My friend Hannah moonlights as an expert reviewer of applications for grants from a local health care foundation. There isn’t as much laughter in medicine as there probably should be, but she and I were mightily amused by this one: The applicant was looking for a grant for a project he called “Tough Talks: Helping Anesthesiology Trainees Learn Patient-Centered Communication Skills for Challenging Situations.” As Hannah rightly noted in her review, anesthesiologists don’t often have an opportunity to have a conversation of any kind with their patients. Well, they oughtn’t, anyway.

You know, herding eight cats isn’t a picnic, especially when they are all highly idiosyncratic and full of unyielding personality. The old story about In being out and Out being in is very, very true. When I used to have the very best neighbors in the Western world, meaning I could leave my posse for weeks at a time and know my cats were being fed, paid attention to and let in and out, my neighbors thought up a system for keeping themselves up to date on who was where. He fastened an L-shaped hinge outside the door and she made up clothespins with the name of each cat with outdoor privileges. The top end was “in” and the bottom “out,” and it worked so well that I have used it ever since. So here’s the Catracker for anyone who has the same problem I do.

To think that I saw it on Main and Elm streets! Looking out my office window the other day, I saw the longest piece of concrete I’ve ever seen making its way very slowly down Main Street from the north. Even more astonishing, I saw that it was one of two, both moving so slowly that a man was walking next to the caisson (or whatever) at one end. They were chaperoned by state and local police, and I called everyone I knew to come and look but no one answered the phone. Fortunately, my friend and editor Lynda saw the parade and took photos and got the info. Evidently they are parts for a bridge in Thomaston (is there more than one?) and were on their way there. I can’t even guess as to their length, but just one took up most of Main Street from the library to the intersection. Nor do I know what they are called, though they looked like huge concrete T-beams.

If there are such things. Many years ago I decided I wanted to be a civil engineer and build roads and bridges in Third World countries. I hadn’t taken chemistry in college and it was a prerequisite for engineering school, so I signed up for an accelerated course at Columbia over the summer. I knew from the first day that I was barking up the wrong tree. Not only were all the other students considerably younger than I, but I needed to buy and use a calculator (these were pre-computer days, of course) and I had to learn to wash a beaker so that it was absolutely clean (something about the water sheeting off it). There were other bumps in the road, and I got into the habit of, after eight straight hours of chemistry (and if eating lunch isn’t chemistry I don’t know what is), stopping off at my local to discuss New York’s pathetic baseball teams and other important things like that so that by the time I made it home I was in neither the mood nor the shape to do homework. As a result I fell farther and farther behind until one day I came home, put my chemistry books in the bookcase, packed up my cats and my clothes, and headed for Maine.

All that is to say that had I persevered, I might know what to call those long concrete things. But I don’t, and I hope someone out there does.

Getting back to Jonathan Winters. I was headed for the first of several operations on my chronically unstable left ankle, and my doctor was rumored to be one of the top hands at New York’s Hospital for (Very Expensive) Special Surgery. He did have a number of celebrity patients, one of them Jonathan Winters, and somehow he got it into his head that I would make the perfect personal assistant for Mr. Winters (he called him Jonathan, but he knew him better than I did). He got as far as setting up a meeting for us the next time Mr. Winters was in town (he was bicoastal, though I don’t think that term had been invented then), but once I pegged that I would have to leave my beloved city for spells in Los Angeles, I deep-sixed the idea. My doctor was very sad, and I was a little sorry too. Today I have fantasies about introducing Jonathan to Arnold, but I suspect they have made each other’s acquaintance without my good offices.

When my friend Heather left town at the end of last summer to go back to teaching English literature to college students, there was absolutely not a jot of room in Lilith, her little bottle-green VW bug, for her tomato plant, so I said I would look after it for her. I got very detailed instructions on its care, most of which I promptly forgot, as they involved misting and pinching off buds, but I have watered it faithfully, and this morning I saw on it two tiny little tomatoes, no bigger than a fingertip. Will miracles never cease?