Saturday
May182013

Springtime Shows and Shenanigans

Cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (© 2013 Amber Drea)

Spring has been full of excitement. In April, my drinking-themed storytelling series, Another Round Storytelling, relaunched at LaunchPad in Crown Heights with comedian and performer John Flynn, host of "Oh, Hey Guys!" at UCBeast, and ginger-rum cookies from Spirited, a boozy bakery run by Kimberly Wetherell. This month's show on May 2nd featured Cammi Climaco of Ask Me Stories and Six x Six at the PIT, and June's edition will welcome the sexy storytelling of Jefferson, who hosts the Bare! and Spill! series. In addition, I'll be doing some storytelling of my own at Local Stories on Monday, May 20th, at Three of Cups in the East Village at 8:00 p.m. The theme is "elimination," and my tale will recount my breakup with religion. And on Thursday, May 30th, I'm reading a new piece of short fiction at Molasses Books in Bushwick alongside Ben Bush, Michael Thomsen, David Moscovich and Matthew Jent. Dubbed "Selfies: A Supergroup," the reading will deal with the concepts of image, self-consciousness and the individual in community. Stay posted on all my upcoming events here.

Blue heron sculpture at Ferran Park in Eustis, Florida (© 2013 Amber Drea)

On a personal note, I visited my uncle and cousins in Eustis, Florida, during a recent trip to Orlando for a work convention. I hadn't seen DJ in 12 years and was surprised that it seemed no time had passed. I always had a great relationship with him since I was a kid, and we grew especially close when he lived with my dad and me for a few months in 1992. His children, on the other hand, were only 1 and 5 the last time I saw them, and now they were teenagers. Soon-to-be-13 Stella, who was named after my grandmother, loves Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, particularly the nerdy intellectual Donatello (the one with the purple bandana—her favorite color). She also likes to punch her dad when he teases her. DJ's son, Austin, is impressively polite and hard-working for a 16-year-old whose Instagram handle is 420keepitreal—he puts 30+ hours a week in at his job at the car wash and has already saved up enough money to buy his own vehicle. When he graduates high school, Austin plans to enter the military and has even taken the large-gauge plugs out of his ear lobes so they'll be fully closed up by then. We had dinner at Copacabana Cuban Café in nearby Mount Dora, a quaint town that reminded me and DJ of Mystic, Connecticut—our hometown—but with more gun shops. My uncle and cousins had never eaten Cuban food before, so we tried nearly everything on the menu, and the bill totaled only $88! We were also serenaded by a couple of musicians playing traditional tunes on acoustic guitars. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend going there. And say hi to DJ, Austin and Stella for me!

Stella, DJ and Austin on Dora Drawdy Way in Mount Dora, Florida (© 2013 Amber Drea)

Friday
Mar292013

Cruddy: A Tribute

Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

This week, I experienced the loss of a pet that affected me more deeply than I ever imagined it would. I grew up with cats and dogs, but I rarely saw them live for very long. They would run away, get hit by cars, contract diseases that no one bothered to have treated by a vet. I had two hamsters—one got lost in the walls of our apartment and died; the other crawled up the curtain of our sliding glass doors and then fell, breaking his leg on the way down, so my mother euthanized him. While I loved these pets, I never got too attached because I knew they'd inevitably die or disappear.

Cruddy was the first pet I took into my home and raised from a kitten through death. I knew her for slightly more than 11 years, most of my adult life, and she was my best friend in many ways. My roommate, Jessica, and I found her at Churchill's Pub in Miami in early 2002. We were there to play a gig with our band, Southern Oracle, and a bartender had brought in a stray kitten to see if someone would adopt her. When I entered the venue, I heard an animal wailing over the music and I followed the sound to the back of the bar, where a small, scruffy ball of black fur sat meowing at the top of her lungs. I immediately fell in love and, due to her unkempt appearance, named her Cruddy after the Lynda Barry novel, which I had recently read. I let her sleep in my bed that night, and when I took her to the vet the next day, those scabby, hairless patches around her mouth turned out to be mange. We all itched for a few days, but eventually the rashes cleared up. 

When I was accepted to grad school, Cruddy and I relocated to Chicago. We took three days to drive to the Midwest, stopping at campgrounds along the way. Cruddy was so freaked out after traveling all day and listening to the sounds of insects and other animals in the forest all night that by the time we made it to Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, she still hadn’t defecated. So I put her on a leash, and she took off running down a dirt path around the pond. I kept up with her as best I could, and once Cruddy had expended a sufficient amount of energy, she stopped dead in her tracks and took a massive dump. I felt an enormous sense of pride for getting my cat to poop on a leash like a dog.

