Squat

Oakland, 1996. The house next door from me was empty for a long time. The previous owners defaulted on their loan and were evicted by the bank which just ignored it for months. So, naturally, a homeless speed freak began squatting there.

The guy seemed harmless at first, but the sounds of him muttering incoherently while rolling a shopping cart up our shared driveway at 3:00am was kind of creepy and annoying. Then he started hurling bricks over the fence when we were making too much noise. My housemate called the police about this, and was met with unsurprising indifference.

This went on for a month or two (it’s amazing what we’re willing to tolerate in our 20’s). Then driving home from work one night I approached my neighborhood as an increasing number of firetrucks passed me, and eventually I saw smoke coming from what looked like my block. I hit a police barricade and could go no further. “I live there!” I yelled at the officer to no avail. I parked and ran to my house.

Sure enough that squat next door was engulfed in flames. Luckily my abode was okay and the fire getting under control, though I had to stomp out of few burning cinders that landed in my backyard. The culprit was nowhere to be found, but I told the police on the scene what’s up and they said they have been “tracking him for a while,” whatever that meant.

When everybody left the half-burned house was once again left unchecked. My curiosity took over, and the next day I went to see for myself what was going on inside the unburnt sections. Singed paper and scrap lumber (i.e. potential firewood), half eaten wonderbread-and-barbecue-sauce sandwiches, rancid human shit puddles on the floor.

A few days later I heard that shopping cart going up the driveway at 3am again. I guess this wasn’t the last of that guy. We figured he was just coming back to collect his stuff and move on.

Soon after that I heard some odd sounds outside and walked out to my front porch to see the squat once again consumed by fire. Flames shot 20 feet up into the sky, and were already spreading to the roof of another nearby house. Before I could even consider calling 911 fire engines were arriving on the scene and spraying everything.

The cops also came by and assured us this wouldn’t be a problem anymore. They were right – it wasn’t – but I don’t think because of any action of the police department as much as the squat was now completely uninhabitable, and the guy probably just relocated elsewhere.

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“Sarcasm”

So I put out a new album recently called “Sarcasm”:

https://mattlebofsky.bandcamp.com/album/sarcasm

Here’s the background story and some insider nerdish details…

I write a lot of songs – I can’t help it. Some are straight ahead pop, some are “quirky,” and some are what I call “post prog.” I’ve composed thousands, though many are lost in the ocean waves of my brain. But I do keep a spreadsheet of “songs I should properly record someday before I die.” This album contains a dozen of such entries, mostly written in the 1990’s.

My friend and musical comrade for decades, Jai Young Kim, has a studio in San Francisco. I booked a day there in advance with not much of a plan. As that date approached (April 29th, 2018) I hastily came up with a half dozen songs from my to-do list and figured I could at least track some drums for those. I half-assedly practiced those the week leading up to the session.

During the session I set a low bar for performance quality, so I wrapped up work on several takes of these tunes before the end of my allotted time. And so I also hastily laid down some unrehearsed versions of other tunes from my list. Two of them I didn’t even bother setting up a click track – Jai Young just hit record and I bashed out a single take in one shot. And since Jai Young had a working hammond organ I decided to tackle “Escaping to the Mall” and tracked both drums and organs for that lickety split.

I took these basics back to my studio. Excited by these fresh song skeletons, I quickly added some initial guitar/bass parts for “Recognized” and “Windows 3.1” but then life and other projects took over so I sat on this album for a while. Then the pandemic struck – this plus a horrendously sprained ankle which kept me immobile for months meant my creative mojo disappeared completely.

But the muses eventually sprang back to life, inspired to finish things I already started. Plus Jenya and I have been killing a lot of time during the interminable lockdown singing karaoke in our studio so my voice was in unexpectedly good shape. This album got put back on a front burner, with a couple more tunes added to the fold to make it a “full” album. I went into full assembly line mode for a month – working the regular SETI job all day, then spending 2-3 hours a night tracking all the various bits and pieces, followed by a few weeks of mixing, editing, mastering, etc. etc. And that’s that.

