Sunday, June 16, 2019

Amber Kindle Orkin, The Cartoon Cat

On Saturday, June 15th, a little light winked out of the world. Amber Kindle was our gorgeous tortoise-shell cat who passed away just after noon on Saturday. ‘Amber’ was the name given to her by the shelter. Since she was already three years old, I decided she should keep it. ‘Kindle’ is the name of a character in a children’s book I’ve been adapting for a young adult audience. In the story, Kindle is a magical being who can turn himself into fire (Kindle is a girl in my adaptation). With her feisty, passionate spirit and sparks of orange rippling through her coal-black fur (among other colors), the name suited her beautifully.

Though not a long-hair cat, Amber’s fur was quite thick and had a scruffy quality that often made her look like she’d just rolled out of bed. Her paws were jet-black, giving them a mitten-like quality in comparison to the rest of her fur, and she had a long, thick, almost raccoon-like tail. With her close-set golden eyes and dark, scruffy fur, Amber generally had an expression which conveyed that she would just as soon kill you as look at you, but she was nevertheless deeply loving, tough, strong, brave, funny, and occasionally exasperating. 

Having spent a good part of her previous life in a shelter, Amber had to learn to play. In her early days, she would get so excited when we’d use string-based toys or laser pointers with her, she’d spin around in circles and bolt from the room to burn off excess energy and excitement. 

For these and other reasons, I often told visitors that I believed Amber Kindle had escaped from a cartoon, and I stand by that assessment.

Amber came to us via North Shore Animal League in December 2015, when she was three years old. I had decided to adopt a slightly older cat as a surprise Chanukah present for Nancy and Julianna. After doing some searching on North Shore’s website and going to the shelter to meet her, I set up a time to pick her up and bring her home on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

After telling Nan & Jules that I indeed had a surprise Chanukah gift, I had them close their eyes as I brought Amber into our downstairs office. I will never forget Amber’s scruffy head popping up out of that cardboard carrier as they opened it up and laughed in delight.

From there, things got decidedly less quiet as Amber proceeded to attempt a takeover of our home, which included terrorizing our year-old littermates, Grace and Daisy Mae. With her tough-girl stride, self-assured attitude, and surprising strength and speed, she was proving quite successful in this regard, but with some help from the behavioral specialist from North Shore (my wife, Nancy likes to say our cats were in therapy during that period), we ultimately managed to get everything settled down. Though the three cats (which eventually became four with the addition of our tuxedo cat, Novella) were never exactly chummy, they all worked out their differences and for the most part, managed to peacefully coexist together.

Hilariously, our recent addition, Valentino, a male cat who has likewise been driving his sisters crazy, was thoroughly intimidated by the tiny, six-pound Amber Kindle. He has been chasing the others all over the house, but studiously avoided tasking his formidable elder.

Amber was very affectionate, often jumping onto our laps and affording us a friendly head bump in anticipation of being petted, or just sitting contentedly on or near us as we did whatever. She was generally very social, enjoying being around people even if she wasn’t necessarily in the mood to be directly interacted with. She was curious, as all cats are, and had a penchant for drinking out of our water glasses, presumably for the ‘better’ water. In her last year, as a result of her illness, she was often voraciously hungry, and would routinely attempt to investigate our meals, retrieve scraps from the kitchen trash (Nancy recently woke on the couch to find the 'gift' of a chicken bone resting peacefully atop her, a gift from our cartoon cat). With our vet's blessing, we gave her pretty much whatever she wanted to eat, and she was especially fond of rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, as well as deli ham and roast beef. 

Amber adored my daughter Julianna, and took good care of her, a debt I can never repay. She loved sleeping near Julianna at night, often responding to Jules’s declaration of, “Ambi, it’s bedtime!” by trotting down the hall and jumping up onto her bed right next to her pillow. She also had a penchant for bounding on top of Nancy or myself at night or in early morning, landing with an unceremonious thump and wandering up and down our backs, shoulders, stomachs, and legs before settling into position or head-butting us for some affection.

