and steal a quick catty sneer at the startled pup, before bounding off down to the deck and sprinting off around the far reaches of the house. The poor dog, of course, had no chance. There was no catching a hyped up barn cat with rascality in his blood and evasive maneuvers woven deeply into his sinew.

VI.

We moved a total of four times during the Reign of Cotton. The third and fourth moves were rapidly stacked together, with (thankfully) just two months internment in the California Dutch hellhole known as Ripon, California.

That was the amount of time it took to kill my best friend Bear, who was riddled with two types of cancer and held a fragile football-sized tumor in his poor belly, contract a persistent case of walking pneumonia, pack our beach house up, move the family to Ripon to take a job writing for a couple of TV food show producers who turned out to be the sleaziest, heartless, lowdown scum sucking dirt bags in the history of an industry rife with sleazy scum suckers, drop off the family at our new house before promptly jumping on a plane to the Super Bowl in Dallas for work, find out that my dear Grandma had died in a fall, succumb to the gathering sickness in my hotel room, be excused to go home, fly to the funeral, deliver the eulogy, return to my new home to find out that I was fired, and spend a month looking hopelessly for work in a recession-ridden Central California town that neither Hitchcock nor Steinbeck could have dreamt up.

In that time, Cotton seemed resentful of our move to inner-suburbia. His forays out into the neighborhood were forbidden, as the traffic was regular and the bird-loving neighbors overt enough to let on that cats don’t last long in their hood, a comment that seemed to have nothing to do with the pace and regularity of the traffic and much to do with their Taj Mahalesque bird mansion that measured 25 floors and covered more lawn space than a live oak.

So, instead of his jocular life of outdoor adventures, he was cooped up, whiny, and dispirited. Not even a chance to have a go at the upturned, snoozing pup seemed to rile his mischievous instincts. Gone were the midnight zoomies. Instead, he slept all day, and moaned pitifully at the foot of the door all night.

VII.

Thankfully, fate intervened. One morning, as I teetered near my breaking point in Ripon following an ugly encounter with the neighbor over her perfidious threat to call the cops on us to have my old, temporarily dead 1972 Chevelle towed away as a neighborhood eyesore, I got a text from Dan Shipp, the Mississippi lawyer who owned the Colorado ranch that Cotton had been born on. “What y’all doin?” he asked in his trademark gentlemanly draw. “Pondering a good, old fashioned neighborly fire bombing, to be quite honest. As my lawyer, what kind of time do you think I’m looking at if I torch the neighbor skank’s bird castle?” I replied.

He must have sensed the mounting frustration in my voice, because within minutes he had offered us the chance to move back to his ranch to the little old cabin that we had lived in years before. Within 24 hours we were packed into a 21’ U-Haul, had accidentally knocked off the birdfeeder while backing the attached Chevelle-hauling trailer out of the driveway, and had abandoned uncaring California for the open-armed Colorado. As soon as we had negotiated our long-haul truck and trailer down the narrow dirt road that leads to Shipp Ranch, Cotton began mewing uncontrollably, sparking a mystified Hondo to follow suit.

VIII.

Back on the ranch, Cotton quickly regained his mojo. Now an adult, his mousing skills had sharpened to the point of mastery. Soon, he graduated to squirrels, then small rabbits, along with a steady stream of birds. To supplement his diet, he would throw in a green snake or two a week, a horrendous habit that he seemed eager to share with us by way of dragging the live, squirming snakes into the window before releasing them on our bedroom floor for further examination.

For these field hunts, he often teamed up with his uncle, a grey Maine Coon known as Mister Tigger. It was not unusual to see the two of them stalking a pole fence, one on the top row, and the other on the one below, each crouched low as they scanned the pasture grasses for prey. Inevitably, a family brawl would ensue over the prize, with Cotton regularly pummeling a cat so legendarily tough that it was fabled to have once fended off a coyote by blinding the dog with a vicious frontal Ninja-cat attack.

At long last, Rotten Cotton was back in his element, living what is surely the dream of all cat – wandering open country that was filled with feline delights, dominating the neighboring competition, then returning home to the small cabin at night to curl up under the tall legs of the old wood stove to slumber until his next adventure.

IX.