And here’s some “behind the scenes” notes for the individual tunes:

1. Alternative Song – there’s sort of an easter egg in the cover photo of this record: a picture of my silly face circa 1991 in the background. That photo was taken the same year I wrote this tune, which was in response to listening to a lot of Smiths at that time. I distinctly remember scribbling down those dramatic lyrics while in a lonely Binghamton laundromat at night waiting for my clothes to dry.

2. Increasing Numbers – a song created during the early days of the Immersion Composition Society. On December 8th, 2001 to be exact. The original was sloppily recorded on 4-track – I longed a more hi-fi version. I still have my Nord Lead synth from back then, and happily used the same woozy patch for the crazy solo at the end. The drum track is one take, no click.

3. Windows 3.1 – as described in the “liner notes” I swear to god I wrote this song in the early 90’s. At that point I was utterly resentful how I invested all my youthful computer geek years becoming both an Apple II and Commodore Amiga expert, only to have the world stupidly adopt Microsoft as the OS purveyor of choice. Then Windows ’95 came out. I just threw up my hands and gave up on the planet and this song went into hibernation.. until now!

4. Recognized – one of many bitter 90’s indie rock tunes from my Midline Errors period. The original had hateful lyrics so I wholesale replaced those like 10 years ago. I always really liked this tune and I’m happy it finally got to see the light of day.

5. Watching the News – another ICS creation, written on January 18th, 2003. The original 4-track version is available elsewhere on my bandcamp page but I always wanted to clean this song up for more appropriate public consumption. I could have, perhaps should have, rewritten the lyrics for this but for some reason did not.

6. Making Love to a Policeman – another mopey 90’s tune that asks the question: “how can anybody trust the love of a fascist?” That’s more of my precious Nord Lead synth creating the chaos and fog in the background. One of the few songs on this albums that I performed live in front an audience many years ago.

7. Florida – my sophomore year dormmate in college had a visiting friend who wrote silly crass poetry. As a challenge I came up with these chords and melodies to accompany his rude verse. A couple years later I eventually composed my own lyrics for this tune, now about vacationing in Florida. The topic was tongue-in-check back then, even more so now. I think the “Sarcasm” album title applies mostly to this song. There is a four track version of this song I recorded in 1991 which is a peppy version of this with a double-time feel. I like the more laid back mood presented here.

8. My Ass is Beautiful – a song created on September 22, 2001 during my very first ICS session! I did perform this song once live a year or two later – I wildly danced on stage during the intro and kinda stunned the unprepared audience. Like “Numbers” this drums track is also one take, no click. Maybe that’s obvious.

9. Mine – back during the Mumble & Peg days I bought a used 4 string Warwick to became my main bass axe – and this was the first song I wrote on it. Unfortunately that Warwick is now strung up to be tuned in fifths, so instead I used my 5 string Ibanez to track this tune (which was annoying as the parts are really much easier to play on a 4 string). The lyrics were an exercise to write something meaningful without ever using the words “I” or “you.”

10. Weighted Wings – straight up pop tune written back in college. I guess I was trying to mimic REM a bit in feel but with Lebofsky-esque chords and melody. One of those songs where the lyrics kinda wrote themselves as I was strumming alone in my bedroom. Whereas I’m normally a complete control freak and could give you a full paragraph explaining every line sung in every song I write, I admit I don’t really know the importance of “weighted wings.” There I said it. Feels good to get that off my chest.

11. I’m Only Having Fun – as noted in the “liner notes” this is one of those stray tunes that evolved as it bounced from project to project. It was performed live once with Jenya on drums/voice and me on Warr guitar/voice. Good to finally get a “proper” ornate version of this out there. This is proof that I’m totally down to write two chord songs.

12. Escpaing to the Mall – one more ICS tune, written on the same day as “Increasing Numbers.” In fact, the dreamy coda at the end is lifted directly from the original 4-track version, clams and all, and drenched in 20 second reverb. Yet another song about suburban ennui, which is a common theme across my whole ouevre.