Like Joey on ‘Friends’, Amber. Doesn’t. Share. Food! Her low, fearsome growl would rumble from her like a freight train on the move whenever one of the other cats approached her while she was eating. A similar effect occurred at the vet when any dogs got too close. On one occasion, Amber swiped through her cat carrier at a rather large dog who had looked inside to investigate. A minute or so later, Nancy said to the owner, “Is your dog okay? He’s growling.” The dog owner replied, “Lady, that’s your cat.” 

Amber LOVED drinking from the bathtub faucet, and would hurry over to the bathroom door whenever it was opened. We would often hear Nancy exclaim, "No! Mommy needs privacy! Mommy needs - Oh, all right, FINE! Come on..."

Amber faced formidable health challenges over the course of the last year or so, having been afflicted with a rare dental condition resulting in all of her teeth being removed. She was regrettably in a very small percentage of patients that never fully spring back from that procedure, and ultimately, more health issues ensued. As with humans, it’s rarely one thing that proves fatal. It’s a combination of factors, and this was certainly the case with our courageous little cat. She was strong, and brave, and bursting with life. She tried so hard to compensate for her illnesses and most certainly wanted to live. Our vet was amazed that she was so active in light of her challenges. It’s always a terrible tragedy when mind is not able to overcome matter, and ultimately, her body just wasn’t able to continue functioning. 

It’s a heart-wrenching, excruciating decision to say goodbye to an animal companion. You can’t explain the situation to them, and you invariably second-guess yourself as to whether you did the right thing. On an intellectual level, you know you did, but emotions aren’t as easily convinced. Certainly, Amber Kindle knew we loved her, and we knew she loved us. At the end of the day, that’s the greatest gift you can give anyone, be they human, feline, or anything else.

My family and I will never forget our little cartoon cat. She brightened our lives enormously, and we did our best to make sure that we did the same for her. I’d like to think we succeeded. Though we are devasted by the loss of her, we are so glad she was here.

May God bless her loving, feisty little spirit…

Thank you for reading.
 Amber Kindle Orkin
April 15, 2012 – June 15, 2019 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Changing the World One Person at a Time

This post is about my mother, Carol Orkin, who tragically passed on October 28, 2018.

It is a deeply unfortunate truth that we often end up singing the praises of those we care most about after they’re no longer around to hear them. There are various reasons for this that don’t necessarily pertain to not appreciating them or taking them for granted. I’d say the primary contributing factors are our self-constructed delusions about the fragility of life and the related belief that we’ve got plenty of time to do all that we need and want to do. Make no mistake. We don’t have plenty of time. Our time, or the time of the people we love may run out tomorrow. Time and life are fleeting. If you’ve got something to say to someone, do yourself a big favor: Say it today. It will never be enough. You’ll always think of more you wanted or needed to say, but it will help. Trust me on this.

In the case of my mother, though I never wrote anything like this specifically for her prior to her passing, I’d like to think that my love, respect, and admiration for her came through in my actions, words, and writing. That said, though I did tell her I loved her pretty regularly, I wish I had told her, “Thank you. Thank you for being a great mom, grandmother, and wife. Thanks for being a great role model. Thanks for being a great person.”

Quite simply, I am the person I am today because of her and my father, Jerome Orkin. Some of it may just be genetics, but on the whole, it’s that they took the job of being parents seriously. On some level, they were aware of their moral obligation, their awesome responsibility (the obligation and responsibility of ALL parents) to contribute decent human beings to the world. Any commendable traits I may have can be resoundingly attributed to them. My shortcomings are on me.

My parents were both truly remarkable people. I will never match their unique personalities and accomplishments, but certainly, they instilled in me realistic and attainable (though no less noble and meaningful) aspirations of success, some of which I may yet achieve before I – to paraphrase Stephen King – reach the clearing at the end of the path. Neither my mother, nor my father cured cancer or stopped a world war but they were immensely successful just the same. Indeed, though they both left this life far sooner than they should have, each of them can look in the mirror and nod in satisfaction at a job well done.

