© 2023 Robert Sickles
I used to be more of a cat person. My one best cat, Bandylegs, never minded moving from home to home with me in my mobile years. She could be comfortable in the center of a room full of talkative people just as well as waiting for hours in solitude on her window perch. Some of the games we played, I couldn't be sure if she enjoyed them or was just being patient with my idea of fun—such as rolling her up in a throw rug like a chubby burrito. OK, maybe she didn't enjoy it much. Bandy sat calmly with us on her chair at the dinner table, not to beg or butt in, but just because that's what the family did together. She was, in many ways, a pal through thick and thin. Gee, I wish some of my other cats were so easy to love.
If you read this short collection, you might understand why I call myself a dog lover now, and am reluctant to go there when Linda talks about getting a kitty. Please, let’s not.
Sleek and all black, he was named Slippery because he was the ultimate escape artist. Nothing could hold him; no crate, fence nor door, and as it turned out, not even a closed window. The poor guy met his match, and his end, when he got into a scrape with my Murphy bed.
This studio apartment had a Murphy bed that did more than tilt up easily on a spring mechanism and store against the wall; it was also mounted on a swivel bracket so the whole thing could swing into a large walk-in closet and leave no trace in the room other than a single closed door. But I often left the Murphy bed down so Slippery could sleep on his favorite spot.
Slippery was usually quite capable on his own; I provided him with water, food and litter box. All things were in order the day I went for a trip to the seashore with a friend. But when we returned at the end of the day, Slippery didn’t come to the door and greet me as usual.
My friend noted that there was a trail of blood drops leading to the small unopened kitchen window, and the bloodied window glass was jaggedly broken, more or less in the shape and size of a cat. My apartment was now a crime scene—I should have stretched out yellow tape. We studied the evidence in the case of the missing cat.
Tracing the blood drops backwards, we found the Murphy bed was in the upright position with pillows and blankets dropped to the floor—definitely not the way I left it. Curious. And it was only halfway swung into the storage closet. Very odd. Then the most astonishing clue: Slippery’s bloody and twisted flea collar was hooked on a bedspring about 4 feet off the floor. My friend walked me through a plausible scenario.
While snooping around under the bed; Slippery gets his collar caught on a bedspring and starts to struggle to get free. After kicking and clawing, the bed lifts up on its own with the cat dangling by his collar. As the struggling continues, the bed rotates slowly into the closet on its own. Nearly strangled, Slippery is bloodied while clawing to get loose; he finally drops free from his collar, and in sheer terror, streaks across the room and throws himself through a closed window, three stories above the alley.
I‘m sorry to say, neither the cat nor his remains were ever found. But to this day, a ghastly specter of a black cat is said to haunt the cobbled alleys near old Summit Avenue.
Grandpa, a geriatric orange tabby, showed up in our backyard one summer. I found him living behind my compost bin where he’d created a nest of pine needles and leaves. He had lost a lot of teeth, his fur was a clumpy mess, and his limping, hunched body suggested malnutrition and arthritis. One squinted eye, deeply notched ears and a crook tail told of battles of old. At first, I referred to him as Quasimodo, but “Grandpa” stuck. Euthanasia was certainly a sensible option, but my partner Jess wanted to fix him up and see if he could live out his life with some love and comfort.
Despite our efforts, I would say Grandpa didn’t bounce back much, and never became a house pet. He was a feisty outdoorsman, ruggedly set in his ways and cross with anyone who tried to treat him well. He only spoke with a sneer when he meant to say “Just feed me, and leave me alone.”
He wanted absolutely nothing more than to find a sheltered spot in the yard and spend the day napping. The snails and slugs crawled over him and left shiny trails in his fur. The pine tree dropped sap and needles on him, making him a hideous mess. Summer sun, fall wind, winter rain—it was all the same to Grandpa as he slept the days away.
