birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


When we were 27, my close friend and lover Jeff died suddenly. It was a devastating event that changed the course of my life. When we were younger, in college, Jeff had a code phrase for letting his weed-smoking friends know he wanted to go light a joint. He'd say, "Hey, you guys wanna come meet my cousin Vinny?"

Everyone knew who Jeff was. And everyone knew who Vinny was.

After Jeff died, I moved to Los Angeles into a studio apartment by myself. Jeff's fiancee (it's complicated, okay?) Mary suggested that I adopt a cat and name it Vinny. As soon as she said it I knew it had to happen.

I went on to and started looking at pictures of shelter cats. I fell in love with a black and white tuxedo cat who was yawning in his profile picture and had long white fur-gloves on each paw. Mary came to visit me in LA, and on February 15, 2010 we went to the shelter.

There were several rooms full of cats, and I didn't find the one in the profile picture until the second-to-last room. When I picked him up, he laid across my arm, dangling his head back, chill as could be. "It's Vinny!" I said. I paid the adoption fee, and Mary and I headed home with Vinny in a cardboard cat carrier.

When we started driving, the carrier started moving and meowing. Mary and I looked at each other, alarmed. Then we started to hear ripping noises. Vinny was NOT being chill. He was shredding the cardboard carrier from the inside out. We couldn't even drive all the way home, because we needed to stop to get something more substantial to hold him. I knew then that I had adopted a cat with enough character to match Jeff's.

My first few months with Vinny were truly an adventure. He knocked over the kitchen trash. He picked up a cheeseburger off of my coffee table with his mouth and ran off with it, earning himself the nickname the Hamburgler. He sat on my stove and lit his tail on fire on the pilot light. On the morning of my birthday, he knocked the screen out of my first-floor window and jumped out. I had to dig him out of a soot-filled old fireplace that was in the back of my apartment building. I went to work every day with scratches and bite marks on my forearms. I'd never had a cat before, so I told myself that this was just how cats were. Looking back, it was not just how cats are. Vinny was wild!

My adventure with Vin continues. Now, he's approximately 11 1/2, and we're much more used to each other. He's still got a ton of energy, and needs to play every day. His favorite toys are a laser pointer and something called the Cat Dancer, a piece of wire with cardboard on the end that bounces in a lifelike way. If I don't play with Vinny, he tells me that he is unsatisfied with loud meowing. His meow can sound an awful lot like the word Mom. He is also still prone to light biting.

Every houseguest I have over receives a warning in no uncertain terms that Vinny is a very assertive cat. But honestly, knowing Jeff, it wouldn't make sense any other way.

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