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Chapter 14: Casa Serena

Time flies. A week ago I roasted in medieval clothing and received my Stanford diploma from President Wilson. Mr. Chernik and Dr. Newman attended in loco parentis. At each lion's graduation his or her supervisor and another staff member attended, though it took one or two midnight plane flights to make the schedule. I ended up majoring in computer science, and I learned a lot in four years. As a freshman I may have qualified as a hotshot programmer, but there's a whole lot more to know about the profession, which I have just been spilling out in detestable final exams.

I've also been taking a wide variety of other courses that I felt would be interesting or useful for having a life beyond whatever job I might get in computing. I took economics, of course, and accounting, and I continued taking organ, which is a lot of fun, plus a course in music theory. I bought a nice keyboard and sound module cheap from another student. In art I also had a theory course, and I graduated to watercolor and oil paint. I even had a show, and sold one piece. I never did take chemistry.

I built a required psych course into a kind of secondary major in educational psychology: officially, the application of multimedia computer technology to education. What this means is, I got myself formal training in maintaining and extending the lion disc. My project over junior summer, with modest funding, was on teaching preschool kids off the lion disc at the university's lab school, and in particular, what the shortcomings were of the disc when used by small humans. I was happy that Tiger could join me on that.

On the personal front, I changed my color scheme again. I decided the black and auburn were a bit too dark and rough for the impression I wanted to give, but I really like the stripes, so I tried auburn and lion color, with a black tail tip. I think I'm going to stick with this one for a while; it's very handsome if I do say so myself. Tiger has stuck with her midnight black all along. She's handsome too, but in her own way.

Xylogen has been a big success. Freshman summer was spent with them, and Tiger wrangled herself a job as a lab tech. It was such a relief for us to be together, if only for the summer. I took half my pay in stock, needing the rest in cash for the coming year, and Tiger took a quarter. This ran the family holding to 15800 shares. That was before the IPO followed by the split. And they've started paying a dividend. It's small, mainly symbolic, but with that many shares it means that I've been able to pay off all my student debt despite the non-profit nature of our junior summer project. Of course I didn't sell shares; that would be killing the goose that is going to lay a lot more golden eggs before this is over.

The other lions are also doing well. The most interesting job is Charlie's. Of course. At Chicago he did data entry for an economics project, and caught the eye of the prof by spotting a pattern of inconsistency in some of the data. The prof's encouragement led Charlie to major in econ. Chicago has a dynamite econ program, the prof was appointed last March to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Charlie has gotten a job on the SEC staff in his office. Is this the modern place for an 18th century British military officer? In Charlie logic, I have a feeling that it is.

Freshman year, Tiger landed a job as a lab helper in a research fab lab for quantum optical computer chips, and I joined her in Michigan for sophomore summer. Which brings me to the present time. Shortly before we went off to college one of the Michigan faculty transferred to Brigham Young with a bunch of graduate students, and set up a company called Whinx for making quantum chips. The W is actually an omega, and the name is an elaborate pun on one of the key formulas in that field. The prof kept contact with his old colleagues, the better to snap up rising young talent. Such as Tiger. I can write the programs fine, but how the processor carries them out, that just gives me a headache. Tiger has a real talent for quantum computation. So, we decided, she has priority careerwise, and we're now in Salt Lake.

One might think I was being left to find a junk job, but by a happy coincidence a Salt Lake local brewery went belly up about three months ago, and Xylogen saw eight vats to fill with oobleck. And not just any oobleck; it's a new bug. Nobody outside the company knows this, and few in it, but rather than butyrate the bug makes terephthalate. They called me out of the blue, and I accepted on the spot. Escrow on the brewery closes end of next week, and we have to get the work planned to convert it from beer to plastic production, hence the quick start after graduation.

And we're facing the manager's door at the Angel Arms Apartments, the last on our list for today. You'd think renting an apartment would be easy. The door opens. The manager's jaw drops.

Tiger: Hi, we're lion people. You advertised an apartment for rent...

Manager: I've already rented that apartment. Sorry.

She's not so impolite as to actually slam the door, but I can feel the spirit. Not a pleasant feeling.

Me: Jeez, you'd think they didn't like lion people.

Tiger, lashing her tail: Yeah, you'd think that, wouldn't you. I've been feeling it for the last three days, and I'm pissed. I think it's time to recruit outside help. I copied down the address of the Fair Housing Council. And would you drive? I'm so mad I don't trust myself.

Yes, we both did driver training that summer at Michigan, and have licenses. I park our rented car at the indicated address. In a few minutes a surprised-looking counselor calls us into her office.

Counselor: I'm Ellen Mendez. How can I help you?

Me: Here's a list of apartments we've checked out in the last three days. Every one of them has already been rented. They seem to go rather fast, don't you think? We'd like some practical suggestions about how to get an apartment in this town. The way our finances are presently, we'd really prefer not to have to buy a house right now.

