WHEN TONI AND I first set up housekeeping, we had between us three cats. I was owned by a dainty tricolor lady — a tortie — named Mnarra. (That’s how she said it. My last adolescent girlfriend called her “That little creep,” and so her use-name was Creep.) Toni had a pair of fine gentlemen — a black shorthair named Smokey, who — as legend has it — saved her life when her apartment caught fire one night. He woke her up. — and a Russian Blue named Lester Pedunk.
The first loss came when Smokey developed kidney issues. It’s possible (he was an outside cat — no keeping him in; he was capable of opening a heavy, sliding glass patio door and jumping down one storey to ground) that he got hold of some antifreeze. No knowing. But it was a hard loss — broke Toni’s heart. We had to have him put down. The vet said he would have had a hard, hard death, lingering in great suffering as his organs shut down.
Looked in the paper and came across a guy who had a litter and was willing to part with some. And Smokey’s successor was Bandit — a gray-and-white moose with a Maine Coon-like coat. He came home with us in the pocket of my army-surplus field jacket. He and Creep developed a relationship of spare tolerance. When we moved to The Lane in ’85, he, Creep, and Lester all went out more-or-less on-demand. They all came when called, thank God. But Bandit had a practice of perching outside the kitchen window on the side stair where he could peer in the window and be seen. We kept and keep a roll of paper towels on a metal spindle just where it’s reflected in the window glass and you could be fooled into thinking he was at the window, wanting to come in, when it was just the paper towels.
At the time, Toni worked downtown and drove, while I worked downtown and rode the bus. One morning, she had headed out and I was eating breakfast when I heard a panic-stricken call from the front door and ran to find Toni standing there, horrified. Creep, she said, was lying, dead, on the Parkway that runs behind the house. I raced out and down there and scooped up the still form from the pavement and carried her into the back yard. We had just had a sassafras tree cut down and I buried her amid the rotting roots of it. Many tears shed that day.
Then it becomes a little blurry for me. I’m sure Toni could correct the sequence here. I’m pretty sure that thenext cat in the seniority was Annie — a black shorthair who was skinny as a rail until she died. Thus the name: Annie Rexic. Then, in quick succession: Max (named after a character Glenn Close played in the movie Maxie), a ginger tabby, Alex a gray tabby, Finnegan a gray tabby longhair (who did a very good impression of a dustmop when given a half a Valium once), and Charlie (Finnegan’s sister). Somehow, I remember that Max and Alex were left in a box on our front porch (or a neighbor’s — I’m not clear on the details), and that, when Toni called me at work to ask “Can I keep her?” my response was the canonical “Is she cute?” which has subsequently become our primary selection criterion for kittens.
Then, all too quickly, Lester, the much-beloved Russian Blue made a dash across the Parkway and lost a race with some asshole coming up the hill at 15-25MPH over the limit. He managed to make it to the sidewalk, but no farther and we found him there.
Fast forward a year or three (remembering that all of the cats in this period were permitted to go outside, but were kept indoors at night, when cat-killing racoons are about). Max got out or went out but didn’t come back in and didn’t respond when called. So she was posted as MIA (Missing In Action) for the time being.
Toni haunted the county ASPCA animal shelter, looking to find Max if she’d been picked up by animal control officers or had been brought in by a kindly citizen. She didn’t meet with success. But she did meet a fine young fellow, a white-and-gray short-hair in an isolation-ward cage where she had to pass by to check the runs. (She was such a fixture there that the staff gave her the run of the place.) He would reach out paw to catch at her arm in supplication in a manner that we took to calling Aggressively Friendly. She never did find Max, but she did feel it incumbent upon her to reward the little guy’s assertiveness, so she adopted him and brought him home.
When he got to Casa d’Alger and was given free rein to explore as he listed, he immediately made himself at home and free of the place. When Toni requested suggestions for name, I put in, “Jake,” because everything was just jake with him. And that was his name.