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Ankle

I originally wrote and published this story on March 24, 2020 about something that happened on March 2nd (i.e. a year ago today).


Things are weird so I felt compelled to formalize the last few weeks into a story, such as it is.

Twenty two days ago – a Monday – I took Gamma for a walk in the cemetery. She’s a 10 month old doberman and therefore a big, boisterous puppy. There’s one dirt path we frequent as there’s very little human/dog traffic and I can let her run around more freely. I’ve taken her on this path a dozen times before. Every outing we’d go up this one small incline where a bit is washed away from rain. I would hop to one side to avoid this small channel, and then after a few paces would hop back onto the main trail again.

Except this time I hopped and.. *crunch*. I have no idea why – loose gravel? – but I landed awkwardly on my left foot and the ankle twisted hard. I fell to the ground because the pain was immediate and severe.

Something that runs in my family is the Lebofsky penchant for having vasovagal syncope (i.e. a preciptious drop in blood pressure) when experiencing bodily trauma. I knew if I stood upright I would certainly pass out or vomit. Instead I sat there, covering my face and groaning uncontrollably.

Meanwhile Gamma had run up ahead without noticing the accident, but she’s such a good puppy she never goes too far without checking in. She turned to see me hunched down on the ground and then came sprinting back full speed. Here’s the thing: one thing she likes to do with Jenya and I is launch herself like a missile and crash into us with as much momentum as possible. Usually kinda hilarious and adorable.

So, suddenly… BAM! Gamma clobbered me and my glasses flew off, and I struggled to get her off me. I recovered my glasses as she continued to be a crazy puppy. We happened to be near a muddy puddle so I quickly got covered in paw prints. Normally her relentlessness would be super cute but right now kind of a real problem as I remained in agony and still trying to suss out the gravity of the injury. My glasses fell off again.

I tried to stand up to calm her, but the tunnel vision kicked in. I needed to lie down. But how? Where? I crumpled back to the ground and shuffled over to a flat, cement slab over a grave. Luckily I had a rope tug toy which I presented to Gamma and she immediately redirected her focus onto that. Good girl. So all I needed to do was lay there for about five minutes to regain my composure (and blood pressure) while Gamma tugged at the toy which I clutched on for dear life. As much as I could have used some help, I’m so glad nobody was around to witness this odd display.

Once normal enough I rose and limped back to the car – about a quarter mile. Stupid sprain fuckin’ shit up. Drove home. At least every time I mess up one of my feet it’s always my left one, which means I can still drive an automatic.

I fully expected to go to work after this. I took a shower no problem – I could rely on that ankle and manage but it soon swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. Jenya smartly insisted I stay home. I agreed and stayed in bed putting ice on it and checked in with my colleagues remotely.

But once I got out of bed I found I couldn’t put weight on that foot at all. Maybe I did more than just sprain it. In a panic I called my doctor and he signed me up for some x-rays and to get some crutches and a walking boot. So off to the main Kaiser medical facility we went. I got the full royal treatment, wheelchaired down to imaging as Jenya parked the car. The coronavirus was already on the radar at this point, but the general public didn’t really know or care. Still, I couldn’t help to think how these wheelchairs are probably not swabbed down between each use. Once I was done getting zapped Jenya wheeled me back out to the curb. The results were swift and negative, i.e. not broken. Phew. And now I had means for getting around outside of hopping like an idiot.

As it happens this was the very same day a friend of mine, who recently got rudely booted from his studio, started using our basement to give drum lessons on Mondays and Tuesdays. I spent the day laying in bed, writhing in pain, icing my joints, and staring at my laptop while randos thumped away on Jenya’s kit directly beneath the floor below me. I worried this would be an issue with my sanity, but strangely enough, it wasn’t that loud or abrasive. In fact almost quite soothing to overhear other people’s musical progress.

