My best friend (not counting all my human BFFs) died yesterday. Suddenly. Quietly. Alone.
He was only a little over 7 years old and seemed to be the picture of good health – strong, muscular, agile, confident, alert. We spent the morning together – eating breakfast, watching the birds at the feeder, and then reading the paper before we went our separate ways to carry out our normal routines. I never saw him alive again…
Marcia (my other best friend) and I came home yesterday afternoon to a bad odor in the house. Thinking that Starbuck had had an accident, we started looking for poop, but found instead our big black cat sleeping for the last time under the bed.
There are Cat People and there are Dog People in this world. I’m told that there are people who (horrors!) swing both ways, but we won’t speak of them in this G-rated eulogy. I believe that Dog People like dogs because they are unfailingly faithful and will love their owners even if they are ax murderers or child pornographers. Cats, on the other hand, know what’s in your heart and will disdain and abuse you for the slightest perceived mistreatment. They will hold a grudge for months merely because you bought the on-sale cat food instead of the Fancy Feast.
Still, as a species in total, I don’t care much for dogs, although I’ve been fond of a few special canines over the years. Dogs, I find, are way too much trouble – all the walking and poop-scooping and bathing and grooming. They drool and they smell, and this despite the fact that they seem to like to lick themselves, but maybe because they only lick certain parts of their body. While this private-area licking may seem desirable, I actually find it extremely distasteful, (pun intended) particularly when you factor in the drool effect. You see where I’m going with this?
While I don’t really buy in to the theory of dogs being man’s best friend, I do understand the comfort and companionship that a pet brings. Which is why many Dog People berate Cat People – how much comfort and companionship can you expect from a cat? After all, cats are aloof and snooty. They won’t chase a ball, and you can’t train them to shake hands. Eccentric Cat People sometimes say that this is because cats are actually more intelligent than we humans – sometimes even claiming they are a superior race from another planet who merely abide our existence due to their inability to operate a can opener, since it was their brains that evolved and not their opposable thumbs. These people are nuts. But then, so are the Dog People who allow their dogs to French kiss them (see note above regarding licking + drooling.)
On our block, it’s easy to know every neighbor who has a dog. Partly because of the barking, but mostly because you see them walking the dogs, day and night, rain and shine. On the whole, I prefer to see them walking their dogs in the daytime and in the sunshine as they are far less likely to bend down and fondle the feces of the frou-frou poodle when it’s cold and dark and raining outside. It is after those bad nights that I find myself prospecting the front yard with a shovel before I mow the lawn. Give me a litter box and scoop any day of the week. I like to reserve my grass for wrestling on with my grandkids!
I’m sure there are other cats on our block, though we never see them since they don’t require – verily, they will not tolerate – being walked, and the coyotes and bobcats and great horned owls in the scrub oak prevent even the most callous owners from risking their pets’ lives in this neighborhood. I bought a cat leash once and tried to walk Starbuck outside. Though the leash was attached to a body harness made especially for cats, he Harry-Houdini’ed it off in about 3 seconds and ran wildly into the house to hide under the same bed that I found him under, lifeless and cold, just yesterday.
So, we’ve always been Cat People, Marcia and I, with a long succession of best friends over our last 37 years together. First, there was Ajax, the white tornado (named after the bathroom cleansing powder tag line and due to the fact he was a pure white Iowa barn kitten – read feral – who tore gaping holes in my hands when I first chased him down in the hay and picked him up.)
Then, there was Ajax II (we may have been overly influenced by TV ads at the time) only he wasn’t new and improved like the cleanser. He was dumb and stubborn, although just as white as Ajax the first. The dumbest cat we’ve ever had, he would get up on the sofa beside me and look at me with eyes that said, “Please don’t hit me,” and then would pee on the sofa. Over and over again. Day after day. His term as best friend did not last long.
We had a cat named Ptolemy who don’t remember much about, which is strange given his (her?) name. You’d think I’d at least remember why we named it that…
But, we definitely remember Frank. He was the first cat that we ever had for any length of time – about 15 years. He was a Man’s Cat. An un-neutered Tom with all his claws and an attitude of swagger to go with it. He was the meanest sonamabitch on the block and often came home with small farm animals clenched in his massive jaws and drop them on our porch, showing off his hunting prowess to “his humans” before he devoured his prey. We didn’t spend much money on cat food in those days as we backed up to an open field and Frank went wherever he wanted to whenever he wanted to. With all his toughness though, it was probably Frank that turned us into Cat People for good as he was also the most loving cat we’ve ever had. He would sit and purr and rub his nose on my chin and give me the look that said, “You, for a human, are very cool to live with.” It was a sad day when Frank finally had to be put to sleep after contracting inoperable cancer.
While we had Frank, we got Beans – our first black cat. Beans didn’t last long, so she was replaced with Ernest. (Get it? Frank & Beans. Frank & Ernest. We cracked ourselves up!) Ernest didn’t last much longer than Frank and so we started all over again with George and Gracie. Gracie was a demur, tiny lady that had been abused before we found her, so was skittish all of her 13 years with us. George was a hulking pig of a cat that would spend hours lying on his stomach with his front paws and nose buried in his food dish. He eventually weighed in at 22 pounds of pure flab – his belly flap alone was as big as Gracie. His claim to fame, though, was that Chelsa and Bryn liked to play “clay kitty” with him. As fat and lazy as George was, they would arrange him in all kinds of crazy positions and then see how long he would stay that way. Usually, the only thing that made him move from the “clay kitty” positioning was gravity – and that happened very slowly.
Lastly, we had Eddie McCattrey and Starbuck. They were the best buddies ever, even though Eddie was 3 or 4 years older and weighed about 2/3rds as much as the younger Starbuck. Eddie was named for the great Bronco wide receiver as he was “predominantly orange” much like the PR agency for the Broncos promised the new uniforms would be even though a color-blind dog would’ve easily seen they were all blue and very little orange. I ran into Eddie McCaffrey, the football player, in the local King Soopers and actually pulled him aside and told him the store of the naming of Eddie McCattrey and how we made him stand up and lift his arms while we shouted “Touchdown, Broncos” before every game. He said he was honored, although I suspect he was a little bit scared.
We always called Starbuck a black cat, but up close and in the light, he was actually a deep dark espresso coffee color. But that is NOT why I named him Starbuck, or at least not the main reason, although my love for Grande Americanos was a factor. Sometime before we got him, I gained the nickname “Cap’n.” This is a story unto itself and I’m already waxing a bit too eloquently, so we’ll save that story for another day. In Moby Dick, Cap’n Ahab’s first mate is Starbuck, thus by new BFF became MY first mate, Starbuck.
Starbuck was, like Frank, a Man’s Cat. Huge headed and fierce looking, he really was a pussy at heart. He was a great mouser and kept our home free of any critters seeking refuge from the wild open spaces behind our house. He scared the grandkids and awed anyone else who he deemed worthy of his presence. He didn’t much like to be held, but when he chose to sit his 20 lb. bulk in your lap, you KNEW it. He sat in my lap that last day he was alive – something he rarely did, especially in the morning. I choose to believe he knew it was time to go and wanted one last ear-scratching before he used up the last of his 9 lives. I’ve also got to believe that he’s happy now in kitty heaven with his best buddy Eddie. The two of them are probably sleeping like spoons on the great comfy bed of the Cat Lady in the Sky.
Good night Starbuck. Sleep tight.