Thursday, September 28, 2006
My family is made up of cat people. We've appeared in sideshows all over the world with our twitchy whiskers and big fluffy tails.
No, no, no. I mean, of course, that we primarily have cats for pets. I can remember only one dog from my childhood. That was the wonderful Tippy, my Uncle Jimmy's dog, whom I greatly enjoyed rolling around with on the floor of my grandparent's apartment in Roslindale. Otherwise, all cats.
(Well, except for Davy, who provided many hours of entertainment for a couple of those tabbies and who lived far longer than a goldfish in a house full of cats had any right to expect.)
As well as I can recall, I have been a roommate to 12 different cats. They were of various shapes, sizes, temperaments, sexes and the ability to create interesting stories worth blogging about.
MY WIFE is allergic to animal dander, so I have now been without a cat for the overwhelming majority of our time together. It's a fair trade, and one I'd make again, but I do sometimes miss a cat. Here are some stories about a couple of them.
Coalie would faint on cue.
A black-and-white tomcat of the "Sylvester" variety, he had longhaired ancestry of one sort or another. His tail was big and bushy, while the rest of him had more-or-less normal short hair. Anyway, Coalie really liked his catnip. We were rather simpatico in that regard. The odd thing was, he would do the same thing every time I gave him a bit of the stuff. He'd sniff at it greedily and then, at precisely the same instant every time, fall over as though he had been shot dead. After a few more seconds, he'd get back to his feet, walk a few wobbly steps, and then flop himself down into the remainder of the stuff and roll in it until he had made his entire coat a somewhat dusty green.
(I think it was his idea that he'd attract the females this way; sort of a feline Aqua Velva.)
After seeing him keel over a couple of times, I decided to clock him. He collapsed at the same second, every time. Armed with this knowledge, I would have Coalie do his "trick" whenever someone visited the house.
I'd say, "I am now going to make my cat die at the count of three."
I'd lay some catnip out on the floor. As Coalie sniffed it, I'd count out loud. "One... Two... Three..." and then snap my fingers. Coalie would fall over. The general reaction of my guests was amazement.
Then I'd say, "I can see that you're sad about Coalie passing away, but do not worry, kind people! Dry your tears! I can bring him back to life!"
I'd count three once more. "One... Two... Three..." and snap my fingers again. Whereupon Coalie would get up, take his wobbly steps, and then flop down into the catnip pile to coat himself with the residue of his kitty dope.
It was fun having a junkie cat.
Coalie met his end, as did a few of my cats, somewhere in that great unknown where unfixed tomcats go to die. He went out one day and never came back, which is what you have to be prepared for if you have a big old unfixed tomcat. It happens. I like to imagine that he died getting his rocks off. I suppose the possibility exists that he was ripped apart by a whole bunch of other dope-fiend cats after they smelled him, in an attempt to get all of the catnip out of him, having olfactorily mistaken him for an oversized catnip mouse.
However he met his demise, the spirit of Coalie lived on through his sexual exploits. For quite a few years afterward, there were scads of black-and-white bushy-tailed cats seen in that neighborhood. I guess he knew what he was doing with that rolling in catnip thing.
Be that as it may, after Coalie left for that big pile of catnip in the sky, I didn't have another cat for most of two years. Then came Tigger.
Tigger belonged to my neighbors from one house over in Dorchester. They moved and Tigger got left behind. I hesitate to go so far as to say that they purposefully left without him. I suspect that they let him out one day with a week or more to go before the move and then, being a big old tomcat, he didn't come back before they had gone. Tomcats will do that - stay out for a week or more and then come back, bedraggled, beaten, with a big hunk of fur missing and a spot of blood dried on them somewhere, and walk in the back door as though absolutely nothing is out of the ordinary, expecting a meal and a place to crash before they go off on another adventure.
Anyway, I was just looking out the window of my back door one day, about a week after these people had moved, and there was Tigger. He was stalking a pigeon, very slowly and deliberately moving up on it, getting ready to pounce.
I had petted Tigger once or twice as he made his way through my yard - we were what you might call casual acquaintances - and I could see that he was way down in weight. I put two and two together, figured out that he had been left behind somehow, and was just about to open my back door and call him in, to give him something to eat, when the pigeon took off. Or, tried to.
I had never seen a cat catch a pigeon before and had little doubt that this one would get away. However, with a most amazing display of agility, grace, and determination brought about by hunger, Tigger leapt a good six feet into the air, at an angle, and his front paws actually caught the bird's tailfeathers. The pigeon went down and flopped around on the ground a bit. Meanwhile, having jumped so high himself with his front paws extended to grab something, Tigger had not landed casually on his feet as cats are wont to do, but had instead sprawled out on his side and rolled a bit. They both then regained an upright posture at about the same moment.
It was amazing to watch the first performance, but I had no desire to see an encore. Tigger was clearly going to catch the bird this time. This cat was some kind of mad phat hunter and he was on a mission. I opened the door, the sound of which was enough to distract Tigger for a brief moment. The pigeon flew unsteadily away.
Tigger gave me a look that would have killed the pigeon if he had aimed it in that direction. I told him to wait there.
(I really did. I said, to this angry cat, "Oh, relax. I've got something better for you than a nasty pigeon. Wait right there.")
