The Cat Next Door (or Living With Michael Part 4)

After working for a few hours in my home office, I decided I needed a glass of water. I opened the door and at my feet stood an orange, gray, and white cat, his tail waving wildly. Michael and I don’t own a cat.


Michael loves all animals, and on our evening walks spots cats long before I do. “Shhhh,” he says to me, stopping me mid-sentence. “What?” I ask. He doesn’t speak. He just points. To the front stoop of someone’s house. Or under a bush. We slowly approach, and at the right moment Michael squats down and puts his hand out. In his best baby-talk voice, He tries to coax the furry creature over to us. It’s a good day when one of them gives in.

With a man who behaves like this, you’d think we’d get a cat. But we’ve determined our travel schedule is not conducive to harboring animals.

So Michael was delighted when he looked out our kitchen window one day to see a cat perched on our deck railing. He opened the door slowly, but the cat quickly jumped off and ran away.

While I was out of town one week, Michael worked on his relationship with that cat. He would leave the back door open, and the cat couldn’t resist. She peeked her head in, curious. Eventually she took a few steps in. And when she realized this was friendly territory, she decided it would be a nice place to visit sometimes. Michael also bought treats for her, so I’m sure that helped.

Now when Michael goes out to grill or check on the garden, I’ll sometimes here his baby-talk voice and know he’s probably talking to the cat, who, in addition to our deck railing, also likes our patio chairs. If we leave the door open, she comes in and out at her leisure, once even making herself comfortable on the floor of my office.

A couple weeks ago I groggily opened my eyes to see Michael playing with the cat on our bed. I had no idea what time it was, but knew something was off. I told Michael to get out so I could sleep.

Once I got up, I asked Michael, “Did you have that cat in our bed this morning?”

“Yeeees,” he said with a smile.


“Didn’t you hear her?”

“What do you mean–hear her?” The only time the cat makes a peep is if we’ve closed her in the house and she wants to leave.

“She was meowing at our window this morning.”

“What window?”

“The one on your side of the bed. I didn’t want her to wake you up, so I went out to get her.” And bring her into our room to wake me up? I wondered.

I told my mother about our part-time pet. “Cats like to have back-up,” she explained. “They want to be sure they’re going to get fed and taken care of.” By that time, Michael and I had learned that the cat belonged to the neighbor behind us–a single guy who lives alone.

So now it’s not unusual for me to open a door and find a cat we don’t own roaming around. Whatever her reasons–security, treats, attention–lucky for her, she landed Michael as a neighbor.



Living with Michael — Part 3

“Where’d you get the flowers?” Michael asked, noting the vase on the kitchen island.

“I bought them for myself.”

“Aw. It’s too bad you don’t have a boyfriend who buys you flowers.”

“Eh — he does a lot of other wonderful things, so I don’t mind,” I said with a smile.

In the past few weeks, I’ve come home to: IMG_4388

  • Homemade bread, still warm from the oven.
  • A man singing, “Our Love is Here to Stay.”
  • My laundry not only washed and dried, but folded. And the things that I don’t put in the dryer? Dutifully placed on hangers and hanging from the shower rod.
  • A homemade garden bed, filled with all the proper rocks and soil. The next day? Tomatoes and peppers planted. The next week? Trellises built.

So yes, random flowers are nice sometimes. But I’d take Michael’s other qualities over those any day.

Living With Michael — Part 2

“Have you talked to your mother lately?” I asked Michael this morning.

“I called her yesterday.”

“And did you talk to her?”

“No, she wasn’t home.”

“Did you leave a message?”

“Oh my God!” Michael said. “Someone please help me.”

“If you’d just give me a detailed answer the first time, I wouldn’t have to ask you any more questions,” I explained. “Like you could have just said, ‘I called my mother yesterday and she wasn’t home, so I left a message.'”

“Why does it matter if I left a message?” he asked.

“Because I want to know if she gets to hear your voice when she comes home, or if she’ll just have no idea that you called. I’m naturally curious.”

“A pain-in-the-ass. That’s what you naturally are,” he said with a smile.