Cruddy at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia (© 2002 Amber Drea)

In Miami, Cruddy had free reign of the entire courtyard in my apartment complex and would often be out all night. Unfortunately, the best I could find and afford in Chicago was a tiny studio apartment with no access to the outdoors. Thinking she might be lonely, I adopted a 12-week-old gray tabby, much to Cruddy's dismay. I had to keep Marcus locked in the bathroom for a week so Cruddy couldn't attack the poor little guy. Eventually she warmed to him, but theirs remained a love-hate relationship.

Marcus and Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

After a couple years, we all moved in with Jeb, who grew to love Cruddy as much as I did, and we'd take turns being her favorite human, while Marcus would take turns annoying each of us—Cruddy included. She'd become sedentary in the old apartment and kept gaining weight despite the more spacious surroundings. I knew it wasn't great for her, but I'd always wanted a fat, cuddly cat, and she seemed happy. Still, I tried many different diets and attempted to get her to exercise more, to no avail. Whenever I pulled out the cat toy, Cruddy would just lie there and half-heartedly claw at the feather if it came close enough. 

Fat Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2008 Amber Drea)

In 2008, Jeb and I packed up a U-Haul and drove east to Brooklyn, New York. We tried to sedate Cruddy with Benadryl, but that just stressed her out even more and caused her to foam at the mouth. She cried the entire trip. When we got to the new place, Cruddy and Marcus hid out in the kitchen cupboard for the first few days.

Marcus and Cruddy hiding in cupboard in Brooklyn, New York (© 2008 Amber Drea)

Our first Brooklyn apartment was small, and Cruddy's sedentary lifestyle continued. All she did was lie around—in bags, in boxes, on boxes, on the floor using a book as a pillow (which got her featured on Julie Klausner’s blog). Last year, we found a bigger place, and I immediately noticed a change in Cruddy's energy level. She started jumping up on the high perch and getting more playful. She began slimming down.

Cruddy with onion skin in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

In retrospect, her weight loss was probably caused by the hyperthyroidism, but it was nice to see her in good spirits. 

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This past February, I decided to take Cruddy to the vet for a check-up. As a result of that first visit, three issues came to light: Cruddy's thyroid levels were extremely high, as were her liver enzymes, and her heart seemed to have a moderate murmur. We started Cruddy on Tapazole for the hyperthyroidism and would recheck her bloodwork in 30 days. The hope was if we could get Cruddy’s thyroid under control, the liver and heart issues would clear up as well.

Three weeks later, Cruddy began exhibiting signs of nausea, so the vet prescribed Cerenia and Famotidine, and she seemed to improve. The following week, I brought Cruddy back for the 30-day check-up. This time, her thyroid levels were too low, but her liver enzymes were still elevated. However, the heart murmur was slightly better. The vet reduced the Tapazole by half to bring the thyroid back up and also recommended that we schedule an ultrasound to see what was going on with Cruddy's liver in order to rule out any additional underlying problems. In the meantime, the vet wanted me to give her a nutritional supplement for the liver, but the pills were so big that I had to cut them into four pieces, and even in her weakened state, Cruddy still fought me on taking them.

Cruddy post-vet appointment in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)

It was around this time that Cruddy's appetite decreased drastically and she began drooling nonstop. Her left eye also started filling up with mucous. When Jeb brought Cruddy in for the ultrasound, the vet didn't find any masses in her liver or digestive tract, so they attributed the drooling and lack of appetite simply to a side effect of the Tapazole and credited the eye issue to dehydration. The vet recommended more Famotidine and a wet food that's easy on the stomach, but Cruddy still wasn't interested in eating. She didn't even want treats or tuna. After three more days of fasting, the vet decided that the problem must be her teeth, which she'd noticed were bad during the first visit, but didn't want to put Cruddy under anesthesia until her heart, liver and thyroid were under control. We scheduled the dental for the following day. That night, Cruddy slept on my chest for the last time.

When Jeb brought Cruddy to the clinic the next morning, the vet could immediately tell that Cruddy was jaundiced due to heptatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. The vet started Cruddy on fluids and kept her in the clinic overnight. I visited her that evening and she had a tube in her nose and an IV hooked up to her arm. She seemed miserable. During the previous few weeks, despite her declining health, Cruddy spent a lot of time curled up in my lap or lying next to Jeb and purring. I took her behavior as a sign that she was going to be OK.

Now I believe she just wanted to be close to us as much as possible before she died.

Jeb and Cruddy in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)

The next 36 hours were a blur. I called the vet after noon on Friday, and she said Cruddy was doing better. But by the time I arrived at the clinic around 3 o'clock, Cruddy's breathing had become labored and her temperature had dropped. The vet urged me to transfer Cruddy to the 24-hour hospital, where they had state-of-the-art equipment and could monitor her more closely. I began to feel like this was the end, but forced myself to remain optimistic that Cruddy would pull through.