For three days I got by with the walking boot and crutches but remained pretty much stuck at home. I did go out for one dinner during this since Jenya as we had a friend in town and my ankle throbbed and throbbed during the meal. That Thursday I woke up in the morning ready to try walking again and took a step on it sans boot. Felt fine. I took a second step – searing pain shot through my foot and I fell onto the bed, yelling for Jenya to get me some ice.

Okay this is not just some ordinary sprain. My ankle was so swollen and bruised it look liked it was wholesale replaced with an unpeeled blood orange. I called my doctor again, and he referred me to a podiatrist, who I saw within a couple hours. This time I spotted a few masks on the patients roaming the Kaiser halls, but the doctor was old school and greeted me with an open hand. I had to shake it, I guess. He poked and prodded the injury and insisted it’s just a really bad sprain. May take weeks of staying off it, and then weeks of physical therapy. Fuck.

The pain seemed to get worse over time, as did the horror that I would be crippled for a long while. I was missing all kinds of visitors and activity at work yet finding it difficult to be productive from home given the constant, exhausting state of discomfort I was in.

By Monday nothing had improved so I called the podiatrist again in a panic, pleading for updated X-rays and MRIs. Maybe a small fracture was missed? He complied with my concerns, and appointments were made. But he also had me come in right away to look for blood clots. Once again I noticed an increase in masks and social distancing as I arrived at Kaiser. The woman who did the ultrasound had a mask on herself. No clots, though.

The shelter in place issue was finally ordered in our county. I had already been home for a 8 days but now I had another three weeks at least of holing up ahead of me. Yay!

Nevertheless I went to Kaiser again a couple days later for the secondary X-rays. At this point masks were everywhere, and people nervously approached the free hand sanitizer station at regular intervals. Painful images of my bruised and swollen appendage were taken from a standing position. Once again they were negative. I felt ridiculous constantly coming back to this coronavirus hot zone for needless procedures. But it hurt a lot! Plus my brother and father were convinced it was broken and kept nagging me to prove them right.

Eventually enough people took this quarantine seriously – I had an MRI scheduled but it was cancelled. At least the swelling had finally started showing signs of glacially slow improvement so yet another extra diagnostic seemed unnecessary. I also had vicodin at this point to get me through the previously sleepless evenings. The drum lessons in our basement ceased, so no more potential unknown germs entering our household (they were coming and going through the garage, so Jenya and I were never within range of their suspect respitory systems).

And then it was a long, blurry string of similar days full of healing and trying to be productive, making the most of our reduced lives. I did finally take my first bath in two weeks (since the day of the injury). Getting in and out of the tub is a major endeavor when you only have one working leg.

Jenya was able to take Gamma out for walks every morning and she reported back with news from the outside. I’m alarmed to hear her tales of the bored people out in droves doing nonessential things. What the fuck is wrong with everybody? Trump voters, people defying quarantine, same difference. Short sighted, stupid, selfish, weak ass motherfuckers. Remind me to never go backpacking or on a rock tour with any of you sorry ass losers.

So, now it’s just over three weeks later, and outside of these aforementioned trips I have not been outside my house. Yo I’ve been doing this quarantine shit much longer than all y’all. However I’m the loser because while everybody is getting creative/house projects done while I remain a useless slug, unable to do anything because my ankle still needs to be elevated every fucking second. The sprain was both wonderfully and horribly timed.

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Keys

It was towards the end of my first semester at Binghamton University, just before finals week. To let off steam some dorm-mates and I went to a midnight showing of “Wizard of Oz” in one of the main lecture halls. Kinda random but whatever. It recently rained and snowed – the long walk across campus was cold and slippery and our balance additionally challenged with occasional gusts of wind well below freezing.

I wasn’t as drunk as my companions and therefore kinda found the whole experience a boring waste of time. Mission complete, I happily trudged back after the movie yearning to return to the warmth of my dorm room. I went to unlock the main door to the building when.. I realized my keys were missing. Shit! They must have fallen out of the pocket of my stupid pants during this pointless social outing.

