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Lost: My Eurasian Lynx

Louise took my hand and kissed it. It was a gesture that always melted my heart. She was so very appreciative that I had seemingly transcended my cynicism and given her the lynx family she had always craved.

I’m lucky. Unlike most, I’m now closer to my ex-wife than I was when she was my wife. I actually listen to her, probably as I did when we first met and I saw those twinkling lights every time I looked at her.

Like many married folks, I got lazy, caught up in what I imagined was the overwhelming importance of what I was doing and thinking. Somehow writing and refining and performing standup were obviously more important than anything she was doing and thinking.

Ironically, early on, one of the things I most appreciated was our differences. Delightful, I thought, that someone had such a refreshingly different approach to seeing the world. Sometimes she seemed to float above the fray, defying the material world, hardly bothered by the everyday cares and concerns that often haunted me. Of course, my job required me to ferret out and emphasize the foibles and follies, the events most disturbing, the contradictions and hypocrisies I could poke fun at. But to be fair, I think I became an onlooker, an outsider, a critic, a comedian in my very earliest days as a short kid trying to survive in a tough neighborhood—never a stranger to multiple neuroses.

Still, in those first years of us, my great love enabled me to walk side by side with her, to transcend the significant skepticism I had banked during those days when the extended Fizzolio clan took me to, actually insisted I attend, our local Roman Catholic Church and Sunday school. Pro-choice didn’t work in those days, either.

And so, while never encouraged to express it around the kitchen table, my unease and dissatisfaction grew week by week, month by month, as I grew increasingly impatient with the rituals I trusted less and less, enforced by the priests and nuns I viewed with suspicion. Quite frankly, I had lost my faith along the way.

Louise, of course, professed allegiance to an entirely different conviction—and my love for her somehow dispelled my disbelief enough to enable me to sit patiently in the armchair beside her while she meditated, slowly allowing the scent of her lavender incense to replace the frankincense smell of St. Anthony’s, the cloying scent that still, those many years, lingered in my brain.

Said frankincense. Photo I think by some Fizzolio with a camera

Sadly, the meditation wasn’t enough for Louise, and so I accompanied her to the Center for Redemptive Rapture, joining her consultation with Gurvi Rasa Ramona for what we both acknowledged was a steadily developing malaise. The city wasn’t working for her. I, of course, was city all the way through. Unfortunately, what I didn’t appreciate because I was so pleased with myself and my self-sacrifice was that this willingness to tolerate the New Age was but a temporary surge of what I imagined in the moment to be unconditional love. Still, to be fair, at that time, I think we were both impressed that I put her welfare above my worry that Ramona might suggest that we/I abandon the city for the country.

Ramona wasted no time on chitchat—staring at Louise, focused, even fierce; checking her pulses; then announcing: “Let’s delve!” Louise retrieved her arm, took my hand in hers—clutched it, really—ensuring I, too, was an equally engaged participant. Our eyes closed, deep breathing, om-ing, followed by guided imagery, some Tibetan bell-ringing. I was hard-pressed to remember we were still in the East Village. But 20 minutes in I was equally hard-pressed to ignore my growing desire to get up and head west to get a couple of pepperoni slices at Ray’s. It was probably the calming sounds of the rainforest that got me back on track. Ray’s disappeared and all of sudden I saw a flock of bright green macaws screeching their way across a red-blue sky. When Ramona spoke:

“I felt you leave for a bit, so welcome back, Bob … I do appreciate that this experience can be more than challenging for men, but I want you both to know I can see and feel your mutual bond. Bob, Louise, you are moving together in this greater-than-any-of-us, all-of-us, grand spiritual journey. This is a journey, no matter what we think, that we can’t avoid, a journey we all must take. How important it is to see the biggest picture! Much like the stars in the night sky, dwarfing our petty concerns.

“Usually I’d reserve the gifting of spirit animals till our second visit. Normally, I ask my clients to visualize a problem, identify a critical question, and take a walk through our imaginary zoo, reaching out for aid and advice. It can sometimes take a while to move past embarrassment; to marshal the appropriate humility; to stand modestly before the giraffe, the bear; to consult the condor; to experience what might, at first, seem like mockery from the orangutan, then continue to sincerely ask for help. I think of the process as a winnowing out. And always I do the matchmaking one client, one single appropriate spirit animal at a time, a unique granting.