Ellen: This one here, we've tangled with before, and that one. Hmm, this one has an agreement with us, the first one you went to. I'll have to call her up and remind her. But a lot of them are new to me, meaning they don't discriminate against the kinds of people usually discriminated against. You, on the other hand...

Tiger: We're the sort that surprises managers, and they react badly to surprises, despite our charming manner and discreet fangs and claws.

Ellen: You put that very delicately. What exactly are you after? Landlords who discriminate against people without cause should be punished.

Me: We'll do our part, of course, but we're not in this for revenge, nor for making Salt Lake safe for lion people, because there are only eight of us and this family are the only ones Salt Lake is going to see for a long time. I'm not saying that in a hostile way, I'm just pointing out that one family in each of four cities is the way it's going to be. What I really want is to be wiring up a brewery, and she wants to be designing chips, not wrestling with landlords or, heaven forbid, lawyers. If that's possible.

Ellen: I see your point and I sympathize with you. Look, what did you think of Mercedes' place, Casa Serena?

Me: From the outside it was fine.

Ellen: How about I call her up and send you back to her?

Talking on the phone, Ellen tactfully reviews the rules on housing discrimination, and works around to the subject of lion people. At the end she puts me on the phone.

Mercedes: I'm sorry I was rude to you, Mr. Leones, but I've got tenants to think of too. Look, it's hard to ask this...

Me: If you have a question, ask it straight out. We find it helps a lot to have the issues on the table comprehensibly, rather than dancing around trying to avoid hurting people's feelings.

Mercedes: What do you do with kids? We have a lot of families here with kids and they would worry.

Me: We both taught preschoolers last summer in a research project. None got eaten. Do you know the lion disc? That's ours, and the project was to look for inadequacies in the way it teaches very young children from a non-lion background, so we could improve it. Which we did. I don't think your tenants need to worry about their kids. And we don't eat raw zebras; we eat human food, though in different proportions from a human.

Mercedes: Do you, well, you know, roar?

Me: Like a human, I can make noise when I have a reason to. We don't go around chorusing when neighbors are trying to sleep or relax, if that's what you mean, as Panthera leo might.

Mercedes: There's a credit check for new tenants.

Me: Our student debt is all paid off, and I can refer you to our brokerage; we use them as our bank. Finance is no problem.

Mercedes: Why don't you come over and I'll show you the apartment?

Me: Sure, thanks. See you in fifteen minutes.

Tiger: Finance, hah! We could probably buy the place.

Me: Come on, it's a big complex. But the Angel Arms, if we were stupid we'd sell the stock and buy that dump out from under her, and teach that manager a few things about lion people. Already rented, shove it up her ass! Sorry, Ms. Mendez, I'm just being peevish. Thank you very much for your help, and if the Casa Serena falls through, I think we have some ideas now what the landlords are worried about, and we can be more effective at not taking no for an answer. Bye.

We drive back to Casa Serena. It started out as a mixed condo and townhouse project, but changing patterns of prosperity put it in working class territory. In fact, it's within reasonable walking distance (for a lion) of the brewery, which is why we tried it first. It has nice mature trees, a plus for lions. We park and again locate the manager's unit. She may be Mercedes to Ms. Mendez, but Tiger and I think we should be a little less familiar with her.

Ms. Alarcon: Sorry we got off to a bad start, but you are a bit disconcerting, you know.

Tiger: Yes, heads turn wherever we go. It can get tiring.

Ms. Alarcon: Are you, you know, two guys, or what?

Tiger: No, we're a mated pair, male and female. You can't tell that by looking, though we have a recognition scent that includes our sex. We'll start our family as soon as we get ourselves settled down. It's kind of a shock, graduating from college and slam, taking our places in demanding jobs. But we're tough, we learn fast, and we work hard. Everything will work out, including the kittens.

Ms. Alarcon: This is a three bedroom townhouse. Most newlyweds choose the one or two bedroom units.

Me: We've been looking at three bedroom apartments because we don't want to have to move as our family grows. We think the extra expense now will be worth it in the future.

Ms. Alarcon: Well, let's go and see the place. It's number 208, just around here, the left one of that pair in the corner.

From the outside it's quite nice. A cedar tree shades the front of the two story house and low maintenance plants surround the low porch. Architecture is vaguely Spanish and the exterior stucco is gently sienna toned in the mix. The building is far from new but it's aged gracefully as its tree has grown.

The denizen of the adjacent townhouse opens the door to check out the prospective tenants.

Ms. Alarcon: Hi, Mrs. Fisher. These are lion people. I'm showing 208 to them.

Mrs. Fisher: Well, well. We don't see many lion people, do we?

Tiger: No, we're rare. And interesting.

Mrs. Fisher: Heh, heh, for an old gossip like me. Too tough to eat, I'm afraid.

Tiger: Right, we like more succulent prey. Actually we're close to vegetarian; we have a different metabolism from humans and Panthera leo. People might think we're named wrong, but that's the way we are. We're happy to meet you and I hope if we take this unit we'll be good neighbors.