Adolescent-level panic set in, and while the others just went on inside and quickly to sleep I began retracing my steps in the frosty night air. The campus was quite dark and lonely now at 2am. I scampered back to the lecture hall, desperately scanning downward at the snow and slush and ice the entire way.

I arrived at the hall – still no sign of my key ring. I banged on various windows until a janitor finally let me in to look around. Nothing there. I actually sat there by myself in the dark hall for a good half hour, warming up and meditating on this new, unexpected life where I will be spending the scant few precious remaining hours before finals not studying but instead dealing with painful bureaucratic processes: obtaining new keys, replacing various locks at inflated costs, etc.

Now 3am, I left the hall and went back into the tundra towards my dorm, hoping somebody will be awake to let my sorry ass in when I come knockin’. I noticed it must have snowed again for a bit while I was inside contemplating my sad fate. The entire campus was now all asleep in their toasty beds. Just me, the big loser, out there all alone, considering completely dropping out of college if this was how it’s gonna be.

I have no idea how to describe the following other than: a sudden pang of awareness stopped me in my tracks. Like somebody grabbed my shoulders and slapped my face. And then I was suddenly compelled to turn around and retrace my steps. And after about 20 feet I had to stop again, my eyes now drawn to this one footprint. I reflexively kicked away the recently fallen snow around the imprint further revealing some glinting metal caked beneath the ice below.

My keys. My keys!! My keys… which must have fallen at that spot hours earlier, and then were stepped on by a fellow student thus encasing it in a cocktail of slush and ice and further obscured by more snow. And were finally left alone for however many hours until I was magically drawn to them.

I carved them out, shook off the frozen bits and began the triumphant walk back to my dorm. The skies had since cleared a bit, and – despite not being a traditionally religious person – I couldn’t help but look up at the cloudless heavens and say, “thank you!”

And right at that moment – I shit you not – a shooting star crossed the entire sky.

Wow. The whole way back I was giddy with a cocktail of joyous relief, mild hypothermia, and existential awe due to what could arguably be perceived as divine intervention. I uttered to myself in a continual loop: “wow… wow… wow… wow…”

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Honk

Jenya’s 1983 Toyota Tercel wagon was pretty sweet except it had one quirk: the horn didn’t work. And so it became a regular comedy routine in this car beating incessantly on the soundless horn in mock anger while driving around town – sort of a safe way to get road rage out of our systems.

Until one day, in downtown Berkeley of all places, we were at a red light and this old woman with a walker slowly began crossing in front of us. She was barely halfway through and totally blocking the intersection when the light turned green. Jenya jokingly bashed the horn – which was meant to be a private laugh between us…

…but for some inexplicable reason the horn worked this one time.

We were mortifed. The old lady, and several witnesses on the sidewalk, glared at us – in utter disbelief that we could be so cruel as to honk at a such a helpless woman.

Of course, the situation quickly became completely hilarious to me and Jenya, and just us, as we were the only ones who knew the horn was broken and our intent harmless. Jenya and I busted out laughing, and the horrified expressions from these archetypical over-righteous citizens of Berkeley made us laugh even harder. Everybody here thinks we’re the worst people on the planet! Ha ha ha!

The woman eventually reached the other end of the crosswalk and we zoomed through the intersection, away from all the hateful scrutiny and back to the safe haven that is Oakland, chortling the entire ride home.

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Cat on a Pole

One Saturday afternoon the doorbell rang. It was the woman house-sitting for our neighbor Ann across the way. I don’t remember her name. Let’s just call her Mindy. “Is that your cat?” Mindy asked. She said a neighborhood kitty seems to have climbed up a telephone pole and was sitting there right next to all the high voltage wires, too scared to come down. Apparently it had been up there since yesterday. It was a stray with no clear owner. Because we had cats of our own Mindy assumed she did her duty and that the cat lovers on the block could take it from here.