In case you’ve never been to an imaginary zoo or seen a real Eurasian lynx. Photo courtesy Schönbrunn Zoo, Vienna

“But having watched the two of you, hands clasped, as you breath together, chant as one, I feel and appreciate the strength of your union. Not surprisingly, when I checked the imaginary zoo, I saw not a single animal but two—spiritually bound, deeply connected, a matched pair.

“Synchronicity is always so very powerful. And in this case, we’re talking micro-moments, but such a compelling vision it was. I saw the two of you together in Eastern Europe, the Carpathian Mountains. And as quickly as you appeared, almost immediately you were magically shapeshifting yourselves into Eurasian lynxes, male and female, then moving with enormous power and grace—two lynxes, though threatened by habitat loss and poaching, standing proud, stubbornly surviving. Your lynx, Bob, is Leonid, 4 feet long and 2 and a half feet high and weighing 60 pounds; and yours, Louise, is Natasha, lighter at 46 pounds.”

Ramona paused, I imagine, to give us a chance to process. Our eyes still closed, focused in—I’m thinking: to own our redemptive rapture. Truth be told, this was where I was ready to take a spiritual hike. Possibly, a single goldfish, in a small tank, with a portion-controlled fish food dispenser, maybe I could keep it alive for a month—maybe not. I pretty much killed every houseplant I ever had, even a little cactus while I was in college—over-watered it. My friends were amazed. A lynx: And to be completely honest, I wasn’t quite sure what a lynx even looked like at that moment. I’m seeing a stray alley cat from the neighborhood. But I was pretty sure caretaking one was pushing it.

Louise took my hand and kissed it. It was a gesture that always melted my heart. She was so very appreciative that I had seemingly transcended my cynicism and given her the lynx family she had always craved. So I cheated, opening my eyes just a tiny bit to take a peek at her, but Ramona, no stranger to commitment phobia, obviously sensed my growing doubt. I quickly caved before her laser-focused scalding look and pronounced headshaking, slammed my eyes shut, and immediately accepted my lynx. And I raised Louise’s hand to my lips.

From that day on, Louise was all in, moving all her spiritual chips to the center of the table. Truly she was entranced. Louise went nowhere without Natasha. Then, slowly, over time, and perhaps this sounds crazy to you, but Louise could sometimes slip almost unaware into her own lynxhood—Natasha and Louise, Louise and Natasha.

One night she snuggled herself into my arms, and I’m not sure I was even awake, but I’m pretty sure she whispered how much she loved her new fur. More and more I found myself wondering: Where did Louise end and Natasha begin? Sometimes I would watch as she’d stretch out, making a Natasha-like purring sound. And I could imagine her expanding her newly inherited responsibilities, preparing to pounce in future days on an imaginary rabbit to feed our imaginary young lynxes.

I wish it was otherwise but, try as I did, and I wanted to, I almost never saw our lynxes. Once or twice under the influence of some very strong hash, I imagined Natasha, bounding across the snow, sleek and fast, stalking a panicked marmot. And in those moments, I was deeply moved and hopeful. I drank more tequila, then thought, of course, it should be vodka, which I didn’t like all that much until it became Bloody Marys.

Which helped. And so I drank more, until I found myself jumping over a puddle while crossing the street, and let me tell you, I did in fact feel a slight surge of lynxhood, a bit of Leonid propelling me further than I had ever jumped before. Almost getting creamed by a gypsy cab.

And there was the time I tried to treat a sudden bout of insomnia with a pipeful of hash Louise had left unsmoked when, 20 minutes later, brushing my teeth and looking in the mirror and saying as my dear Italian mother would say, “maronn,” or Holy Mother of God, I’m pretty sure I saw Leonid looking back.

But despite these few and far between episodes, more and more, Louise sensed Leonid and I weren’t keeping up. I could see the disappointment begin to seep into her eyes. And I begrudgingly became aware that I was losing my edge. It’s hard to build a comedy routine around lynxes in love. You’ve got cutting-edge black Dave Chappelle convincingly blind and thinking he’s white and then you’ve got me doing a bit about peace, love, harmony and lynxes no one in the audience or TV land could even see. Or the increasingly popular Louis C.K. pushing the envelope into tasteless sexist oblivion with: “There’s a reason it’s called ‘girls gone wild’ and not ‘women gone wild’. When girls go wild, they show their tits. When women go wild, they kill men and drown their kids in a tub.”

