Sha-musings with Shamaya: Cats and improv

Jul. 23—Long time no read!

The summer has boiled my schedule into a rolling cesspool of travel and events and I just recently had time to sit down and catch my breath.

First of all, I’d like to address the passing of my “beloved” cat Fatty. As mentioned in my first Sha-musing, Fatty suffered from a long string of negative health and behavior issues that eventually accumulated in an epic “catfight” with my almost well-intentioned neighbour.

On June 29, I had to make the difficult decision to put Fatty down. Actually, it was my partner who made that decision as I was too emotionally paralyzed and indecisive. While Fatty was one of the most annoying animals I’ve ever encountered in my 31 years of existence, I still cried like a baby when I realized he would no longer be a part of my day-to-day life … no matter how much easier, and cleaner things would be without him.

When I first moved to California from Maryland, I came in a beat-up Ford Escape with two cats and a three-legged Rottweiler. My first cat, Koshka, mysteriously disappeared a few years after we bought our new home. Despite my efforts to track her down, we were never able to find out what happened. Annie, my Rottweiler, lived until the ripe age of 11. Pretty good for a purebred large breed with mobility issues. She passed away in June of last year, leaving me with Fatty … the last of the Sha-micans.

His passing symbolized the closing of a chapter, my final link to the East Coast. From here on out, everything I live with, my home, car, partner, daughter, and new cat spirit, have all been California born and bred. I’m still trying to figure out what that means to me exactly, maybe nothing and at the same time everything. Or perhaps I’m just a tad bit too sentimental. My only source of comfort were the condolences my sister offered and the stories she shared on how miserable Fatty had made me in the past.

Please take a moment of silence to honor the lives of pets that have gone before us.

Moving on, my house has become cleaner and my cat spirit has enjoyed her new role as queen of the castle. Since I’ve grown accustomed to living in households with more animals than people, I fought the urge to fill our space with another pet on more than one occasion. My top contenders were a 140-pound great pyrenees mountain dog mix, or a desktop fish tank. Luckily, the staff at the Appeal-Democrat told me I wasn’t allowed to plug in a filter and I’m not quite confident in my fishbowl maintenance skills yet.

After some soul searching, and the sound advice of my more grounded better-half, we decided to enjoy our single-pet household for a while and attend to more landscaping projects.

Aside from my animal shenanigans, another big update in my life has been the resurrection of my college-based improv group. Founded at Yuba College in 2015, the group went by DOPEE (Dramatic Outreach Program and Everything Else) for three years before its members retired and transferred to other colleges. During my own time at Sacramento State, I joined ComedySportz Sacramento for a while before the pandemic shut everything down. Unfortunately that theater was never reopened.

After reconnecting with several former members, and an increase in community interest, my partner and I decided to start running free improv practices out of our Yuba City home. Things have been going well for the past few weeks, aside from a major freakout from one former member. This particular person, we’ll call him “X,” had been one of the primary inspirations for restarting my improv program. Last month X called me asking for help storing an extra vehicle until he could get it registered, and I was more than willing to let him use our second driveway. During the conversation he told me that DOPEE had saved his life and that he hoped to get involved with it again.

Of course, I added him to the group right away and our first night went unexpectedly well, aside from a small trampoline “shove-fight” between X’s 12-year-old daughter and our neighbors 8 year old. After everyone left, we started receiving messages from X who was outraged by what he viewed as subliminal attacks on his character via improv suggestions and skits.

“Improv allows for personal attacks disguised as something else,” X said amid a long string of Facebook DMs. He then proceeded to demand that not only did certain members hate him, but that we also subconsciously hated each other. My cheeks, already sore from the night’s laughter, now strained in confusion. Thinking back on the bizarre content from each scene, ranging from alien penguins to hitman mime attacks and an overly promiscuous NASCAR grandma, I couldn’t believe anyone in their right mind could take skits like that offensively.

Those who have practiced improv comedy know how hard it can be to work at the moment and perform on the spot, but to think that any of us would have the capacity or genius to harness random suggestions and infiltrate them with hidden resentments toward a single directed person is the most outlandish thing I’d ever heard.

“It would be more fun to me if we were all strangers,” was X’s closing statement. His preference for anonymity spoke volumes to me and I realized we were dealing with some debilitating trust issues.

Needless to say, X quit. And, according to the footage on our neighbor’s doorbell camera, he appeared the next day to remove his car, only to repark it a few hours later, and then remove it again in some weird paranoid venture. I wish X all the best, and I’m glad my improv group saved him all those years ago while we were strangers. Operating your social circles must be tough when you can only fully trust those you don’t know.

If you are reading this X, please know that no one in the group has a “bullet with your name on it.” In fact, none of us own guns.

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