Jenya couldn’t bear the poor animal trapped up there being scared and hungry so she made a bunch of phone calls to various utility companies and fire departments. They were all fascinated by the predicament but claimed such matters were not their responsibility. Despite frustrating hours on hold or arguing with whomever she could get on the line, Jenya discovered nobody cared and the cat spent another whole night on the top of the pole.

By Sunday morning most of the block was involved. People were coming out of their houses occasionally to see if the cat was meowing and therefore still alive. Nobody was sure what to do except keep making those phone calls until somebody official with a heart comes with a ladder or a lift of some sort.

After night fell the Oakland Fire Department finally sent a truck and a dozen firemen. All the neighbors poured out on the street to celebrate as the firemen gathered and laughed amongst themselves and pointed up at the cat. They took some pictures and got back in their truck without saying anything to anybody. We thought they were going to the corner to turn the truck around for better access, but they never came back. We were all deeply disappointed and went back inside for the night. Later phone calls revealed they were unwilling to help given the proximity to too many power lines, and thus they felt it should be up to the electric company.

Monday morning Jerry down the block risked his life to save this animal. He took out a ladder and climbed up the pole sans harness. The cat, obviously freaked out, leapt away from Jerry’s clutching hands and jumped onto one of the wires, eventually to drop onto the streetlight arm below. Jerry couldn’t do much at this point, but minutes later the electric company unceremoniously arrived with a cherry picker truck. They snared the cat, and once on the ground it ran away, never to be seen by any of us again.

A year later Jenya and I went over to Ann’s house for dinner and Mindy happened to join us. Mindy accidentally admitted during the meal that it was her dog that chased the cat up the pole – a particularly key bit of information she conveniently omitted when first telling Jenya and I about the poor kitty. So instead of taking responsibility for the situation, she simply informed us, i.e. her feline-friendly temporary neighbors, that some cat was in trouble and got on with her stupid life. Fucking asshole.

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Itchy

My brother, Ben, and I attended the same college for the year he was a senior and I was a freshman. Frequently I’d escape the drunken dorms to spend a more peaceful night at his house off campus.

I visited once on a particularly chilly evening. When it came time to crash, I required extra blankets to keep warm. He procured them from his dusty attic.

This next morning we were slow to wake up. He drove me straight to my philosophy class. I arrived a few minutes late, unshowered and wearing the same clothes as yesterday.

Still sleepy and unable to focus I noticed my nose was itchy. I exhaled sharply out my nostrils and suddenly a tiny spider appeared crawling on my notebook.

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Boy Trouble

My housemate Janet’s boyfriend Rick called me all the way from Russia, where he had been for weeks. Janet wasn’t returning any of his calls, so naturally he was worried. This was back before cell phones and the world wide web were a thing, so I have no idea how he got my number, especially from Russia. He must have been desperate. He asked if she was out of town, or in trouble, or just exceedingly busy – anything to explain why she was unresponsive.

I hadn’t the heart to directly tell him there was already another man in her life. In fact I was surprised he didn’t know, or that Janet didn’t tell him, about her new lover, Christopher. Nor could I bring myself to lie about it. All I could offer was, “No, man. She’s.. uh.. she’s still here.”

Rick was a smart guy and got the hint: Janet was simply ignoring him, and that he’s old news and she moved on. After a long and painful moment of silence he whispered, “I see.” He apologized for calling and having to put me through this awkward exchange. I apologized too and said, “take care.”

I got off the phone and felt terrible. I just broke up with this really nice guy, and he wasn’t even MY boyfriend.

[names were changed to be polite]

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My Doppelganger

Marc was a junior in high school when I was a senior. We looked so much alike (and had similar first and last names) that people got us mixed up all the time. My teenage years were punctuated with total strangers around town engaging me in confusing conversations thinking I was him. Some were unconvinced and quite angry when I insisted I wasn’t Marc, as if I was being a smart ass, and eventually I had to pull out my driver’s license to shut them up.

