Note: While the good folks over at Cracked remain our BFFs and soulmates (despite the restraining order), we make it a conscious effort to not BE Cracked. Therefore, as this blog post may reveal my secret identity as Christina H. when you see it’s about my cat, feel free to ignore this post entirely. Could be it’s not for you. Here’s some dick jokes. This is just something I feel like I have to write about, and I only expect my wife, kids and a few real-life friends to care.
I’m a guy. Not the new kind they started manufacturing in the mid 80′s, like a real honest-to-God guy. Don’t give a shit how my hair looks, can’t tell a Bordeaux from Mad Dog 20/20, not real fond of Glee or American Idol. My wife says it’s one of the things she likes about me best, but she sure didn’t appreciate my response when she moved in with me and asked “Can I bring my cat, Lucky?”.
I believe my exact words were “I fucking hate cats”.
Okay, I didn’t hate them. It’s not like a tabby shot my Ma. No Siamese ever banged my girlfriend. But I’m one of those overcompensating jerkoffs, so I couldn’t say the exact truth, which is “I have no use for cats”. Like most men, I had a series of dogs as a boy. Then I became a teenager and started playing in bands and living the whole rock & roll life and it simply became a pain in the ass to care for them, so I quit having dogs. My sisters had had a few cats here and there, but that’s what they were – my sister’s cats. Me, I switched to birds. You can load up a birdfeeder and be gone for four days, a bird doesn’t care.
I discovered I had a talent after I started keeping birds. I’ve taught every bird I ever tried to talk. I started forming my strategy after I rewatched Roots one time. There’s a scene shortly after Kunte Kinte (Levar Burton) arrives in America. Lou Gossett is a slave who’s trying to help him acclimate, and he always brings Levar a plate and says “Grits, dummy!”. And Lou’s frustrated, trying to get this guy to understand a word of English. Until Levar gets hungry and thrusts his plate at Lou and says “Grits, dummy!”. So I started thinking, food is a pretty simple and necessary concept. I bet that WOULD make a good starting point.
Another thing I figured out is that it helps if there’s an “intermediate language”. Split the difference. So like with a bird, pick a whistle that matches the tone of the English words you want to teach them. I call it “Birdlish”. Let me demonstrate: This is the whistle I came up with for “come here”. Two notes, like two syllables, and it kinda sounds like “come here”. And later, when I started using English, I would say the words in pretty much the same tone as that whistle. Seems to work pretty well, I’ve taught birds over 50 phrases that way.
So if I give in to this woman, it means I can’t have birds now (I was between birds at the time). Of course, she’s way out of my league, and I like touching her squishy parts, so I said “Sure”. Eventually. Lucky was Lucky his mommy’s so damn gorgeous.
At first, I literally FORGOT we had a cat sometimes. This guy hid under my couch for days at a pop. She’d ask where the cat was, I’d shrug, lift up one end of the couch, and he’d skitter around like a cockroach getting out of my line of sight. We had an extra bedroom, which was good, because this guy is HUGE, and he’d stay in there when he wasn’t under the couch. Damn cat has his own bedroom. Which he needs, as he likes to sleep on his back like a dying cockroach, which we dubbed “roaching”.
I was pretty okay with us both pretending like the other didn’t exist. Natural reaction, we both had a crush on the same woman. We’re GOING to be rivals. Damn cat.
Then one day we stopped at Arby’s on the way home for some grub. When we walked in and started eating, the cat came running out of the bedroom and peeked around the corner with a face on him like “WTF is that SMELL!”. So, trying to gain points with the girl, I peel some of the roast beef off and give the little fat shit some. And I literally sat down with the cat later that night and told him: “Look… you don’t like me, I don’t like you. But I don’t wanna make her choose, because I’m afraid I might lose. I’ll give you beef, you act like we’re friends occasionally to make the girl happy.” From that day on, I had to pay a vig of about 10% of whatever meat was on my plate to the cat.
That alone convinced him I might be of use to him. But he also had this thing for liking to sleep on electrical wires.
And since I’m a musician AND a tech geek, I’m always running a wire somewhere. When he found the pile under my desk, he decided it would make a fine Catcave. “Nice place. I’ll take it.” Great. All I need, a mountain lion under my feet every time I sit down. Damn cat. To get back at him, I instituted “Fuck With The Cat Time”, which basically amounted to me bothering him at every commercial. He hated people messing with his paws, so I’d put my paw on his. Then he’d pull it out and slap it on top of mine. We’d continue until my show was back on.
He lost “his” bedroom about that time. My wife’s sons moved in with us. The cave under my desk became his primary living space.