It was early spring when I got the call. I had started a new job with the local community college, and was in a meeting when my phone buzzed in my pocket. The number was not one that I recognized, but it was local so I decided to excuse myself from the meeting and see who was trying to reach me.

Though I deigned to admit it, I knew the reason for the call even before I answered it.

Cotton had been missing for four days. It was not unusual for him to stay out all night, but he always returned sometime early the next morning. This time he had not. His colleague Hondo had been wandering around for most of a week with a worried look on his brow, standing by the door looking out at all hours of the day, whimpering a bit at night. He eagerly sniffed the bushes on the mountainside beside the cabin on hikes to look for Cotton, both of us quietly hoping not to happen upon any soft white fur, soaked in red.

He was old, Cotton was. Near nine by now. Maybe he wandered off to die, I told my wife in an attempt to reassure her against the doom that we felt looming each night that he did not return. “No, he was fit and healthy. He’s been eaten. I’m sure of it,” she lamented. “Fucking coyotes…” She muttered. I kept a rifle at the ready, in case revenge opportuned.

Just in case, I made a sign and posted it on several power poles around the ranching community where we live. “White male cat with a grey coon tail. Goes by the name of Cotton, missing since Sunday,” it read. I chose two of my favorite pictures of Cotton for the sign. One was a shot that showed his full body, for identification purposes. In that shot, taken in the pitiful Ripon days when the one bright spot in our lives was the addition of a comfy leather couch that we purchased with money sent to us after my Granma’s death, Cotton lay splayed out on the top of the new leather couch, straddling the couch top like a horse saddle. His white fur glistened in the photo. His grey and black-streaked ears perked up and a quizzical look etched on his face as I stood behind him flipping him the bird. It was my way of warning him not to scratch our one good piece of furniture, which, amazingly, he never did.

The other photo that I included on his want ad was one taken in our condo in Carbondale, soon after he had miraculously recovered from being “squeeshed” by “zee car” and then doomed to the vet’s eternal needle by me, before being subsequently saved by the bungling vet.

This photo featured a close up of Cotton’s face as he worked his way into a bunch of historic peacock feathers given to me as a gift by author Hunter S. Thompson’s wife that I kept on my desk. The luminescent green-gold-purple eye of the peacock feather juxtaposed perfectly with Cotton’s own golden eye. The image represented to me everything to loved about the Stupid Cat: his indomitable curiosity, his penchant for adventure, and his mellow, kindly nature. He was not a bastard cat, whining for his way all of the time, clingy or spiteful. He was there when you needed him. Except now he was gone.

The caller asked if my name was Corby. He paused for a second. I studied his voice. It was oddly distressing. My legs gelled.

“Do you own a cat? A cat named Cotton?” he asked. My heart leapt and sank at the same time. Maybe…Maybe he had found the cat sleeping off a big, chipmonky meal in his barn? Maybe he’d finally found his lady cat and set up shop somewhere down the canyon? The possibilities raced through my head, quickly drowning out the budgetary thoughts that had been lingering just moments before.

Cotton had lived through many near disasters. He’d been raised on a ranch surrounded by coyotes that picked off all of his many relatives, hit by a car, condemned to die, and ran the high-traffic neighborhoods of California like a boss. Of lives, he knew many. But surely he had one good life left?

My mind churned through positive outcomes. The caller continued. “I’m…uh. Well, hell, son. I’m not sure how to tell you this…”

 *Corby Anderson is a freelance writer who works from the rickety loft of an old cabin in Emma, Colorado. His stories can be found here, as well as at corbyanderson.wordpress.com, Flipcollective.com, The Aspen Daily News, Monterey County Weekly, Canyon Country Zephyr, and BEER Magazine (the Playboy of beer rags), among others.

Hating IT

By Corby Anderson

I am being methodically, malevolently denuded of an already depleted mental capacity by a wireless Internet system that taunts me mercilessly and evades capture on a regular basis.

If I could afford the monthly expense (which is to say if I avoided eating, fueling my vehicle, drinking, etc.), I would gladly pay for my own dedicated Internet line to avoid this maddening, odd circumstance that I find myself in – trying to marathon-watch the fourth season of Breaking Bad on Netflix on my shit-hot new iMac via a poached wireless connection that seems to vanish every time Brother Hank the Narc appears on screen.