I like to think Marc had similar problems, but I never found out since we had different social circles and didn’t really know each other. In fact, we failed to exchange a single word with each other before graduation.

Two summers later the old gang was back from college and at a friend’s birthday party experimenting with random cocktail recipes. I, myself, was quite inebriated when suddenly Marc appeared. He looked exactly the same as he did (and I did) two years ago – clean-shaven and short brown curly hair. I, however, had a bit of a misguided identity reboot in college and since mutated into a skinny, bearded, mullet-headed freak.

With the standard teenage social stigmas far behind us, and my inhibitions further weakened by alcohol, I felt the pressing need to have a word with Marc once and for all. I abruptly approached him, grabbed both his arms, and shouted in his bewildered face:

“You’re my clone! You’re my CLONE! YOU’RE MY CLONE!!!”

He kinda just laughed it off as somebody pulled me away from him. And that was the only conversation, however brief, we really ever had. Recently I did some cyberstalking to see whatever happened to Marc. Turns out he also left our home town 3000 miles away and ended up also living here in the Bay Area. In fact, not very far from me. And he’s also a professional computer geek. Goddammit.

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Pudge

In the late 90’s Jenya and I lived in an Oakland flat, along with our two housemates Vicky and Crissy, and our two cats Normal and Pudge. Normal was an awesome kitty and beloved pet, but Pudge was a stray we adopted out of guilt. She was just shy of feral and very rarely associated with humans, frequently disappearing for days at a time. She had also recently taken to shitting underneath the kitchen table, so when she wasn’t around it was actually a relief.

This house was fairly active. Touring bands would come through and crash on our couches, and we’d have backyard barbecues on the weekends and CD-assembling parties during the week. Normal tended to be social during all this activity, but Pudge would make herself scarce when the crush of humans became too much to bear.

Once again Pudge was absent for a couple days, possibly scared off by the last wave of musicians parading through the house. After a few days there was genuine concern, and after about six days we figured she finally moved on to a less stressful living situation. Kind of a bummer, but as I said we were already going above and beyond taking care of this unrewarding animal and there’s only so much we could do.

Eight days passed since Pudge’s last sighting. I returned home from a long day. I waved hello to Jenya who was on the phone, and headed to the kitchen for a snack. I passed the living room en route and found myself unexpectedly drawn to the couch. Why not enjoy a moment of horizontal bliss and wait there until Jenya gets off the phone?

I plopped myself down. Aaaah. And then a ghostly noise rose from beneath, as if this otherwise inanimate piece of furniture were suddenly talking to me, and it said:

MmmrrrmrmrRRRRRRMMMMmmmmm.

This unearthly sound was a smack in the face that jogged my memory: Eight days ago we had a band staying over who utilized the pull-out bed in this very couch. That means it could certainly be that Pudge sought refuge in there and then got TRAPPED INSIDE!!! I leaped up and yelled something like, “FUUUUCK!” and began throwing cushions off and wrenching the damn thing open.

And there Pudge was, emerging from a dark crevasse in the back where a cat could just barely fit without getting crushed. She used her scant remaining fumes of life-force to angrily meow at me, then flop out of the couch interior and stumble into my bedroom and hide underneath the bed. The rest of the household heard my cursing and toiling and the near-death meowing and soon the whole apartment echoed with our collective screams of horror.

We put open cans of tuna and water under my bed until her strength returned. Almost right away she was back to her old skittish self again, none the worse for wear. Eight fucking days trapped in a couch? No big whoop. Nine lives, indeed.

The questions remained: Why didn’t she meow for help? Why didn’t Normal tell us either? What would have happened if I didn’t feel that urge to lie down on the couch?

Epilogue: A month later I picked up some pictures I got developed at the corner drug store. Some of them depicted a recent party at the house, including one photo of friends sitting around our living room. Jenya and I pieced together the timeline and came to the uncomfortable realization: in that very photo, Pudge was stuck inside the couch and nobody had any idea.

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