It wasn’t SO bad. I’d quit doing drugs and lost half of my friends (like it always happens), so at least this bigass cat kept me company. Then I caught some weird virus and my left ear bones all shattered. Not only did it end my career as a musician, it made me very susceptible to loud noise. I can’t even go to a concert or loud bar, it kills my ear. And so I lost most of the rest of my friends, as I couldn’t “go do anything fun”. Still had the girl and the cat. Damn cat.
I worked my way up to Art Director at a photo lab and we could afford a better place. My wife wanted a little home where birds gathered and sang Disney tunes. So I made her one. Even the cat seemed to like sitting by the back door and just watching the birds play. He was far too fat to chase them, and they seemed to get that. They’d sit and eat their birdfood from the feeder while he laid ten feet away. I’d been around Lucky about five years now, and while our relationship was always built on a mutual love for my wife, I gotta admit that I was getting used to having him around.
One day, the wife and I were talking about Phil and how much we figured he understood, or was capable of understanding. To make her point, she says to the cat, while scratching under his chin, in her best sing-song babytalk voice, “He’s just a dumb old cat! Yes he is! He’s too stupid to know what’s being said, it’s just the tone of voice you say it in!! Yes it is!”. And of course, the cat purred like crazy and rubbed his head on her hand some more.
But I thought it was possible that I could get him to understand a few words, if I came up with a cat version of Birdlish (yes, “Catlish”, if you’re scoring along at home). I realized pretty quickly that the cat would have to be the one to come up with it, as there’s no whistle I can imitate or anything to approximate the noises he makes. I don’t speak cat. But, operating under my guiding principle of “Grits, dummy!”, I began by saying “CAT FOOD!” each and every time I fed him from then on, again, always in the same sort of excited tone of voice every time. I also started asking him “What do you need ? Show me.” every time he came and looked like he wanted something. Then I’d get up and let him out in the back yard, or whatever he wanted. If he wanted out, I’d holler “OUTSIDE!” every time I opened the door.
It was about a month before the first time I laid his food on the floor and got a “rrrrat rrrrooood” out of him. It was crude, but unmistakable. Maybe two weeks later, I was sitting on the couch when he walked over to me. “Whatcha want, dude? Show… ” “ROUTRIDE!”. I almost slopped coffee all over myself. I stood up, and he ran to the back door. I was floored. Remember, my goal was getting him to UNDERSTAND English.
Figure he was about five when my wife moved in. Five years later before I tried to teach him anything. So around ten when he first got the concept of human-animal communication. Pretty old to catch onto a life-changing paradigm like that. But catch on he did. He got to saying “cat food” so consistently when I put his bowl down that I was able to time it once where I sang, to the tune of Cee-Lo’s song “Fuck You” : “Well, I’m asking my cat what he wants to eat, and he’s like…..” “rrrraaat rooooooodd”. People told me to put him on Youtube, but I didn’t want that. It was special, just between the three of us. It’s pretty damn cool to have a cat that you can call from the back door, not with “Here kittykittykittykittykittykittykittykittykittykitty”, but by yelling “PHIL! Get in the house!”.
We would often catch him practicing English. He’d be sitting by the back door, mumbling things to himself, and we’d be like “Did he just say…. “. Then he’d use the word later with confidence when he wanted something. He learned the names of all his favorite foods (turkey and chicken were “birrrrrrrrrrd”, pigs were “hhhhhhham). He learned how to say “Mom” and “Bil”. (No, not Daddy. It’s a fucking cat, for Christ’s sake). But my favorite word that he learned, and when to say it, was simply “Hi”. Every time I came downstairs in the morning, every time I came in from work, he would run to the front hall to meet me and say “Hi”. Even for someone who doesn’t like cats, that’s pretty fucking adorable. He learned so many words that we’d give him shit for the words he DIDN’T know. The wife brought Chinese food in one night and the cat got all excited. I teased him. “Whatcha waiting on, Phil?” He gives me the big Puss-In-Boots eyes and says “HhhhhhhhhhAM!”. I was flipping him shit the rest of the night…. “Dumb ol’ cat doesn’t even know the difference between barbecued pork and ham. Idiot.”
Eventually my stepsons moved out. Back to just the three of us. And he kept us on track. He had an amazing sense of time. He would come upstairs and wake one of us up if we didn’t get up at the right time…… but NOT on the weekend. And every night, somewhere between 4:45 and 5:15, if my wife wasn’t cooking, he would sit down and stare at her. If she didn’t respond, he would come pull the same thing on me until I told her “Cat says it’s time for dinner”. Every night, without fail.