One cold day, Grandpa condescended to come in the house for his nap, and, with my help, managed to climb up on a blanketed chair. I was playing a flute and noticed Grandpa’s ears perking. I thought he was deaf. I went closer and played the flute’s high notes, and Grandpa stood up, growled a little, took the blanket in his teeth and started making love to it! I stopped, and he lay back down to sleep. I played again, and he got up for some more mating. I did this a few time—same result. I called Jess and said to watch what happens—again Grandpa performed his dance for two with the blanket.
I must have worn him out, as that was about Grandpa’s last go around in life. We buried him behind the compost bin where we found him the year before.
He was a gift—a quirky, mouthy, beautiful chocolate-brown Burmese cat. A friend thought I spent a lot of time alone in my art studio and needed a pet, so I named the fellow Ptah (P is silent) after the Egyptian god who was the patron of craftsmen and artisans, and who created all the things in the world with the power of his words. It seemed like an appropriate name, and I was intrigued with this regal, vocal cat. Yeah, no, vocal is too sweet a term.
I had heard that Burmese are talkative, but Ptah sounded off constantly and loudly in a deep, mournful, moan, for no apparent reason than to hear his own voice. I didn’t understand him, but the meaning of Ptah’s moan was very clear the day he fell in the toilet.
He enjoyed the bathroom. I called it his hobby space. He was fascinated with the water in the toilet bowl. I left the lid up so he could box with his own reflection. And the acoustics for his voice were so good in the tiled room. One day, I heard a big kersplash… then a lot of thumping and sloshing…a pause… then a long, low, porcelain-echoed “myyyaaahhhooo.” I went in and saw him sitting knee-deep in the toilet, wet and humiliated, and unable to get footing to leap out. He looked sideways at me and repeated his complaint, “myyyaaahhhooo.” Yes, mad as a wet cat is a thing. To Ptah’s frustration, the lid was always closed after that.
Ptah also liked high places. There was a small porch roof over our back door and Ptah often climbed up there to keep track of things. Our landlord, Finn, came by for a visit one day. As we were talking by the back door, I was facing the house and caught a glimpse of movement up behind my visitor’s back. I didn’t have a chance to act, but suddenly the cat made a perfect all-claws-out leap from the roof, landing on Finn’s shoulder. The shocked man reacted by throwing up his arms and spinning around and around like a manic break dancer. Finn, his hair wildly askew and shirt tail pulled out, finally shook off the cat, yelling “What the hell, Bob?!” Ptah was still trying to climb up the poor man’s pants while I scolded and waved my arms.
I chased after Ptah around the yard, trying to swat him with my hat. Finn was muttering pitifully and down on his knees looking for his glasses. The offended Ptah skulked away twitching his tail, spitting and huffing at me. Oh, that was really the last straw. “Bad cat! You and I are finished, Ptah!”
Ptah holds the distinction of being the only pet I gladly gave away.
The man who owned the wooded lot across the street would drive up once a day on his way home from work and put out canned food for some feral cats who hung around his tool shed. I discovered that they were also entering my basement, leaving scent marking and eating the food I put down for Bandylegs. The evildoers had discovered the little cat door I’d installed in the window.
These were a tough gang of punks, not someone’s pets that had run off; they were as wild as any woodland creatures and bore the signs of ailment, infestation and hunger. I didn’t care to tangle with the man about his “pets”—we’d had a bout or two over other things. I really should have called Animal Control.
The nightly break-ins came to a stop when I put into action a surprise ambush, a brilliant night commando op. I knew the cats came in late in the evening when my house was dark and quiet. But I was crouched in hiding, at the ready with two saucepans and a New Year’s Eve party horn. At 0-dark-30, the three intruders penetrated the perimeter and accessed my building, entering one by one, military stack style, and leaping to the floor to snarf up our Meow Mix. I raced to the cat door and latched it. Then I blew the heck out of the party horn and clanged the saucepans, chasing the three cats around and around the basement. They ran so fast I think they were actually running on the walls. At last, I unblocked the cat door, and they flew out into the night. I never had another problem with them.
Whatever affectionate, mischievous and independent nature cats possess that endear them to us humans, there’s nothing quite as gratifying as the way a pet dog looks directly into your eyes with comprehension, cooperation, devotion and admiration. They are so… well, how else can I put it?... not feline.