Living with Michael: Part 1

Michael usually wakes up an hour or two before me. He slips out of bed, tiptoes out the door and slowly pulls it closed behind him. I rarely hear him leave.

When I wake up, I text him. Seconds later he bursts through the bedroom door and jumps back into bed, smothering my neck with kisses.

Yes. Really.

Every morning.

“You know,” I said to him on one such morning,”every woman should have the chance to wake up to this.”

“They can,” he said. “If you just give me permission.”

An EU Passport? Yes, please.

When my boyfriend Michael first proposed we go live in Europe for a while, he wanted to go for a year. “But there’s one thing stopping us from doing that,” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. “You like your family too much to be away from them for that long.”

I looked at him incredulously. While this very well may be true, we were just three months into our relationship and I didn’t think he knew me well enough to draw such a conclusion. But no matter. I knew another reason we couldn’t live in Europe for a year: the Schengen Agreement.

“We can only stay for 90 days,” I said to Michael. “Then, we have to be out for three months before we can go back.” He didn’t believe me. So he went home to do his research, and found I was right. I won’t get into the details, but technically, you can’t just show up in Europe and stay for longer than three months.

For most Americans, with the oh-so-generous vacation days we get, this is never a problem. But for people like me, whose only regret is not spending a year in Europe during my college days, this is a problem.

There are ways to stay longer in Europe. I could buy a place there. But readers of this blog know home ownership is not part of this American’s dream anytime soon. I could decide to study over there, and thereby get a student visa. But I already have enough degrees, thank you very much. I could marry a European. But I kind of like the boyfriend I have.

I’ve researched those and other options and determined the best way for me to make my dream of living in Europe come true is to become an Italian citizen.

Not anyone can do this. In many European countries, you only have a right to citizenship if you were born there. Or if one of your parents was born there. But in two countries (Italy and Ireland), you can go further back. What I needed was an Italian descendent (as far back as a great-grandfather) who never renounced their rights to Italian citizenship.

All of the great-grandparents on my father’s side were born in Italy. Three of them became American citizens before my grandparents were born and, in so doing, gave up their rights to Italian citizenship. But the fourth I wasn’t sure of. Luigi Gallo, my great-grandfather, and my father’s namesake, arrived in America in 1909 with twelve dollars in his pocket (about one week’s wages at that time). This isn’t family lore. It’s documented on the passenger manifest for the SS Nord America. As is the fact that he was just 4′ 11″ and had paid for his passage himself. He was headed to the home of an uncle who lived in Poughkeepsie.

Less than ten years later, he was dead. He left behind a wife, Anna, and three sons–the eldest was just three years old and would grow up to become my Grandpa Gallo. In the space of Luigi’s ten years in America, he lived at four different addresses. All within a mile of each other. I have yet to find him on any census.

I gathered up all this information and submitted it to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who, after five months, finally sent me a letter indicating they have no record of him becoming naturalized. Which means he never denounced his rights to Italian citizenship. Which means, according to the Italian government, I am an Italian. Now I just had to prove it.

By “prove” I mean that I have to acquire certified copies of the birth, marriage, and death records of every descendent in the direct line from my great-grandfather to me. And get them all translated to Italian. And then show up at the Italian Consulate. With 300 Euros. And hope I’m approved.

Acquiring the aforementioned documents could take a while. But that’s okay. Because, in May, 2015, once I learned I qualified, I called to make an appointment with my Consulate. The next available: February 13, 2017.






A Surprise. “For Us.”

Michael stretched a measuring tape from one corner of the television to the other, then extended it a little further. “See, hon? This is what a fifty inch would look like.” “Mm-hmm,” I said without looking up from my crossword puzzle. “And this is how big a fifty-five inch would be.” Now I had to look up, before this got out of hand. “But I think that’s too big,” he continued. “What do you think?”

“I don’t think we need a new television,” I said.

This same conversation, with the same props, happened twice more before I left for my writing retreat.

The day before I was due to return he told me he bought something. A surprise. “Is this a surprise for me, or is it something both of us will use?” I asked.