Having concluded the Jewish ritual of mourning known as Shiva, I have decided to use this post to record the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s memorial service. It is my hope that my words have in some small way captured the spirit of her, that they’ll give you some sense of who she was, how deeply and profoundly she is loved and how enormously I and all who knew her will miss her.

Eulogy for my Mother, Carol G. Orkin (1/13/40 – 10/28/18)

In sacred moments such as this, we endeavor to rise to the occasion. We summon our divine, creative forces, and do our best to speak truth.

We begin with the words of my father, Jerome Orkin.


When I'm gone, don't weep for me
When I'm gone, just keep for me
all the love that I once knew
And my love, will be with you
don't despair, don't distress
Keep alive the Happiness,
That all our lives we always had,
although the times were sometimes bad.
So don't just mourn and frown with sorrow
remember and smile and think of Tomorrow


How do you define a life in a few short minutes? How do you convey the joys, glories, miracles, mysteries, nuances, achievements, losses, and all the other myriad things that create that tapestry? In short, you can’t. I could write a thousand-page biography or film a 12-hour movie, and they would only be primers. Alternately, I could stand here in silence and leave it to each and every one of you to write your own story, weave your own tapestry of memories regarding the life of my truly remarkable mother. They would all be true. They would all be beautiful. They would all matter.

There are so many things I can tell you. I can tell you that growing up, we didn’t have much, but the love our parents shared with each other and with us made that not matter.

I can tell you how I and many others frequently teased Mom about her OCD-spectrum need to create frictionless surfaces when spreading cream cheese on a bagel, or her ability to form geometrically pristine matzah balls and latkes.

I can tell you about her squint of distaste and muttered exclamation of “Uh; disgusting!” when my father used to drink the water from green olive or pickle jars. I can see him in my mind, smirking around the edges of the jar, which increases my confidence that he did this not so much because he liked the taste, but for the explicit purpose of making my mother squirm.

I can tell you how much she loved her grandchildren and about the unique bond she shared with my daughter, Julianna. I can tell you how much she enjoyed the simple pleasure of making eggs with Jules when we visited for breakfast on Saturday or Sunday mornings.

I can tell you how Mom visited my office and met my team a few years back. After only about five minutes of chatting with her, my friend and coworker Christiana looked at me, looked at her, looked at me, looked at her, and declared, “You are one hot mama!”

I can tell you about her 'Brooklyn Posse,' her group of girlfriends who have known and loved each other for over 60 years, sharing and enhancing each other's lives throughout that time.

I can tell you she was the most life-affirming, empowering person I ever met. I can tell you she was impeccably classy and feminine. Indeed, though she may not have realized it at the time, her final words, as she attempted to send me off home shortly before she passed, were, “I’m going to bid you good night.”

I can also tell you that her quiet femininity and classiness did not preclude her from being one tough broad. As anyone who ever got on her wrong side can attest, she could be formidable.

I can tell you she was immensely strong, fiercely intelligent, deeply loving, and frequently hilarious. She not only had a wonderful sense of humor, but a great appreciation for the humor of others and was always a great sport when my brothers and I poked loving fun at her.

I can tell you how passionate she was about this planet and the people on it. She was living proof that if you want to change the world, you do it one person at a time. Mom resolutely believed in the power of conviction, compassion, and common sense, that we all can indeed make a difference, that we can make the world a better place. Had we put her in charge, you can be sure there would have been some big changes around here.

Indeed, right at this moment, there is a meeting taking place in heaven. My mother and her brother, Lenny Hochman, in a rare show of solidarity, have boldly strode past God’s receptionist into His office without an appointment. They have sat themselves down, and have informed Him, “We have some issues to discuss with you.” God responds by pointing to the name plate on His desk and advising them, “Do you not know who I am? Do you not see that this sign says, ‘Holy One, Blessed Be He?’ The conversation will quickly deteriorate from there, ending with God fleeing his office with his hands over his ears, shouting, “Make them stop! Somebody send them back to Earth! Do whatever you have to do!”