At the emergency clinic, the vet said Cruddy was stable, lifting my hopes slightly. But just before 10 o'clock, the vet called to tell me that Cruddy had deteriorated further and asked me to verbally approve DNR—Do Not Resuscitate. Those words hit me like a punch in the gut. The tears started flowing and didn't stop for hours. I went to bed puffy faced and sick to my stomach, wanting so much for there to be a cat god to whom I could pray for Cruddy to come home happy and healthy.

Cruddy on Jeb's legs in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)

I jolted awake at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday with a clear head and a heavy heart. I knew exactly what I had to do even before I checked my phone and saw two missed calls and voice mails from the vet. In the middle of the night, Cruddy's breathing had become even more labored and she began showing symptoms of cardiac arrest. I asked the vet if he thought we should put her down. He said, "I don't think that would be the wrong decision." 

I woke Jeb up, and we called the car service. The hospital was empty, save a handful of staff and maybe one other pet owner. We were led to the large emergency room. Cruddy lay on a blanket, and her chest expanded and contracted rapidly as she struggled to breathe. There was no doubt we were doing the right thing. I asked the vet what euthanization would entail, and he said it's two shots: a sedative followed by an overdose of anesthetic.

Jeb and I took a few minutes to say goodbye. We both kissed her and told her we loved her. When the vet returned, I cradled Cruddy in my arms as he administered the injections. Her chest stopped heaving, and for a moment she was calm. Suddenly I wanted to scream, "I change my mind! I don't want her to die!" But instead I just slumped over her body and sobbed, murmuring, "I'm sorry, Cruddy. I'm so sorry." Jeb rested his head against mine and began crying too. The vet emptied the second shot, and Cruddy went completely limp. He checked her heart and said, "She's gone."

I held Cruddy a few minutes longer, stroking her fur and smelling her head, before the technician came in and took her away. I didn't think we needed the ashes, but Jeb wanted to scatter them some place. It turns out he can sometimes be more sentimental than I am. We also got an impression of her paw in clay. 

Cruddy's paw print (© 2013 Amber Drea)

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Cruddy on guitar in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

It's been six days and I'm still having trouble accepting the fact that Cruddy isn't coming home. I will never again hear her squeaky meow or her thunderous purr. I will never again feel her soft ears between my fingers or her silky fur under my palm. I will never again scratch the base of her tail, causing her to obsessively lick her paw. I will never again see her peeking out from under the bathroom sink or staring at me while I’m showering in the morning. I will never again watch her waddle across the floor and then wait patiently for her explicit invitation to climb up on the bed or couch. I will never again laugh as she struggles comically to pull herself up onto said bed or couch. I will never again watch her eat food piece by piece or nibble spaghetti Lady and the Tramp-style. I will never again see beads of water dripping from her chin. I'm even going to miss her bony spine and her sharp shoulder blades and the sweetly stinky smell of her drool.

Fortunately, I have this handsome boy to keep me company: 

Marcus on perch in Brooklyn, New York (© 2012 Amber Drea)

I think Marcus is going to miss Cruddy too. 

Sunday
Mar102013

Renew, Refresh, Relaunch

In the cage at Gin Palace in the East Village (© 2013 Amber Drea)I turned 35 last month and celebrated in the East Village by drinking Margaritas at Mayahuel (which has a killer Monday night happy hour) and attending a storytelling show at Under St. Marks. We capped off the night with gin cocktails at Gin Palace, where a DJ played punk tunes from bands like the Ramones and The Clash. My friends and I took turns posing in the cage, and since the small space doesn't really have a dance floor, we utilized the wooden seating that lines the perimeter of the bar. I may be 35, but I still know how to party.

Very punk rock (© 2013 Amber Drea)The only thing that makes me feel old is my gynecologist recommended I have a mammogram done and warned me again that I should get pregnant "sooner rather than later." Thanks for the tip, doc! My mom had a kid when she was 40 and my nana gave birth to my uncle in her mid 30s, so I'm not too worried. Right now I'm just trying to figure out what's going on with my cat. Cruddy was recently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, which explains why she lost so much weight in the last nine months (I mistakenly thought the diet I'd put her on was working), and her liver enzymes are elevated, so she has to get an abdominal ultrasound to check if she has liver disease. It's breaking my heart to see her sick—I can't imagine how much worse it would be if she was a human child.