We go in. The ground floor is L-shaped. The living room is in front while at the left rear is the kitchen, without a separating wall. The living room extends upward all the way to the roof. Ceiling beams are exposed about five centimeters compared to fifteen outside the house; I trust the missing space is taken up by insulation. Windows are generous, and double glazed. A table could go in the corner of the L for dining if one wanted to be fancy. The L wraps around the garage, which has a door into the house but no exterior door, an aid to car thieves. The floor is one piece low maintenance vinyl in a simulated tile pattern, though sharp eyes show patched nail holes around the edges from where the previous tenant put wall to wall carpet over it, presumably hopelessly worn out now. From the entrance a steep stairway, forming the roof of a small closet, leads up to a balcony with an iron rail, vertical bars closely spaced by the standards of human children, from which open two smaller bedrooms over the garage, a bathroom with shower (no tub), and the larger bedroom at the end. A window allows the master bedroom to share visual space with the living room, while the bedroom's interior is not actually visible. Some ads, but not the one for Casa Serena, emphasized the size of closets, and I can see why closets were not boasted about here. The walls are generic white, and my nose tells me the paint is new. The common wall with Mrs. Fisher's unit is cinder blocks, but the rest of the walls are plasterboard.

Me: Ms. Alarcon, could you excuse us for just a minute? Thanks.

Tiger: So, what do you think? It's not ideal, but it's not bad either. We'll need crash pads under the stairs and balcony because I'm sure the kittens will love swinging from the railing.

Me: My thought exactly: not ideal but not bad. The grounds are nice, in fact, better than any of the others. Like Angel Arms, just a sheet of cracked asphalt. I wonder what the neighbors are like?

Tiger: We'll never know until we move in, I'm afraid. So, do we grab this one, or keep looking and hope she doesn't rent this one for real?

Me: I really like the fact that we won't need a second car, and I think we're both tired of this game, and I think other places will have their own mix of good and bad. Let's do it.

Tiger: Agreed. Ms. Alarcon, we'd like to rent this place.

The bureaucratic nonsense of the credit check will take until the weekend. In the meantime we buy a very used Honda for Tiger (returning the rental car), and two pots and a few plates and bowls, and exercise mats, which will have to serve us for beds for at least one if not two paychecks. But our first priority is to buy some pictures to relieve those awful white walls, and we know just where to get them. It seems like yesterday when we were all buying pictures together at the art museum; we go back there, and many of the prints we remember are still in production. I buy another copy of my desert scene, and Tiger gets her view of the Seine, and we both like the Kandinsky bird that Charlie bought. From a recent special exhibition there's a Russian altarpiece that's very interesting and colorful, and we get that. And we get a lively vertical bamboo thicket with insects and birds, by a Chinese artist. At the end we notice a marvelous small portrait of a Panthera leo, which we assign to the bathroom. No room should be without visual interest.

Me: What would you think, Tiger, if I painted kind of a mural on some of the walls? Like forest plants, maybe? We could plan it all out, and I could do it a little each day.

Tiger: Yeah, open, light forest. The white makes the room bright, but it's so blah. Let's do it!

Spending all our budgeted money takes only one day, and both we and our employers are anxious to get started at work. Xylogen has rented a temporary office two blocks from the brewery. While near Casa Serena, unfortunately it's not near our motel, and Tiger drops me off on the way to the Whinx office. It's a storefront, formerly a small restaurant, and it still has the ``Eat!'' sign outside. Our tenancy gives the owner a few bucks while he tries to lease it to a proper business. People seem to be using the booths as desks, but the counter and grill are sadly silent.

Me: Hi, are you Mike Sokolov? I'm Simba Leones.

Mike: Hi, there, pleased to meet you. I've heard a lot about you from Sunnyvale. Frank is the mechanical tech and Rudy is the bug runner; they'll be here shortly. What we've been doing is planning what to do when we move in, and ordering the smaller equipment and supplies, which are stacked up back there in the stockroom. We got our internet connection yesterday, and I'd like you to get us wired up, just temporary wiring since we have to take all our stuff out of here in a few days, and then start planning the computing needs of the factory.

Me: I'll need to see plans, and is there any chance of walking through the building?

Mike: The plans are on my machine, and you can look at them as soon as you run a wire to it. So can the other people. They've given us a key to the building. Escrow closes next Friday, and then we can move in there and really start doing something.

Me: Sounds good. It's probably going to be most efficient if I go out and buy a hub, a roll of wire and some connectors, rather than ordering and waiting for it to be delivered. How do we handle payment? And my mate has our car, so it would be really helpful if I could borrow one.

Mike: There's a corporate credit card. But give me an estimate of how much you're going to spend before you do it, OK, not after you spend it. And there's no problem borrowing my car.