“IT” – the  appropriately creepy name that the gracious stewards of the ranch that I live on have given their weak-ass wireless signal – wafts in like a mirthful, rotten ghost. IT appears in my available networks list in full-bar force, only to vanish when I wearily discover IT’s renewed presence and attempt to engage in a renewed viewing of a show that I can never seem to catch up on.

Hello, big fella! I’m here! USE ME! IT howls, only to dissipate into a cloud of nothingness, leaving me with a red, spinning wheel of Netflixian frustration to ponder. I curse. I reload. I back the stream up a few seconds. I close programs. I holler. I whimper. I consume more than the recommended daily intake of alcohol (but that may indeed be unrelated.) I plead for technical mercy. I do everything in my limited internetworking experience to cajole IT into action. But like Charlie Brown lining up for a field goal attempt, my efforts end up with me foiled yet again, lying on my back and staring at space.

If the wire-free Internet weren’t invisible, matter-less, and everywhere at once (or, mostly not) I’d stab IT in the groin with a rusty butter knife.

This weekend, as I was setting up the new computer – my long-awaited, first –ever personally purchased machine that I saved every nickel for over the past few months, I went out and bought a wireless range extender – some cockamamie device that is supposed to boost the area’s available wireless signals. Then I spent an hour on tech support with some Linksys agent who prefaced each instruction with “kindly please.”

Predictably, this brain-numbing programming effort worked for a total of about 30 minutes, during which IT appeared on my list of available wireless signals. Approaching cautiously, expecting the virtual football to be yanked once more, I clicked around the link in every direction. IT hung around, all four bars gleaming invitingly into the distrustful rods and cones of my jilted eyes. Finally, feeling like something Technically Important had occurred, I clicked IT.

Then, as if life had always been this simple, the Internet fired right up. Netflix launched into the episode I had previously watched in five-second spurts with dazzling speed.  The extension had WORKED! IT was compliant. I had broken IT’s rebellious spirit.

“Thank the Lord! Or Steve Jobs, or whoever is running the weird spectacle that we all bumble through, because we’ve got high speed connectivity!” I yelled silently. (Better to not to wake the wife. She avoids computers with Luddite passion, reads books and falls asleep at a normal hour.)

I’ve never been a fan of the term “it goes without saying,” mostly because it is generally always followed with a direct contradiction, but in this case it really does go without saying just how important the Net is in our lives these days. Hardly a single job, task, event, duty, hobby, or responsibility can be accomplished without some necessary component of Internet.

And now, thanks to my impressive technical support dialing skills, I had accomplished total, harmonious internetical SYNC with the neighbors’ Internet signal. IT has personally approved of my equipment choices and invited me into IT’s world. Good ol’ Hank was back on his feet again, shaking off an assassin’s bullet to his spine.

In the immortal words of Gilby, the freckled kid from Guam who tormented me in the street games of my youth: “NOTTTTT!”

Just as easily as IT had come, IT went, taking my spirit with IT. Then IT appeared again. Oh Hi! Ca-lick. Then, gonzo…

Brutal, pervasive frustration reigns. Remember dial up? No? Here, let me remind you.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEGGGGGGGGGGRRRRRRRRRRRRBBBBBBBBLLLLLLEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPfuckfuckfuckshitgoddamnallIwanttoseearemovingtittiesandit’stakingtenfuckingminutestoloadEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGG.

IT makes that crazy-making dialup “speed” of yore seem like a live HD shot from Mars.

I would tether the fucker to my phone, but I learned THAT harsh lesson a few months back, when in a fit of ignorance, perhaps exacerbated by an extended homebound flu, I decided to see what the Personal Hotspot function of my new cell phone was all about by watching the entire show run of The Wire, back to back to back to ohmygodwhatisthis$500billfromAT&fuckingT?

Did I mention that this connectivitease happens only when Hank the Narc is on screen? Isn’t that ODD? What sort of superfreaky juju does THAT character have over me? And why has IT channeled Hank the Narc into my own personal Lucy? Am I supposed to skip those scenes? Is there something GOING ON here? Is the entire internet possessed by some sort of paranoid Meth-crazed jokester?

Or is it just me? Can someone Kindly Please email me an answer? Better yet, mail IT.

*This story originally appeared in the Oct. 2012 release of the literary journal The Flip Collective.