The beautiful memoir, ‘A River Runs Through It’ by Norman MacLean, begins with this line: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.” I took my mom to see the Robert Redford-directed film adaptation of this story and I remember her loving the relationship between MacLean and his brother, and their father, which in many ways emulated the relationship my brothers and I shared with our own father. If we were to adapt Mr. MacLean’s opening line for our purposes here today, you could go with, “In our family, there was no clear line between religion, and bagels & coffee.”

Recently, Mom photocopied an installment of the newspaper comic strip, ‘For Better or For Worse,’ which she has always been very fond of. In the strip, the main character, Elly, is taken out for dinner for her birthday by a few of her friends, and they talk about all they’ve shared together through the years. She returns home later that evening and her young daughter Elizabeth asks, “What did Connie and the other ladies give you for your birthday, Mom?” Elly answers, “Their love and friendship.” The girl responds, “Is that all?” Elly replies, “Elizabeth, that’s everything!!”

Mom didn't need fur coats or trips around the world to be happy. Her idea of a perfect day was to have as much family gathered around the kitchen table as possible, engaging in spirited debate about the events of the day, telling great stories, good-naturedly teasing each other, and above all, laughing. She lived life with joy, passion, humor, and love, and did her best to make sure everyone around her did the same.

Toward the end of ‘A River Runs Through It,’ there is a death in the family. MacLean’s father struggles enormously with this tragedy in the months that follow, repeatedly asking him, “Is there anything else you can tell me?” After quickly running out of new information, MacLean finally tells his father, “Yes. He was beautiful.” With the simple switch of a pronoun, this line, too, serves our purposes.

I can go on and on. But let’s end with this. No tribute to my mom is complete without talking about her truly great American love story with my dad, Jerry. They loved, respected, and appreciated each other so profoundly and beautifully. They set a nearly unmatchable standard for excellence in relationships. If I could typify their love and unity in simple terms, it would be watching them dance. Life, my friends, is an uncertain business, but there are certain immutable truths. One such truth is that my parents knew how to MOVE, baby! When they danced, you couldn’t take your eyes off them. They danced with style and spirit but were never flashy or arrogant.

The passing of my mother, Carol Orkin, is a titanic tragedy. She is absolutely irreplaceable. But she would not want people to dwell on the loss of her. She would much rather we celebrate that she was here. Another immutable truth I’m going to share with you is that this is not really a memorial service. It’s a celebratory service. It’s a service of unadulterated jubilation.

In that spirit, I’m going to ask you to do something unconventional. I’m going to ask you to help me engage in a bit of magic. I’m going to ask every single person in this room to close your eyes. I want you to listen to the music that’s about to play.

Now, imagine my mom moving across a dance floor with my dad, perfectly in synch with the music and each other, smiles on their faces. Take a few moments. Hold that vision of immaculate rhythm and love in your mind.

Do you want to know what joy looks like? It looks like my mother dancing with my father.

Now, let’s celebrate the life of Carol Orkin in a way that she would absolutely appreciate. In fact, she is smiling down on us at this very moment. Let the spirit of this amazing and extraordinary woman fill your heart and mind. Open your eyes. Get up. And dance.

Long after today, every day of your lives, I want you to remember the power and beauty of my mother and the joy and fun of this moment. I want you to know in your hearts that if she could leave you with one message, it would boil down to simply this: Keep. On. Dancing…

May God bless the immortal, loving spirit of Carol Orkin.

Thank you.


Note: This photo was taken in Summer 2009. I feel it captures my mom’s gentleness, strength, grace, and beauty. When I think of her, I think of her in this moment, smiling in quiet contentment on a lovely summer day.


Thank you for reading.