“It’s for both of us,” he assured me. Which meant,  “I bought something I wanted that you don’t think we need.” This was how he told me about the rice cooker. And the Vitamix. And the Kitchen-Aid. Convinced that once I used them, I would wonder how we ever lived without them. This has yet to be the case.

So the night before I was due to return home, I told the women at the writing retreat, “I think I’m going home to a new television.”

When I arrived, Michael said, “Uh-oh. You didn’t get my text message.”

“Nope. What did it say?”

“I asked if you could come home 45 minutes later,” he said.

“So do you want me to turn around and leave?” I asked. “No,” he said. “You just can’t come in the bathroom.” And with that he closed the door to the master suite.

I flopped onto the couch to watch some television. Michael came out to fetch tools from the tool box. Twice. There was a lot of loud banging. I wondered why he was putting a television together in the bathroom. To keep me from seeing it? Then it occurred to me that there is nothing to put together when one purchases a television.

An hour later, he swung the door open wide. “Ready?” he said, an eager smile on his face.

“I have to come into the bathroom to see this thing?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. I walked in and he pointed to the toilet, which now sported a new toilet seat. I stood, mouth agape. “You’re kidding me,” I said.

“Do you know what it is?” he asked me. I was stunned into silence, then laughter took over.  I knew exactly what it was. I’d visited friends the previous week who had one: our toilet now doubled as a bidet. I couldn’t speak I was laughing so hard.

“So you know how it works, then?” he asked. “No, I just saw it,” I said, gasping for breath. “They don’t use it.”

“Well, it’s plugged in here,” he said, pointing to an outlet by the toilet.

“Wait–it requires a plug?”

“Yeah–the electrician just left before you got home.”

“The electrician?” I asked.

“Yeah, he had to put the outlet in.”

“Michael, we’re renting this house. And you hired an electrician. To add a new outlet. For a bidet?

“Let me show you how it works,” he said, pointing to the wall beside the toilet. “Here’s the control panel–” I doubled over laughing. “A control panel?”


I could hardly focus. I put my hand on the counter to hold myself up. I heard Michael say, “massage” and “heated seat.”  I sunk to the floor, hysterical. I could hardly breathe. “Why is this so funny?” he asked.

“Because I thought we were getting a new television.”


Entertaining Meg

“So what are you going to do with  your sister when she comes to visit?” Michael asked me many weeks before she was due to arrive.

“Not sure,” I said.

“Well, you might want to start thinking about it. You don’t want her here with nothing to do.”

“What are you talking about? It’s Asheville. There’s plenty to do here.”

“Are you going to take her to Biltmore?” he asked.

“No, she’s already been there.”

“Then what will you do?”

“I’ll show her downtown, we’ll go people-watching at 5 Walnut . . . one day we’ll walk up to Haywood, Mom and Dad said I should take her to Sierra Nevada.”

“You can do all that in one day. What about the rest of the time?”

You could do all of that in one day. Meg and I like to stroll, look in the shops, see where the day takes us.”

“Okay. So two days,” he said. I named off a few other things, but Michael still wasn’t convinced. He told me he was talking to his best friend earlier in the day, and they were discussing the fact that most visitors to Asheville only stay for a weekend. Or maybe a long weekend. “But your sister is coming for four days. I don’t think there’s enough to do here for four days.”

“I don’t think you understand,” I said. “She’s my sister. We could camp out in the living room watching movies for four days and we’d be happy.”

“She’s not coming down here to watch movies,” he replied.

“No. She’s coming to spend time with me. It doesn’t matter what we do.”  He still didn’t get it. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “She’ll be fine.” We had the same conversation twice more before I forbid him to ask me about it again.

A few weeks later, I picked Meg up at the airport. As we drove to the Sierra Nevada Brewery for dinner I relayed Michael’s concern–and the number of times he expressed it. “So is there something in particular you really want to do while you’re down here?” I asked.

She laughed. “Nope. I really don’t care what we do. We could just watch movies all day if you want . . .”

Meg at Sierra Nevada

Meg at Sierra Nevada