Then, some time later (might have been a week or a month; I’m not sure), Toni was lying in bed and got taken with a sneezing fit. Once it died off, she could hear an inquiring note in a “Meow” from under the neighbor’s porch and went to investigate.
Max. She’d been outside all that time. Scrawny and skittish as hell, she was dehydrated and had sniffles, but was otherwise little worse for the wear.
So, at that time, we were owned by Bandit, Annie, Alex, Charlie, Max, Finnegan, and Jake, and the number of “our” cats were seven. And, for a time, that was the most.
Then Finnegan had to be put down and Charlie went to live on a farm as a barn cat (if I’m not mistaken) and we inherited Emily, a tortie (Top, Right, click to embiggen), who resembled Creep only in the Little Half-face markings, but without the nasty tortie temper. She was, however, The Cat Who Walked by Herself and didn’t really get along too well with the others. This seems to be a characteristic of tri-color females; they want to be the queen of the clowder and don’t suffer usurpers-of-the-throne too damned gladly.
Emily is also the first of our cats of whom I have more than a handful of digital pictures — albeit scanned prints. Yes, I have a lot of shots of Murphy, Kane, and Indo, but most of those are genuine digital-camera shots. Emily’s pix all started on film, though I have a painting of Em done by Toni’s friend Taylor Johannigman.
Right about this time, Number One Daughter moved out, taking with her Number One Grandson and Alex. In one of the apartment complexes where she lived over the next couple of years, she (or somebody in her household) heard a plaintive meow coming from a dumpster and discovered at the other end of the cry a kitten wrapped in plastic and duct tape and abandoned there — presumably to die. At around the same or similar time, she (or householder) also found another in similar straits and of like provenance. She could not, however, keep them without breaking her lease, so they came to live with us — Kane and Indo. And the number of our cats became Nine (9), and our house was no larger, though our hearts were fuller.
As you can see, Kane (Center, above) might have been related on the distaff side to a flame-point Siamese, and he had brilliant, Tyndall blue eyes, (so we called him, variously, Old Blue Eyes, and Francis Albert Kane). Indo most certainly had, as an outfreyn relation, a walking haystack, as you can tell. Both of them were good ol’ boys, phlegmatic in temperament, gentle, and loving.
Murph’s pic is there because of his resemblance to Bandit. Bandit was with us from the early-to-late-mid ’80s until sometime around 1990. He lived with us in our apartment atop the West Tower of the Forum, where, I came to say of him (and cats in general) that there is something in a cat which cannot abide a closed door. He never tried to escape down the hall, but whenever there was activity around the hall door of our apartment, he would crowd the hinge side of it and meow most piteously into the crack. Never did seem to figure out that the OTHER side was the one that opened.
At the time that Bandit lived with us, WKRP In Cincinnati was either in first runs or saturation-level strip syndication and Toni and I watched it regularly. (Yes, I remember seeing the Turkey Drop episode when it first ran.) I took to calling Bandit “Little Guy” after the relationship between Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) and Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner). Another thing he did was to, whenever I sat down to put my shoes on, he would come running and flop down on his side on the floor in front of me for a belly-rub. Never did figure out the connection between belly rubs and shoes-putting-on in his mind or how it formed, but there it is.
Bandit lived with us until, as I say, sometime around 1990. It was a Saturday night when I responded to a panicky call from Toni. She was lying on the bed reading. Bandit was on the windowsill by the head of the bed, panting — obviously in distress. His gums were pale, and his pulse rapid. We took him to the emergency veterinary hospital, where they put him in an oxygen tent and took X-rays. The diagnosis was that he had an enlarged heart, which was preventing him from getting oxygen. It was a long and fraught night. We struggled with the decision to end his life. (I pray you never have to go through that on behalf of a relative. It’s one of many reasons I’m dead set against euthenasia for humans.) I held him while the vet stuck the needle in and watched the light go out of his eyes. We buried him, in a teary-eyed non-ceremony, in our back yard.