The assignment is easily accomplished. Once I get the network set up, I find that they're going to put up triangular supports in a row along both side walls of the building about three meters up, and run water, air and carbon dioxide pipes on them. A third set of pipes will be supported on beams crossing between conveniently located existing brackets on the eight vats, which are in two rows of four. I seem to have become the de facto electrician, and I ask for and get a slight change in the shape of the triangles so I can attach separate electrical and data conduits to the vertical section against the wall, and have them higher than the water pipes. I'll have a plug box next to each vat both on the wall and in the central alley.

I have a pretty good idea what kind of server computer we're going to need, but I want to have separate machines on the factory floor collecting data and I need to think about those a little. Also there's a minor detail that needs to be taken care of.

Me: Mike, you've probably noticed that I'm not wearing shoes. Our claw mechanism doesn't hold up well when you drop things on it, and I've been warned that for crafts work protective shoes are important. I'd like to try to find some. Let's make a deal: I'll pay for the shoes, but I'll locate them on company time and borrow your car again to go and buy them. OK?

Mike: Yes, that's a real good idea. And I notice you're not wearing anything else, just your fur. Can you wear a lab coat or something when we're handling oobleck?

Me: Right, I should order one. I'll get on both of those right away.

After quite a number of phone calls I discover that a specialized orthopedic shoemaker will have to do the job for me. I drive out to let him measure my feet, and to negotiate a price: two hundred dollars. These shoes had better be worth it. They're going to be kind of a hybrid between steel toe work boots and sandals, fastening around the ankle, because my foot is too flexible and a human's shoe tie over the top of the foot just falls off me. I hope the ankle wrap won't be too uncomfortable on my fur. The shoes will be ready next Wednesday.

Saturday is move-in day. We park in our own garage space, next to Mrs. Fisher's car, and walk over to the manager's unit.

Ms. Alarcon: Yes, your credit check came out excellent. Do you have the lease contract I gave you, signed? And a check. Good, I'll sign the lease for the company, and here's your copy and your keys. Rent is due on the fifth of each month.

Tiger: Thanks, Ms. Alarcon. And is there a key for the storage box in the garage?

Ms. Alarcon: No, dear, you buy your own lock for that, which will come with a key. If you need any help moving in, one of the kids will be glad to earn a few dollars.

Me: Thanks, but I don't think we'll need any help. Lion people don't own much. Our selves and our information are what's valuable. Well, we'll be seeing you!

We return to the apartment. It takes about two trips to transfer everything we own from the car to inside. Now Tiger and I make a list of more stuff we need, that we didn't think of. How are we going to hang the pictures? And do we just tape them up, or do we want to get real frames? And we need a ladder. There's no place to store a stepladder, but Mr. Ragland had a nice folding ladder, four segments of one meter each, which would fit neatly in the downstairs closet. I'd really like to get one of those if I can find one. I can call around... if we had a phone. Ordering an ISDN line, to be used for both voice and data, will be the first priority. It's time to pay a visit, both of us, to Mrs. Fisher.

Mrs. Fisher: So you two decided to rent 208. Welcome to the neighborhood. You look like husband and wife, but I'll be darned if I can tell which is which!

Tiger: Our designers did that deliberately. They thought that gender differences had given humans so much grief that they would write them out of our genotype. I'm female and he's male.

We chat about kittens, and about her family, now grown up and moved away, and her husband who passed away, a heart attack. A pension, coupled with the current government's responsible attitude toward inflation, gives Mrs. Fisher food and housing and a modest amount for getting some fun out of life. I describe our strict budget. We have some investments, I tell her, but those have to be kept intact. I gently steer the conversation around to setting up a new house...

Me: Do you mind if I borrow your phone? We need to order phone service, and I'd also like to call and find what place has ladders.

Mrs. Fisher: Sure, go ahead, and here's the phone book.

It turns out that a new phone customer, that's us, will have to make a physical visit to the phone company and sign papers. But good news, the third store I call has the folding ladder. Bad news, it costs a hundred and twenty bucks. Oh well, that's what reserves are for.

Me: Thanks so much, Mrs. Fisher! You know, something just clicked in my mind. What do you do for an exercise bar? Is there a preferred way to hang a bar in these houses?

Mrs: Fisher: A bar? Like for doing kips and flips? Heaven forbid, at my age!

Me: Oh no, not flips, just chinups. We do them every morning, and other strength and stretching exercises, but it's been impossible in our motel and neither of us has a good place at work either. In college my roommate put a piece of pipe between two clothes cabinets. Here's what I think I'll do: at the building supply store that has the ladder I'll buy a plywood scrap, and some screws, and a coping saw, and I'll cut out U-shaped pieces and screw them in one of the door frames. And I need a drill and a screwdriver. I'd better plan a list of tools to get, and this is going to go way over budget. Jeez, it takes a lot of stuff even if you're just renting! Anyway, I'll buy a piece of pipe the right length... Oh, no, we don't even have a measuring tape! Do you have one, Mrs. Fisher?

Mrs. Fisher: My husband had a box of tools. I don't even know what's in it. You're welcome to it.

Me: Thanks very much! I'll return it as soon as we have some of our own.