Meanwhile, with Louise upfront, I’m in comedy clubs talking about the benefits of spirit animals, knowing if I went hard-edge and turned on Leonid and Natasha, I’d be packing my bags, put into Witness Protection and hiding out from Louise, Ramona and the New Age Police.

So, can you blame me? I saw the writing on the wall and chose Louise. Got a job on “The Nice Mice Show.” We made it two years on Cartoon TV. The U.S. wasn’t crazy about a bunch of corny mice pretending to be a slightly wacky family living in Miceville, but the Chinese loved us—until Seymour Slatkin, our head writer and unfortunately my boss insisted on building an entire episode on Sunday dinner at Sun Yee’s, the Mices gorging on chow mein. Then on the way out, Marcy Mouse says: “That was great. I loved my fortune cookie.” And Mikey Mouse interrupts: “Sure, Chinese food is great, but 15 minutes later, you’re hungry again!”

I argued the joke had never been funny, had never been true. But Seymour insisted that that’s what made it funny. Two days after airing, the Chinese cancelled, and Cartoon TV said goodbye to every mouse in Miceville.

I won’t deny it: Losing “The Nice Mice Show” took a toll. My name, and the names of all the Mice, was mud in TV Town. The process of losing my edge morphed into I utterly lost my edge. And I slipped into a profound moping. In retrospect, I can appreciate how I drove Louise and Natasha away. It was all about me—poor sad, sad me, who couldn’t even make it as a mouse.

I stopped asking about their day. Actually, I wasn’t even sure what Louise was doing those days. They say misery loves company. I discovered that misery loves misery. Even so, I was surprised when she left.

It was the best thing for Louise and Natasha. One of her buddies had a spare room in a place in the woods in Alford, Massachusetts. Lucky for me, Davy Wagner, who played Myron Mouse, pretended he was the census taker and, when I reluctantly opened the door, he burst in and got me sober enough to drive with him to Taos, New Mexico. I dyed my hair blonde, got a tattoo, changed my name to Richard Cohen and, with Davy, wrote a bunch of spec scripts. We wrote the treatment and then a couple of sample episodes for “Pepper and Legs,” a pilfering of several terrific British detective shows that we tried not to savage too badly. In case you missed it, Pepper was Don Pepper, former New York City detective who slipped into a coke habit. Pepper got a gig advising on the big-budget cop feature “Upper East Side,” starring the increasingly bored Dominique “Legs” Monroe. Pepper taught her and her co-star, Eddie G, how to hold a gun. A week into the shoot, she convinced Pepper to be the detective he once was and check into her younger husband, Bobby Monroe, who not only took her name but emptied her bank account.

Dominique was, not surprisingly, beautiful, convincing and shrewd, and before we knew it, she got Pepper into NA, sober, and together they solved Bobby’s murder. Yes, while Pepper was working the steps, someone knocked Bobby off. Poof, they’re now printing business cards, opening an office and in the PI biz. We were exceptionally fortunate to get “Pepper and Legs” to Universal at a time when studios were throwing money at projects in the hopes of landing one big winner. We scored 13 episodes.

You don’t need reminding that no one’s heard of Don Pepper in two decades, but for the biz, it seemed Richard Cohen could be counted on to come up with a fairly decent product. Next was “Si and Dry,” what I thought was a fairly touching tale of Simone Schwartz who, when her dad had a heart attack, took over the family dry-cleaning business only to discover that, for decades, her dad was a successful hitman working for her Uncle Howard, who used the place to launder money for the Pecorino crime family. Simone turned out to be deadly with a silencer, took over the family biz, and “Si and Dry” made it 26 episodes. Progress—until I discovered, irony of ironies, that Davy Wagner had a massive coke habit and drained our joint account before he took off to Turks and Caicos.

I ditched the blond dye, went back to Fizzolio, and headed to the city I still loved, where I scored a two-room apartment on 110th and Columbus—and rediscovered Central Park, and Leonid. I don’t know why and certainly don’t know how, but there he was, right before my eyes, whenever I went walking in the park—graceful and silent, unfortunately, because I had an awful lot of questions. One of the things that happens when you start writing dialogue is that you embrace the delusional notion that you actually understand human behavior—because you can’t create three-dimensional characters unless and until what they say is believable. What they do can be bizarre, thoroughly unusual, because we’ve all known loony folks, and done loony things, along the way—me, especially. But we have to find convincing what comes out of their mouths.