Very shortly thereafter, a box of kittens was discovered by the local constabulary of the town near the Animal Hospital North, where Toni was working at the time. Two of them were stumpy-tailed. Not quite Manx, but related to them. One was a white-and-gray, Maine-Coon-coated fellow, whom I named Murphy Gray. That’s him above.
Then… Oh, how does this go, now? I think Belle was next. Black longhair. Street cat, tough and all BTDT, but still a real lover. She had been living rough in a vacant lot out back of Daughter’s town house in the hood. Weather was turning cold and she was observed (if I recall correctly) out in the rain and brought inside. And, of course, the household was too crowded (3-4 cats and 2-3 dogs, as well as two girl-children, a teenaged boy and a couch potato, as well as single-mom head-of-household), so cat could not stay, no matter how dire her straits. She got taken to the Animal Clinic, which Toni runs (the doctors own it and see patients there, but she runs it; just ask her clientele), and went through the usual quarantine procedure to make sure she didn’t have some disease that would run through our house like a wildfire. I met her there and, after getting spayed, she came home to live with us. She’s the queen of the house — the senior cat, now, although Earnie (no respector of personages, he) keeps trying to dominate her, with no regard for her irascible temper. (When Oliver was young and squeakier than he is now, she would body slam him against the lower kitchen cabinets when, at feeding time, she found his metrosexuality TOO tedious to bear.)
Her coat has gotten longer than thicker than it is in that pic. At the time that was taken, she’d been living — as I say — rough, and I don’t doubt having her coat trimmed for her by her environment and poor nutrition.
Shortly thereafter, Toni knocked on the door one day and handed me a longhaired tortie kitten. On seeing her, I exclaimed, “Fizzgig!” thinking of the pet animal in Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal. So that became her sietch name. But the name she was given was Rommie, after Lexa Doig’s character, Andromeda Ascendant in Gene Rodenberry’s Andromeda.
Rommie was a chest kitty. Like Earnie did after her, she came home to live with us and curled up on my chest, purred, and went to sleep. And she stayed there most of the time she lived with us. The unfortunate and sad part was that she died of FIP (I think) at under a year.
At the same time, Toni conceived a desire to have a Siamese. (Don’t ask me; I just nod and say, “Yes, Dear.” They call that being supportive.) The one whom we acquired (or who acquired us) was a blue point little guy, whom she called Simon (which I spell — being a pun-lover as I am) Siamon. If you’re on Faceplant, that’s him on my masthead shot. If you’re not, here it is. I call it Red, White, and Blue Point. Siamon was a world-champion napper exceptionally gentle and laid-back. If you love cats, and you get one like that, be suspicious. We soon discovered the reason for it was that Siamon also had a heart condition and had to be low-key because he couldn’t muster enough energy. Sadly, we lost him all too soon. It was a one-two kick to the heart, First Rommie, then Siamon: Gone — pooft!
And, very shortly thereafter, we lost Kitty Kane. His cause was kidney failure. That again.
And, then, in quick succession, Indo and Murph, both of whom were getting on in age, passed. This picture is evocative of our mood at the time.
Then Loki. I kinda forget the circumstances of it, except that he was a rescue kitty. We adopted him from creche. When he came to us, his coat was almost entirely white, with whispy tufts at ears and between his toes. Only an “M” mark on the top of his head, the backs of his ears, and the top of his tail were marked. His back has darkened since, but then, he might as well have been all-white. And his paws… You know you can tell a kitten or a puppy is going to be big by how outsized his paws are? Well, Loki’s were small and dainty, hinting that he’d be a little cat when he grew up. So, of course, he HAD to be named for a Frost Giant — Loki, the Norse trickster god. Which also proved apposite, because, as a kitten, he was the King of Getting Inta Shit. And falling on his ass behind it. He still hasn’t learned the difference between objects and surfaces, and always expects the former to provide the same footing and security as the latter. Which, of course, never works.