Mrs. Fisher: Oh no, keep it; it's certainly wasted with me.

Me: Really? Thank you so much! If you ever need anything fixed, just ask us. It's the least we can do for a neighbor.

Tiger and I excuse ourselves, and investigate what's in the toolbox (yes, a tape, and a coping saw too), and do some planning. It takes until lunch to deal with an abysmally stupid phone company functionary, and then to buy our ladder and pipe (which has to be cut) and scrap plywood, and a small tin of generic white paint and a disposable brush. Lunch: we're going to be cooking in our very own kitchen, which means we have to buy our very own food at the grocery store across the road. At least that comes out of a different budget category.

Over lunch we decide that our budget is way too small in certain areas, and between bites Tiger fills in the actual expenditures and tries to rebalance it. We decide to sell the last of the mutual fund shares, so we have some immediate reserve against unexpected expenses, which today has taught us are likely. They only yield about three hundred dollars, but by shifting encumbrances around we can afford a few inexpensive luxuries that will make us feel a whole lot less constrained. Such as picture frames.

After lunch we drive over to a frame store we saw this morning, and pick out some frames that are adequately balanced between cheap and decent. On return I cut out and paint our bar ends while Tiger assembles the frames around the pictures. While the paint dries we hang up the pictures. The house looks a whole lot more alive with some art on the walls.

Me: OK, that's done, but the paint isn't dry yet. What should we do now?

Tiger: Let's go around and meet the neighbors. I'll make up a map so we can remember who lives where.

Ever organized, she draws up and prints a map of the apartment complex. We start clockwise with the next triplet of townhouses. We find that the interaction is fairly standardized. We ring the doorbell. The resident, if home, is surprised and fearful, more or less depending on his or her personality. We turn on the charm. Still at the doorstep the person asks questions which always include what is our gender, and sometimes the person asks if we bite or scratch. I explain that in a situation where a human would use fists we slash, not scratch, but both of us have avoided the need for slashing so far. One person had the effrontery to ask if we were house-trained, which turned out to mean if we knew not to excrete on the carpet. Our answer was charming. Sometimes we're invited in, and those families get an asterisk on the map. The one who asked about house-training did not get an asterisk. We try to elicit a list of family members with ages for children, and interests and activities that the family enjoy, and we reciprocate, generally or specifically depending on how interested the person seems to be. We excuse ourselves, and outside, write notes on the back of the map, discreetly.

Coming out of the sixth neighbor's apartment -- we're over on the first floor of the condo section now -- I notice two outlines through a bush. So does Tiger.

Me, quietly: Should we stalk those two kids, or walk right up to them?

Tiger: Neither, I think. They've no way to escape. Let's just sit on the doorstep and not look at them until they move.

Of course our patience is the greater. It takes only about two minutes for their nerve to break. Crouched low they try to sneak away.

Tiger: I see you, of course. If I decide to, I could catch you easily. Come over here and introduce yourselves.

The kids are embarrassed to be caught, and clearly nervous to be near the dangerous strangers. They are very brown, with bare feet and black Mexican hair. The older boy is shirtless; the younger girl's cheap shirt has a picture of a teddy bear, and several holes.

Kid: I'm Coyote. She's Mariposa.

Tiger: My name is Tiger, and this is Simba. We're lion people. We live in 208 now, and we're going around meeting neighbors. Like you. Do you have any lion person stuffed animals?

Mariposa nods her head.

Tiger: That's good; we like people to have our stuffed animals. What do you kids do for fun? Simba plays synth and organ real well, and draws and paints. I love air combat games, and exploring the map by air. If I could ever afford an airplane I'd like that a lot. I'm also pretty good at drawing and I'm learning the violin. What do you like?

Coyote: I play basketball. We hang out. Sometimes we, you know, get into trouble.

Mariposa: I can draw too. Not very good. I play with my stuffed animals.

Tiger: How's your progress in school?

Coyote: Hah!

Mariposa: I'm pretty dumb.

Tiger: Oh, that's too bad. Do you have a computer at home?

Coyote: No way! We don't have money for that kind of thing. That's just for the white kids.

Me: And for the lions. We never went to school; everything we know we learned off the lion disc. And we forced the state to acknowledge that we had effectively finished high school when we were younger than you, Coyote.

Coyote: I'm never going to know that stuff, and that's that.

Me: Lions are also strong and tough. How about you kids?

Coyote: Tough, yes.

Tiger: Hmm, not as much meat on those bones as I'd like to see. What exercises do you do?

Coyote: To fatten myself up so you can eat me.

Tiger: You'd be surprised what we actually eat. I won't joke with you; we don't eat people. But if you want to add strong to tough, you need to exercise. It doesn't happen by itself. That applies to both of you.

Mariposa: Girls are weak. Do lion people get raped?

Tiger slashes upward at Coyote who jumps back in alarm, covering up his crotch. Thus unbalanced he nearly falls over.