What I wanted to better understand was lynxhood. Did they think about sin? When Leonid and Natasha teamed up to tire out and cull a herd of deer, was there a moment of empathy? Were they pissed about climate change and the slow death of the glaciers? Did they ever talk to other animals about exacting revenge on stupid humans?

Of course, when I pressed these issues to Leonid—joggers and moms with strollers and dog walkers—it added me to the list of the walking neurotics who talked too loud to themselves, sometimes offering sympathetic nods, imagining, perhaps, that I was just another vet who went to war in their place, succumbing to PTSD.

I’d like to say it was a relief after all those years to finally have Leonid there beside me. And I couldn’t help but call Louise to apologize for the mountains of doubt and disbelief I brought with me during those last many months. She laughed, and suggested I ask Leonid about the time he and Natasha vacationed in the Swiss Alps and met Roger Federer.

Roger Federer with his Australian Open trophy Swiss Alps (Leonid and Natasha are just over the hill to Roger’s right). Photo courtesy Roger Federer

Something happens when the real is more bizarre than the imagined. I was sharing an apartment with a lynx no one else could see, talking to a lynx no one else could hear. Meanwhile my agent was fielding calls from several studios that were hoping that the guy who came up with “Pepper and Legs” and “Si and Dry” might be primed once more to find some real gold. And for the first time in a while, I couldn’t conjure up a decent pilot. Each day Leonid and I would trek around the reservoir and I’d pitch ideas. One morning I pitched “Vane and Vain,” your basic male and female Pirate pirates, but Leonid looked up at me sadly and shook his head.

But perseverance furthers, I told myself. So a week later, by the Central Park boathouse, I threw out my latest idea, “For Evers and Chance,” the story of minor-league buddies looking to make the majors. It was clear Leonid wasn’t impressed. “You think maybe you’re in a rut,” he told me. “Enough with the cutesy partners. Next you’ll be trying to sell me on ‘Dumbo and Gumbo,’ a touching story of two elephants who solve circus crimes. And by the way, Natasha said I’d be wasting my time trying to help you. Sorry, Fizzolio, I’m out of here.”

Before I knew what was going on, he sprinted away and jumped into a rowboat without another word. I thought I’d see him back at the apartment, but nada. After a week or so, I called Louise to ask whether she had heard from him. And she laughed at me again. “Bob, I love you. First, you can’t see what’s right in front of you. Bob, a part of you, for God’s sake. Leonid is, after all, a spirit animal, emphasis on the “spirit.” I’m pretty sure I won’t be seeing Leonid. Not to mention, my hands are pretty full with Natasha, who, by the way, says, try as she might, she never could buy Stacy Schwartz as a hitwoman. But, crazy as it seems, she said ‘Dumbo and Gumbo’ might get you back on Cartoon TV. And please remember Bob, whatever else happens, we’ll always have the Center for Redemptive Rapture.” And she started to laugh again.

Looking back on all this, I think it’s fair to say that I was shaken by what Louise had said. First, Leonid was nowhere to be found. Then he was here. Then he was gone.

I put them up in the Park, but not one, not a single soul, responded to my posters. They probably thought I was joking. My friend Madeline got a hundred calls about her lost poodle, Jethro.

Lost: Quite frankly, I could say the same about me—didn’t know whether I was coming or going, unmoored, without confidence. Well, I might have lost my Eurasian lynx but I decided to trust Louise’s. And so I spent a month drinking coffee and eating pizza, trying to make “Dumbo and Gumbo” work for cable. It wasn’t easy. I had never been to New Orleans. I got Dumbo early on but Gumbo eluded me. First, I killed the tightrope walker, then the strong man, two acrobats and the human cannonball, missing the magic, until I killed the clown. Twelve of them tumbled out of the clown car. But the 13th

I won’t spoil it. “Dumbo and Gumbo Do the Big Easy” is still floating around YouTube.

I may have lost my Eurasian lynx but I found my elephants.

But that was it for me and TV. Luckily, Abigail Ketcham—Mona Mice to you—was looking for a writer. Who knew, but it seems that Abbi’s dad owned the Washington Gazette and Telegram. He never wanted her to be a mouse, and always wanted her to run the G&T. You probably don’t know Abbi, but she was never going to completely leave Mona Mice behind. And so it made perfect sense for her to bring another Mice believer on board to cover D.C. politics.

Anyway, did I ever tell you about the time I was covering the White House and some members of the Press Corps decided to initiate me? When I tried to swim to Atlantis?

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