My poor little Cruddy (© 2013 Amber Drea)Meanwhile, I had to take a two-month hiatus from my storytelling series due to a scheduling snafu at the venue, but everything has been straightened out and Another Round Storytelling is back at LaunchPad every first Thursday of the month starting April 4th. After the brief break, I'm even more excited to host this open mic where people share tales of drunken debauchery! The relaunch event features the comedic storytelling of John Flynn ("Nights of Our Lives," "Oh, Hey Guys!"), plus boozy treats from Spirited: Cakes, Confections & Cocktails. Don't miss it!

Another Round Storytelling April flyer (© 2013 Amber Drea)

Monday
Jan212013

Hello 2013!

Michael Neff's Christmas tree installation in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)

With the holidays and initial onslaught of work deadlines behind me, I'm now ready to greet the new year with a fresh sense of excitement and invigoration. For Christmas, my husband and I went to Chicago, where we laughed a lot with family, kissed a lot of babies and ate a lot of food. It was the first time we spent the holiday with his brother and sister-in-law in at least six years. The four of us even got the chance to have dinner with my husband's 87-year-old grandparents at Marinella's Ristorante Italiano in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. My favorite part of the evening was when my husband's grandfather told us his plans for he and his wife's 65th wedding anniversary party, which will take place at the Lincoln Park Zoo and involve a baby giraffe and/or a woman with a boa constrictor draped over her shoulders. The restaurant also featured its "famous" nativity scene—an incredibly intricate diorama of the entire town of Bethlehem.

Nativity scene at Marinella's restaurant in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (© 2012 Amber Drea)For New Year's Eve, my husband and I treated ourselves to a six-course prix-fixe at Reynard in the Wythe Hotel. The indulgent meal included caviar, seared diver scallops, beef carpaccio with sea urchin or a persimmon salad, Maine lobster or grass-fed steak, and Meyer lemon pudding cake or chocolate stout cake (I ate both desserts, btw). All the dishes were delicious, but my favorite was the raw bar plate comprising oysters, clams, mussels, beer-poached shrimp and avocado-crab salad. Then we hurried over to a friend's house party, arriving seconds after the stroke of midnight. We could hear everyone counting down as we ran down the hallway and just missed the ball drop. Fortunately, they recreated the countdown for us so we wouldn't feel left out.

New Year's Eve 2013 in Brooklyn, New York (© 2013 Amber Drea)So far, 2013 has been off to a great start. I'm about halfway through the first draft of my novel—thanks to National Novel Writing Month—and I plan to spend the next few months finishing it so I can begin the revision process. I've also met a ton of amazing people in the NYC storytelling scene and I'm looking forward to hosting my new monthly open mic series, Another Round Storytelling, at LaunchPad in Brooklyn every fourth Thursday of the month. The first installment was super fun, and I can't wait to hear more boozy stories. The next show is Thursday, January 24th, and features the hilarious Glen Roseberg. Hope to see you there!

Another Round January 2013 flyer (photo © 2013 Eric Medsker)

Wednesday
Oct312012

November Is National Novel Writing Month

Fallen tree branch in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (© 2012 Amber Drea)

As I write this, New York City and its surrounding areas are dealing with the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, and my heart goes out to everyone who is suffering during this tragedy. Fortunately, my husband and I live in a neighborhood of Brooklyn that remained relatively untouched (other than being stuck without a train line into Manhattan). The last three days at home have been relaxing—the perfect prelude to National Novel Writing Month, which starts tomorrow. For the next 30 days, I'm devoting all my personal time and energy to cranking out 50,000 words for a first draft of my novel. I set up a profile on NaNoWriMo's website, and I'll need all the support I can get, so add me as a buddy if you're participating too. 

Green Fall Pond in Voluntown, Connecticut (© 2012 Amber Drea)

Nostalgia plays a significant role in my writing, so a recent visit to my old stomping grounds in Connecticut definitely got the creative juices flowing. After a hike with a high school friend and her children at Pachaug State Forest, my husband and I stopped by Green Fall Pond and then headed up to Moosup for lunch at Riverview Restaurant. We drove past the Aldrich Free Public Library, where I spent many a Saturday and most of my summers as a teenager. 

Aldrich Free Public Library in Moosup, Connecticut (© 2012 Amber Drea)

Despite my decision to become a shut-in for a month, I plan to make two appearances in public: The Renegade Reading Series on November 8th and the Honey-Mouthed and Poison-Hearted storytelling night on November 15th. In hopes that I will be featured at more events in the future, I created a new page on my website where you can find more details and links. Of course, you can always follow me on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook to stay updated on my endeavors. And if you've needed the motivation to finally write that novel you've been thinking about for years, get your NaNoWriMo on with me this November! Then we can celebrate with a bottle of booze from this place on December 1st:

Marie's Lake Street Spirits in Moosup, Connecticut (© 2012 Amber Drea)