Tiger: Does that answer your question? I'm female, by the way. And Coyote, you should turn sideways and open up with your hands, so my claws will follow. With the defense you used, if I had really been peeved at your penis you wouldn't still have it. Let's try that again, but I'll omit the claws in case your hands stray where they shouldn't be. OK, that was better. That defense will work on any fist attack too, and some kicks. The point of that demo was to show Mariposa what you get after a lot of practice on our self-defense lessons. Of course humans don't have claws, but there are alternatives you can use, like the defense I showed Coyote. If you kids want to learn lion exercises and can't get them off the lion disc, we'll teach them to you now. Want to?

Mariposa: Yes, please.

Coyote looks unwilling.

Me: By learning, Mariposa will get to be strong and tough as a lion, which is important for her. Girls are weak and rapeable if they don't practice strength and defense moves.

Coyote: You make learning sound so easy.

Me: The exercises are hard and progress is slow. That's where you'll need the toughness you claim to have, to keep doing them every day even though you're not improving as fast as you'd like. Interested in wimping out?

Coyote: Come on, let's have info, not hot air.

Me: A practical suggestion, if not very polite. Let's sit here on the grass, legs straight, and bend forward gently...

These kids are so... How do I put it? Despite what both Mariposa and Coyote say, they aren't dumb, and they observe and imitate and ask semi-coherent and sometimes appropriate questions. But they have no idea of aggression, in the sense of attacking a problem and accomplishing it. To Coyote, all the word means is beating people up. I consider there's no point in embarrassing them by asking about useful skills such as math or reading. And they haven't had the benefit of years of psychodrama, both for organizing their minds and for knowing when we're manipulating them. But accepting them for what they are, we find it's fun to do the exercises with them. There's even a tree branch to do chinups from, which Mariposa can reach by a maximum effort leap, even if she can then do only one chinup. In the motel for a week we didn't have space to exercise properly, and it feels good to get our blood circulating. We finish up with running.

Tiger: Hey, Coyote, you sound like you're going to pass out. Both of you walk, while we run around you in circles. Walk, now! That was good toughness, but the object of running is to strengthen your heart and blood and lungs, not to practice being tough. What's your most important goal in this exercise?

Coyote, gasping: To beat the other guy.

Tiger: If he's chasing you with a knife, that's true. Try again.

Coyote: To make it to the end.

Tiger: You're learning, good for you. But that's the second most important goal. Think what's going to make you strong and what could interfere.

Coyote: I have to do it every day. But that's not a goal.

Tiger: Yes, it is. And if you push yourself like you just did, is it fun? Will you do the same tomorrow?

Coyote: It's sure not fun. So you want me to say I shouldn't push as hard.

Tiger: I'm making a defense move on that question. What do you want to say?

Coyote: I want to be strong, so I want it to be not so much like punishment, so I'll do it tomorrow, which means that I have to run less than I did. And not make it to the end.

Tiger: Excellent, except for the very last sentence. You can run again now. Run until you've had enough, then walk 25 paces. Repeat until you're at the end. Normally we'd run off and leave you, but today we'll keep you company by going in circles when you walk.

Mariposa: Don't you ever get tired?

Tiger: No. Lion people can run any human into the ground, because we're built for it and we practice. Don't feel weak; a human who practices can run any other animal into the ground. Others are faster than we are at the beginning, but not at the end.

We run around the perimeter of Casa Serena, which isn't far, but we lions cover about twice the distance the kids do as we circle them. Later we've got to investigate better running routes. While driving we discovered a large park only two blocks away which is a prime possibility. We finish our run by returning near our unit.

Me: Jeez, that felt good! I've been cooped up in narrow spaces for the whole week. Coyote, let's go and meet your parents.

Coyote: Well, they're not exactly the meeting type.

Me: That's too bad. But at least they should see us; we'll just say hi at the door. Imagine your father or mother coming around a corner face to face with us. Wouldn't it be better they weren't surprised?

Coyote: Yeah, I guess El Oso might slap down a puma without thinking, heh, heh. And this puma might slap back. That would be a sight to see. Come on.

We look through the door of a dark, disorganized one bedroom former condo. I spot a lion person among a collection of stuffed animals behind the couch. A bottle of Tecate is in the hand of a large gentleman in his undershirt sitting on the said couch, watching some kind of sport event on TV, and two empties are on the floor at his side. A careworn woman hovers in the kitchen area.

Coyote: Padre, Madre, these are new neighbors, the lion people, Tiger and Simba.

El Oso: Lion people, eh? I've seen your kind on TV.

Me: Yes, we're rare enough to be interesting. What are your names?

El Oso: Call me Oso; everyone else does. She's Maria.

Me: Nice to meet you, Oso and Maria. We're in the unit next to Mrs. Fisher. Come over and visit us. Bye.

Mariposa squeezes past us and collects the lion person stuffed animal, but I'm a bit surprised to find that both kids follow us home.