From the first night he lived with us, he’s slept on the bed. That first night, he clambered up and demanded rubs and scritches in his own particular croak. Since then, he follows a ritual. He hangs out in the office until he hears the lid of my laptop close and sees me dim the overheads. He hops down from his perch and trots around to stand beside me and croak urgently until I stand up and head for the bedroom. There, in the dark, he leads me along the foot of the bed, then flops over in the door to the half-bath. Then he gets up and runs along my side of the bed, jumps up on my nightstand (blocking the clock, so I can’t see the numbers), and climbs on the bed. He usually walks across Toni, who, if she’s awake, complains of it. Then, he meows at me until I get in and get settled, then he climbs onto a pillow and hangs out there, waiting for me to rub his head. He’s done that every night he’s been here since we got him.
Somewhere in here came Ollie — the original delta kitty He not only would never be an alpha cat, he would never develop the aspiration to become one. I think he was supposed to be a palliative for the loss of Kane. He’s a big, white, Japanese anime cat with a silly grin and fat cheeks. He also squeaks. In fact, his squeak, when he was young, was so annoying that Belle — the original basement cat if there ever was one — would body-slam him against the kitchen cabinets at feeding time she found his squeaky meow SO annoying. Or, at least, that’s what I imagine her motives to be. Oliver has learned to be very skittish around me and windows from the time I accidentally closed his tail in a window and cut off about an inch of the tip. He’s recovered physically, but will be in therapy for life, I suspect.
Next, Toni got her Siamese up to here. Got a set of triplets — a brother and two sisters. And they could do the Peggy Lee tune from Lady and the Tramp cold justice. They’re friendly enough to humans, but they’ll turn on another cat… Their names are Sky (the male, a seal point), Aqua (senior female, also a seal point) and Jazz (junior female, a lilac point). Jazz has bunny fur and was the first and principle ringleader in the Let’s Torment Karma club. All three of them are beefy sorts. Sky is kinda down-to-earth, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly, goodoleboy. Here they are in svelte-er days on the front windowsill in the study.
Then, we got Karma, a sweet little calico (which, according to lore, ought to be a contradiction in terms), who is the typical middle child. She ought to have the seniority to buck the Triplets, but she tends to go all “Mom! She’s TOUCHING me!” and scream like a squirrel in a caged death match with a weasel whenever Jane or the Triplets jump her in the utility room. She spends her entire time on the windowsill in there and will ONLY come down when one of us humans walks into the kitchen. Here she is doing her famous Heisenberg’s Cat routine.
And then we got another set of three. Now, on acquiring the Triplets, we were up to Seven (7) cats. Then Toni brought home two kittens, a brother and sister, we now call Chester and Jane, though Chester was earlier called Elwood.When she was a kitten, Jane had a regal reserve, which made her full name — Lady Jane Grey — seem more apposite. Now, she’s just that bloody usurper. She is the current ringleader in the Let’s Torment Poor Karma club.
And, tagging along — we weren’t going to keep him; he was being transported to Number One Daughter — was this funny little tuxedo kitten, with a pointy face and a bowlegged build, like a Boston Terrier. He climbed up on my chest and went to sleep and there was NO WAY you could have pried him out of here. At first, his name was Benjamin Butt-in-face, because he looked like a little old man, not a cute kitten. But, eventually, we realized he was aspie-earnest and SO serious all the time. So Toni called him Ernest, which would have fit with Hemmingway, but I pushed the “literary cat” another step and called him Earnest, because he realized the Importance of Being…
Anyway, he’s my buddy, Earnie. Earnie talks back to me. He’s got a teenager’s bad attitude. At the same time, he’s sweet and kind. He’s the only one of our other cats who gets along with Karma. At the same time, he’s always trying dominance games with Belle, who fights with him tooth and claw. (Neither one of them has taken wounds from it.)
Anyway, now our household includes Belle, Loki, Oliver, Aqua, Sky, Jazz, Karma, Chester, Jane, Earnie. And the number of our cats is Ten (10). Believe it or not.