Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Story of Angry Cat - part 1

Siamese Dream was released on July 27, 1993, per Wikipedia. I mention this because this was the thing I remember most about the day I got my cat. Not that I don’t remember getting the cat, because I do, very clearly, but I also remember that Honey was a surprise, and that my plan, that day, had been to get a copy (on cassette, no less) of the new Smashing Pumpkins album.

Now, you’d think that that would definatively date the start of my relationship with her, but you’d be mistaken. I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy the album on the day it came out. In fact, I probably bought it several months after it came out, possibly used from Zia Records, which was the record store where almost all my friends worked at one point or another in the nineties. So suffice to say there is some ambiguity about how long I’d had her, how long she was alive, and, really, the exact nature of our relationship. Because nothing about my life at that time, and certainly nothing about that cat, was particularly normal.

My friend Chris lived in a second floor apartment overlooking the Greyhound bus station in downtown Tucson. From one window, to the east, you could see the usual parade of homeless men and women, prostitutes, junkies and runaways that congregate around the no-man’s-land of a bus depot. Out the other window looking north stood the venerable Hotel Congress, with its old brick facade. The club downstairs, a gathering place for a particular type of Tucson denizen that today we’d call “hipsters”, had a certain cache at the time. We’d go back to Chris’s place after a show and people watch out the windows late into the night , observing the hook ups and the fights, checking out the scene and making fun of the crazies and the drunks, both career and amateur.

We were also, at that time, trying very hard to become rock stars. As Bryan Adams said, we had a band and we tried real hard, and while Chris was driven, focused, talented, and optimistic, I was ambivalent, insecure, going through a manic religious phase while simultaneously struggling with a compulsive sexuality, and almost always depressed. Couple this with the fact that we lived in the town that had been “The Next Seattle” for so long that it had become a bit of a joke, and you can see that our plans for world domination weren’t very well thought out. Chris put up with my erratic moods and strange obsessions pretty well, and seemed to look out for me. So when my cat at the time ran away, he was concerned.

Part of his concern stemmed from my already delicate mental state. In 1992, through a combination of excessive intake of hallucinogens and severe depression, I’d decided to drop out of school, and then proceeded to have a bit of a breakdown. I’d only managed to get somewhat back on track through the good graces of my parents, who had agreed to help me get back into school if I lived where they said. Where they said was an RV that they’d parked in a trailer park on the northwest side of town.

It was spartan, to put it mildly: fifteen feet long, ceiling not even high enough for me to stand, baking in the summer, freezing in the winter, and water came in through a garden hose hooked up to the back. To make sure I didn’t get any funny ideas, my parents had installed a set of special, handmade fuses that they had then removed, so there was no chance of me driving it away. It had no phone, so any time I wanted to make a call, I had to use the pay phone at the trailer park office.

On the one hand, it kept me out of the elements and made sure that I had almost literally no distractions from my studies (though I managed to find some anyway). On the other hand it was a singularly dark, depressing, unpleasant place to live, and my already isolating tendencies were exacerbated by distance from my friends and lack of means of contact. I was lonely, raw, and already felt that I had made a hash of my life. So, like you do, I got myself a cat.

Animals are usually smarter than people, and she, seeing the lay of the land, promptly split at the first opportunity, never to be seen again. I couldn’t even tell you her name.

Chris and and his girlfriend, Denise, probably my best friends at the time, were concerned about my precarious emotional climate, especially after the cat ran off. Now, Denise befriended a little old lady who lived down the street from my old place near the University, and when the little old lady’s drug dealer son told her that they had kittens to give away, Denise had seen a perfect opportunity to help a friend. She and Chris picked out a kitten and presented her to me as a present. To circle back around, it was in Chris's small apartment over the Greyhound station that I met the other half of what was to be the longest relationship of my life.

The cat was small. Tiny, in fact. She’d probably been taken from her mother just a little too soon, and she was furious. She pooped in the box they were keeping her in, and she mewed at the top of her little lungs. She had, even then, a considerable voice. I was, to be frank, a little intimidated by this bundle of fur, and it was not a case of love at first sight on either end. I was pretty sure I wasn’t ready to take care of a kitten, and the kitten had a list of demands that in no way included this giant klutz of a man picking her up and trying to (indignity of indignities) pet her. We were both pretty sure that this arrangement could only be temporary.

I had picked up a copy of the new Smashing Pumpkins album earlier that day, and I was much more eager to hear it than I was to nurture this angry new spark of life. On the way home from Chris’s in my friend’s car, I blasted the new record over the protesting yowls of the cat until my friend gently suggested that the excessive noise might be scaring her. I was irritated, but relented, and took her back to the tin can of a trailer that I called "home."

We adjusted poorly to being roommates. She was demanding, slept on no schedule I could discern, attacked me with needle sharp claws and teeth while I slept (under the guise of “playing”), pooped and peed wherever she felt like it (the carpet had to eventually be torn out completely, so thoroughly had she and I managed to destroy it - hey, she wasn’t the only messy one who lived there), and yowled with a relentless, irritating voice that was more screaming baby than cat. In a fit of what could only have been romantic blindness, I had named her “Honey,” after the Van Morrison song “Tupelo Honey,” but her name was, and could only have been, “Cat”.

I, on the other hand, was in and out at all hours, an indifferent (to put it mildly) housekeeper, and kind of a jerk. When she attacked me, I would throw her off the bed, often launching her several feet down the RV. To the list of my transgressions you may also add: getting her high once by blowing marijuana smoke into her ears, not always changing her litter box regularly, and buying the cheapest cat food I could (because I was poor).

On the other hand, she was a bit prickly, herself. When I tried to be affectionate with her, she would only accept certain types of affection. Scratches behind the ear were acceptable, as were pets on her back, but woe betide the fool that attempted to touch her belly or paws. He was lucky to come back with a hand, and it would definitely be bloody. She was, as they say, feisty.

We just didn’t know how to get along.

Not that she got along with anybody, really. Her relationship with my girlfriend at the time was problematic. After taking a nap on my bed (always a difficult prospect - the full sized bed took up the entire back third of the RV), my girlfriend woke me up in irritation.

“She sat on my head,” she said, indignantly.

“The cat?”

“The cat sat on my head!” It was no nice move either. This was the action of a jealous woman, who showed her contempt for her rival in the only way she knew how. The fact that, when we were alone, she usually avoided me, meant nothing. It wasn’t that she wanted me all to herself, as much as she didn’t want anyone else to have me.

We existed in this state for years, living around each other and trying to let the other one be. She didn’t seem to like me much, and I was too self-absorbed to really be much good to anyone. But everything was going to change - I had decided to become... an ACTOR.

Come back tomorrow for Part II - Angry Cat Boogaloo

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