Coyote: Wow, your place is so big! And empty. I'll bet you're going to go out and buy furniture. I wish we could have some new stuff; that couch is so lousy. That's where Mariposa and I sleep.

Me: Good, my paint is dry. Come upstairs and see how I put these on the doorframe.

Coyote: Little bits of wood; what are they for?

Me: Holding up a chinup bar. See, I drill three holes, and bore them out, and put screws in them, and same on the other side. Look, they hold up my bar and I can take it out when I'm not using it.

I do forty chinups to show off. That's about my limit, with no rest between sets. Tiger kindly omits showing what she can do, with her thick shoulder muscles. Meanwhile:

Coyote: I thought you put wood together with nails.

Me: I was afraid the nails would come out, with a live load like this. Also the screws look better. On the furniture, we're going to be sleeping on our exercise mats for quite some time, and sitting on the floor to eat. We don't have much cash.

Coyote: Couldn't you put it on your credit card? You do have one, don't you?

Me: Yes we do, but we'd rather sleep on the floor than buy a bed on debt.

Coyote: Your fur isn't the only thing different about you. If I had a card I'd buy some nice clothes, not with holes like these, and a gold chain, and a dress for my Madre, and something better than that stupid couch for us to sleep on. And lots of stuff. And I'd have pizza every day.

Me: Speaking of which, we should start making dinner, and we're not going to feed you.

Coyote: I can take a hint. Come on, Mariposa.

Mariposa: What are you going to have?

Me: We haven't decided, but I was going to suggest a kind of Chinese pancake that I learned to make from my old boss. We don't kill wildebeests and okapis. We eat a lot of starchy food, and fruit. I think humans would like our food but you'd get sick if that were all you ate. You kids are fun. We'll see you around, tomorrow.

Kids ejected, we get busy making, and eating, the solid Chinese onion cakes. It's good lion food: easy to make, tastes good, interesting to chew, and has a lot of fuel value.

Tiger, munching: I'm happy. My work is hard but I can do it and I'm off to a good start. I think you're getting along with your co-workers too. I'm glad we rented this place, and I think the people here are nice, mostly. There are a few who aren't that wonderful but that's true everywhere, and I think we're going to get along here. And if our paychecks ever show up, we're set financially, maybe not on the surface like what Coyote was looking at, but we'll have decent reserves within a few months. I wasn't expecting this much money. The reason I'm bringing this up is, I want to start the breeding program.

Me: Ulp! We're barely 21 years old. We planned to have kittens at 24. Do you think we're mature enough to handle it?

Tiger: I was thinking about that, and I think we are. We have the best training in the world, and videos of ourselves, and lots of backup from our supervisors, I mean not hands on, but for advice. Certainly we should ask our supervisors' opinions, and the other lions, but I'm inclined to be aggressive, reproductively. What's your feeling, not whether you can handle it, but whether you want to handle it.

Me: Well, when we were looking at this place I found myself kind of assuming there would be kittens in it. Understand, this is kind of quicker than I expected and I might need a few minutes to get used to the idea, but yes, I want to have kittens with you. When did you have in mind?

Tiger: A few minutes, eh? I'd like to send a message tonight; we'll drive somewhere that has an ISDN pay phone. I wish we could get a phone line the same day we order it! Assuming a timely reply, let's order the eggs and sperms on Thursday morning, and plan for the mating next Saturday.

The days pass in a daze. All the other lions agree to reproduce promptly, as do the project staff. Our main criterion is that we should have at most trivial debt before reproducing, so there is no question we can take care of the kittens once produced. Lions have invested astutely, worked hard in college jobs that pay money, and in some cases attended less expensive schools than Stanford, and the largest debt, Elsa's, is three thousand dollars, which we agree can be paid off from a few paychecks. Elsa and Adam will go last in the first season of mating. We will spread out the kittens so Dr. Newman can attend each birth.

Tiger and I decide on a name: Attila. We like the sound of Achernar, but we run it by our human friends, co-workers and neighbors, and they find it peculiar. Attila is peculiar in its own way, not English or Spanish, but most people know it was a warrior's name and they think it great for a boy. Lions think differently about gender roles.

Having held down button three for twenty minutes Thursday morning, when I awake on Saturday I feel a very definite itch in that button. Tiger, however, feels nothing. Is this going to work? We do our morning exercise, run and eat breakfast. Still nothing, but it's still early, just seven o'clock, and we decide to take our drawing boards out to the park to pass the time while waiting for Tiger to get ready. I draw squirrels; she draws trees. Then I draw trees and she draws squirrels. We both draw two kids who are up early and swinging on the monkey bars. Their friends arrive. By this time it's ten and I've had plenty of drawing practice. Tiger's eggs are late.

When we return some kids are having fun on the grass in the center of the apartment complex. We put away our boards and see what they're doing. Someone has a long sheet of plastic. They spray water on it from a hose, then jump on it and slide.

Me: That looks like fun. May we have a turn?