There comes a point where an animal (or a human, for that matter) can cross the line from mimic to understanding. The surest sign of that, as far as I’m concerned, is when they attempt to take the limited vocabulary that they have and use it to describe new concepts.If there was any doubt that Lucky understood English, it was dispelled a few years back. He was engaging in his favorite activity, watching the birds out back from the back doorway. I walked up behind him and said “Heya Phil. Whatcha doing?”. He said “biiiiiiirrrrrd rrrroooooood”. Given his passive nature, I believe he was telling me “Watching the birds eat”. Of course, he may have been saying “I’d really like to eat them”, but either way, the evidence that he understood English is at that point undeniable.
I had a heart attack that briefly killed me, and then another one just for fun.I was really glad that when my wife went home at night from the hospital, she had Phil there to comfort her. And when I came home, you’d have thought he was a dog…. running to meet me, jumping up next to me, staying near me for the whole night. It was about that time that Fuck With The Cat Time ended, when he decided he LIKED holding hands. You’d put a finger up there and he’d wrap one of his big old meathooks around it and hold you there.
I gotta tell ya, I knew my feelings about him were changing when he started mastering English. Like a parrot, he would rarely speak on command, but some things were guaranteed. The “Hi” upon my return, or if the nearly-feral dogs next door were barking their heads off, I’d look at him and say “Fucking dogs.” to which he would always reply “Yeah.” Or if my wife would be playing with him and I’d walk up. She’d say “Is that your Bil?” and the cat would say “BIIIILLLLL!”.
By the time I built this place, there was very little argument that this cat had somehow become my best friend. When my job was eliminated, I started doing freelance at home, which meant I was basically around the fat guy 24 hrs a day. Every line of code I wrote to build this place, he was also sitting at my feet.
Maybe six weeks ago we took him to the vet. He’d lost a lot of weight over the last year, and instead of people walking into the house and saying “God damn! That cat is HUGE!”, they started saying “God damn! That cat is OLD!”. The vet said he had developed diabetes, but it could still be controlled by just not feeding him the crunchy carb-filled cat food. He preferred meat anyway, so we didn’t think much about it. About a month passed, and he kept getting worse, started tripping when he walked and having difficulty jumping up on the couch. He stopped talking. My wife took him back to the vet and he basically told her “It’s just age now. You need to put him down”.
She couldn’t. She brought him home so we could spend the time he had left with us. But he rapidly started losing lucidity. He would only seem to be “there” maybe 5 minutes in an hour. His stumbling got so bad he could hardly walk to his food or cat box. We knew we’d only have this last night.
I told my wife, “It’s just SO not what he deserves. I’d give anything to have him back, talking, just like always, just one more time. I want him to be able to enjoy one more lazy day lying in the sunshine on the back patio watching the birds.” I cried. She cried. Damn cat.
About two hours later, my wife was with him. We’d been taking shifts, one person paying attention to him, one quietly collapsing in another room. I walked over by them and Lucky whipped his head around and looked at me and said “Biiiiilll!” Right on cue, my wife said “Is that your Bil?” He told her “Biiil!”, then looked back at me and once more said “Biiiillll!”.
I got my other wish too. Even though this happened at the end of February in Oregon, and rain had been forecast all week…. The next day, we got up, and it was sunny. Maybe not summer sun like I imagined, only like 60 degrees, but far better than we generally get in Oregon in February. Lucky got to spend his last day sunning on the patio.
We took him in, and I felt like I had to be with him until the end. Not sure that was the best, in retrospect. You should never have to comfort your best friend while someone kills them. I never felt like such a traitor in my life. My brain knows it needed to happen, but my heart is broken.
Over a cat. Over a goddamn cat. Lucky. Fat Phil. The mountain lion. As I write this, it’s been nearly two weeks, and I’m still empty. How the hell did I become the kind of guy whose whole world could be brought down by a cat? Maybe some of it is my own fear of mortality, as my own health has deteriorated, but I’ve been living with that for a few years now. I don’t think it’s that. I think I just miss my friend.
So, that’s the story of my first ever cat. Those of you who know me well are probably aware that I reject the Judeo-Christian idea of a God. But the afterlife? Hey, I’m agnostic. In case you’re unaware, that word means “I don’t know”. I don’t. But the afterlife has always kinda bothered me because I DO believe in science. The law of conservation of mass and energy states that neither can be created or destroyed, merely changed in form. Well, there’s SOMETHING that makes us alive, makes us individual…. if it can’t be created or destroyed, it must go somewhere. So I’ve always allowed for the possibility of an afterlife. And that’s the only thing that gives me any solace, because if there is some place beyond this life, I know Fat Phil has plopped himself down near the entrance, watching the birds, waiting for me.