Tigger waited, probably because he was exhausted from not eating and from the loss of energy he had used in trying to catch his supper. I went inside to the refrigerator and got out a piece of roast beef left over from dinner the night before. I then went back out and tossed it in Tigger's general direction.
He pounced on it with alacrity and wolfed it down. I went over and patted him. I felt his ribs and backbone sticking way too far through from his dirty fur. He was literally going to starve to death if he didn't get a good meal into himself.
I picked him up and carried him inside, poured out a bowl of milk and put some more roast beef on a plate. He ate and drank and the deed was done. I had a cat again.
Tigger was somewhat more like a dog than a cat. He liked being petted and scratched as much as the next cat, but he preferred those things on his own terms. As soon as you gave any indication that you intended to be in charge of the situation, perhaps by picking him up and placing him on your lap, he would give you a dirty look and walk away. And his loyalty was to me alone. He only suffered others and not gladly, either. When I would go to sleep for the night, he would jump up on the bed and lay at my feet.
I soon learned to leave the door to my room open a crack, though. If I didn't, and Tigger wanted out, he would meow as loudly as possible until I woke up. Leaving it open a crack didn't bother me greatly. It afforded him the freedom to come and go as he pleased, and I got to sleep soundly, so it was all good.
He also made his very own cat door to the outside world. I'll explain.
Once upon a time, about a year before Tigger became a resident, I locked myself out of the house. I knew that the kitchen window, by the sink, wasn't usually locked. So, in order to get back in, I poked a couple of finger-sized holes in the screen for that kitchen window. This allowed me to pull back on the catches that held the screen shut from the inside. Once I got the screen up, I opened the window and crawled in via the sink. Ever since that time, and until Tigger moved in, there were still these two finger-sized holes in the screen.
The first night that Tigger stayed in the house, I went to bed and left the kitchen window open - with the screen down, of course. When I awoke the next morning, I dragged myself downstairs to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. I put the heat under the coffee and glanced to my left where the window was.
Where there had once been a small finger-sized hole in the screen, there was now a fur-fringed hole big enough for... well, for a cat to go through. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened but, when I did, I just stood there in awe. The son of a bitch had wanted out so badly, he kept pushing his snout against the hole, widening it more and more each time - and losing fur as he did - until it was big enough for him to go outside through.
Not wanting to let bugs or birds or some other animals in, I closed the window. I got my coffee and went to the living room. The newspaper had been delivered, so I got it from the porch. I had a smoke and read the sports section. I went back into the kitchen to get a refill. And then I heard muffled meowing. I turned around.
There, wedged between the screen and the window, was Tigger. He had come back through his hard-won cat-door, but didn't realize until it was too late that the window was down. So there he stood, a cat under glass, unable to turn around and extricate himself. I pushed the window up and he jumped down to the kitchen floor. With all of the dignity he could muster, he looked up at me and said, through his now somewhat sparsely-furred lips, "Rowrr?"
I said, "Well, of course!", and got him some milk.
I kept the window down from then on. Tigger was let out of the house in the usual way - through an actual door. Tigger still used the screen as an entrance, though, if he came home before I was up. I'd often come downstairs to the kitchen and find him between the screen and the window. It never failed to crack me up.
Tigger, like Coalie before him, ended his days in parts unknown. The odd thing about his going away, though, was his impeccable sense of timing.
As I mentioned earlier, MY WIFE is allergic to animal dander and, thus, to cats in general. We had recently made plans for her to move in with me in Dorchester. At the time of those plans, Tigger was still around. Well, he had been there first, so MY WIFE knew that he was going to stay. She didn't have a great problem with this. She would pop an extra allergy pill here or there; I would endeavour to keep Tigger off of beds and furniture. He spent a great deal of his time out of doors, anyway, and stayed away for a few days at a time on occasion, so we figured things would work out alright.
(He also had claimed one particular chair as his domain. In the picture accompanying this piece, that's him in it. When he was inside, he spent most of his time there.)
Anyway, a few days before MY WIFE moved in, I let Tigger out. He never came back.
I looked for him to show up every day, wedged between the screen and the window, but he never did. I called for him - "Tig-errrrrrrrrrr! Tig-errrrrrrrrr!" - but no cat showed up. I walked the neighborhood and looked for him - I was in the habit of taking a constitutional now and again in those days, anyway - but no sign of him anywhere. Meanwhile, MY WIFE moved in.
As sad a situation as it can be when a cat doesn't come home, it did work out for some good. Now MY WIFE didn't have to suffer with her allergies. We've both joked with each other since then about one or the other of us having had a diabolical plan to get rid of Tigger - that either I knocked him off so that I could have her live with me or she had a hit put out on him so that she wouldn't have a runny nose.
I like to think that Tigger was a gentleman; that he sensed his place in the household affections being usurped and that he left, gracefully and voluntarily, giving up his chair and moving on to another household, thankful for how I had fairly much saved his life.
After a couple of weeks, when it became apparent that Tigger was not coming back, I got a new screen for the kitchen window. All that remained was his fur and what's the use of having a screen with a big fur-fringed hole in it if someone you love isn't going to wedge themselves between the screen and the window every now or then for your enjoyment?