I run, and kind of sit on the plastic and slide almost to the end, spinning around on my butt with my tail protected between my legs. Tiger runs, rolls once on the grass and leaps with a roar, sliding on her chest all the way off the other side, tail lashing. The kids yell their approval and try to imitate with varying degrees of success. It's a lot of fun, every jump different.

Me: Hey, Coyote! Mariposa! Come over here. Look what the kids are doing. It's fun; try it!

Coyote: Um, maybe next time.

Clearly Mariposa wants to, and so does Coyote but he hides his disappointment better.

Mariposa: I wish we had swim suits.

Me: Is that the problem? Then do it in your underpants. Or like us, with no pants at all. At the Lion Foundation the human kids never wore clothes playing in the stream.

Coyote: Come on! I'm not going to take my pants off to play your stupid game.

Me: Covered and no fun, or uncovered and fun, it's your choice. How important can it be to not have your underpants or penis seen?

Coyote: Suppose my friends come by and see me?

Me: You moon them, because your name is Coyote!

Coyote: Mother of God, you twist my mind!

Me: Seriously, I rub your nose in your choices, in the consequences, but I've never forced you, have I? Knowing the consequences, you choose what you think best. As here. Which is more important?

Coyote: To hell with what people think, I'm going to have fun, and to hell with stupid underpants too! And Coyote will moon anyone who makes comments!

He strips, cuts in front of the kid whose proper turn it is, and goes sailing on his bare butt, sliding off halfway down and rolling over and over in the grass. I whisper to the younger kid to ignore his impoliteness, because it's important, OK? Mariposa more conservatively peels to her underpants and joins the line at the end. The game is even more fun with the larger and more aggressive Coyote doing daredevil stunts.

Carrying a six-pack of Tecate and a second brown paper bag, El Oso saunters by. A double-take when he sees what his kids are wearing.

El Oso: You better be careful, Guadalupe. If anything happens to you, don't say I didn't warn you.

Mariposa: Anyone gets fresh with me, I'll kick 'em in the balls and slash 'em with my claws!

Into his apartment goes El Oso, shaking his head. Coyote wisely omits mooning his Padre. The game gets even more frolicsome and Tiger and I are having a great time.

Tiger: Hey, I've got an itch on button three! My eggs are ready. Kids, we've got to go; we have a kitten to beget.

Mariposa: What's beget?

Tiger: We join together to make a kitten.

Coyote: What? You mean you're going to go off and screw, and you're telling us?

Tiger: We say it somewhat more tastefully, but yes, we want to beget a kitten, and we have to wait for our bodies to be ready, and it just got that way.

Coyote: You have no idea of tasteful. People, I mean humans like me, don't go around broadcasting what they're going to do, like that. Suppose El Oso heard you; he'd be pissed that he wasn't going to get a turn. You wouldn't want that.

Tiger: OK, OK, I won't debate lion customs with a human. Let's try that again. Hey, kids, it's time for us lions to leave now, and you all have fun. Bye!

We return to our townhouse, and use towels to dry off as much as possible. Then we push our exercise mats together and lay down on opposite sides of the virtual border, and close our eyes. We are together.

We set sail across our lake of liquid fire. Three people arrive at the opposite shore. Afterward...

Me: I want to put up a big sign: Welcome Attila.

Tiger: Well, maybe that would be a bit extreme, but I want to show off too. Let's tell Mrs. Fisher.

We knock on her door; the kids are still yelling in the background.

Mrs. Fisher: Well, you two look like to burst. What's new?

Tiger, patting her tummy: Say hi to the newest member of our family: Attila!

Mrs. Fisher: You're pregnant? Congratulations! I know you talked to me about the baby's name, but I didn't expect you to know so fast.

Me: We're pretty excited about starting the breeding program. It's really the high point of the lion project: really starting the new species on its way to a self-sustaining population. And we're the first to reproduce. We're nervous about training Attila, but we've studied for it, and I think we can do a good job. I just hope I'll do as well as my supervisor, Mr. Chernik.

Mrs. Fisher: I'm sure you'll be wonderful parents. I've seen how you handle those two Mexican kids and you seem to have a flair for it.

Tiger: Oh, thank you! If we, you know, hit some rough spots, could we ask you for advice?

Mrs. Fisher: Of course, dear. Any time, I'd love to see little Attila. When is he due?

Me: Well, we don't know the sex yet, but our gestation is 195 days, and let's see... That would put the birth just into the new year, assuming the number is right. 195 is the average for us, but that's in a pig, not inside a real lion person. Could you tell me something? What's the human custom for announcing a new child?

Mrs. Fisher: You people certainly are different, aren't you? In the old days they would pass out cigars when a baby was born, but nobody smokes cigars any more. I think candy is the thing today. And for us, being born is the big event. I guess people are a little shy about getting pregnant.

Tiger: Coyote was shy too, when we told him we were going to go and mate. But I'm not! I'm going to get a box of candy and bring it in to work on Monday. And I'm going to go around and show off to some of the other neighbors now. Bye, and have a happy day!

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