His Majesty


Torvald has been having a difficult week, which is one reason I’ve not posted in ages; that, and the heat, which melts your brain.

I fuss over him a good deal, my fluffy Viking. His appetite flagged again about eight days ago, something which was going to happen, given that his kidneys were never going to completely recover from the heart medications that have kept him alive since May of 2015. He is thinner, and spends less time bounding and more time just chilling (though he can still show a clean pair of heels off the sofa back), but he is still every inch a king.

He does not really want to eat, but he’ll let me, without a fight, give him cream in a dropper and cat food by hand, and it perks him up at the cost of two thirty-second indignities every day. The vet said there might be ups and downs. I’ll take what I get, so long as his life is still about catting, not just surviving.

In the evenings he jumps onto a platform on the porch, or stakes out the fascinating Buddy Door (which leads to the upstairs where the senior cats are secured when Torvald is up and about). Occasionally there is a conversation through the cellar door, which is almost all glass, and a white tippy paw thrust under it to try to get at Nickel or Fergie.

As long as he holds like this, tired but seemingly happy, there will be no trips to the vet.

I carve out moments to contemplate his unquenchable majesty.

The Gentleman

He came to a sliding glass door that he remembered, in a Colorado autumn, after his family had left their home in some way with which he couldn’t or wouldn’t go along. He had dainty ears but a large head, forepaws that looked as if they had been tentatively dipped in milk, a glowing white shirtfront but tattered black coat, with a tail half gone and half cocked at a jaunty angle — suggesting a gentleman who had dined too well, lost his pocketbook and been compelled to make his way home in the wee hours. The people behind the door saw him and exclaimed, and in a few steps he had a new family, for life.

Other cats were his companions through a succession of moves: Maryland, Virginia, wooded backyards and suburban side streets. He walked stolidly, not quickly; he never cared much what stuck in his fur. He was sturdy and imperturbable, thick-bodied and mellow — “the Barry White of cats,” his human sometimes called him — though once in a while, in a raffish mood, he would nip fingers, if he could reach them.

He was an institution in his household for so long that no one noticed at first how he was growing old, even when the companion of his young years was laid to rest under the azalea border, even when new kittens arrived to learn the Way of the Cat from the old roue in his battered tuxedo. Every year he sniffled a little when the flowers bloomed, but every day he went outdoors to find the sunny patch — where he was basking on the day a few years ago when I first met him, and only after that met the humans of his house.

He grew slower and thinner, and the tiny kitten who had once learned to eat tuna from his dish — now a twenty-pound whopper — came to groom his dreadlocks and warm him. The loyal human who had taken him in from that Colorado backyard gave him  medicine for his sniffle, and mixed his food just so, to the vet’s prescription. He still found his way to the rim of the sink to lap running water; it ran over his head and he simply didn’t give a damn. He found his human’s pillow every night, until the light went out and he went about his nocturnal occasions, as is the whole duty of a cat. During the day he caught up on his sleep in a basket of unmatched socks.

Last Sunday he went out to look for the best sunbeam and didn’t come home in the evening. Monday morning he was curled, as if asleep, under a window, tiny and soft, still as a pressed flower.

His human called me, and I came with my spade, because he had marked his place already with daily naps in the overgrown azalea border, and we put the mateless socks down before we laid him in the baked and rocklike Virginia earth. I sang for him, a queer and dreamlike sound even to me in the still air of a suburban morning; before everyone had finished taking turns to restore the broken red clay, we could already feel him watching us from the slopes of his dooryard jungle.

Every good thing that is, is always.

On the way back home with my spade I slammed my finger in the car door. I counted it as a nip, possibly music criticism, and don’t hold it against him.

Ni-Cat ™: Part III

The Cute Engineer held her delicately in his lap — sort of; he was kneeling zazen on the carpet of the teensy room where Nickel had been caged for the day in what was more of a large carrier than a crate, with a water bowl and litter box. Bits of damp litter were gummed into her fur here and there and he was working them out with a flea comb. Dana had shut her in the crate because when she wasn’t fighting the other cats, she was peeing on the sofa cushions, which I had noticed standing damply upright, faintly redolent of some form of stink-away, in front of a fan on our way in. She was a woebegone little cat, but she liked being handled.

I had my sturdy carrier on the floor and was unscrewing the thumb bolts that held the top on so I could put her in it without shoving her through any more cage doors.

“I think you could just carry her into the car,” said Dana.

I am a marvel of composure when I want to be. “I’m a nervous driver so I think we’d better tuck her in here,” I said. “No trouble, really.” I got the top of the carrier off and waited for Cute Engineer to get the last bits of sticky clay up before lowering her in and closing it up again.

The wretched kid was in the living room as we left, holding the marble Bengal.

“Veronica,” he said in a tone that implied he thought himself wonderfully clever. “Say goodbye to your brother forever.” He held the other cat up to the carrier’s mesh door.

I turned my head to hide an expression which I could feel forming but could not, myself, imagine.

His mother, at least, had the decency to choke up.


She scared the living crap out of Mr. Ferguson, despite his being twice her size. Before she had been in the house a week we were introduced to the concept of the “cat cyclotron”: my cellar is an open plan around a central staircase. She would pursue him around and around this racecourse too rapidly to be seen, like the tigers in Little Black Sambo. There are shelves and, in one corner, a refrigerator. Fergie, who has amazing spring-loaded hind legs, was seen at one point launching himself from the top of a tall shelf across a seven foot gap to the top of the refrigerator, a leap Miss Nickel decided was a bit beyond her.

Apricat the Beezler Boy, who still had a year to live at this point, regarded her as a tribulation to his serene old age. She could intimidate Fergie, for the moment, but Apricat was nearly nineteen and wanted none of her sass. When she approached him, he gazed down at her from the end of the porch chaise and uttered a quiet, definitive hiss, backed up — for the moment — by the leonine majesty of his Maine Coon breadth and coat. It stopped her in her tracks. When she realized he was old and halt and had bamboozled her that way, she never forgave him.

I had to keep her upstairs, to avoid cyclotrons and guerilla assaults on Apricat while he was asleep. We would rub a little Feliway on our arms, lock Apricat on the sun porch in pleasant weather, and bring her down to investigate Fergie until it got too rough.

She lived upstairs, with the door closed except by arrangement, for eighteen months.


She discovered an old sock, filled with expired catnip, and captured it every day, bringing it to the bottom of the staircase (or if the door was open, into the living room) with the alarming, lowing jungly groan with which cats announce the seizure of prey. Clients sat bolt upright wondering what the hell was in the house. Periodically, for variety, she seized an entire plastic-wrapped toilet roll in her jaws, shaking it to break its little toilet-paper neck and depositing it on my bedroom carpet with deep fang punctures penetrating halfway to the cardboard core. No mystery remained about how she had survived so well in the parking lot. Mr. Ferguson was almost always too fast for her, but we still body blocked her whenever she seemed likely to catch up: the touch of a human hand would make her pliant and docile.

One day Fergie turned around in midflight and said “Hssss.”

Unlike Apricat — who was long past the speed or agility required to follow up a hiss, and now nearly blind as well — he got respect.

She decided his butt was the Best. Thing. Ever. Since he carries his tail flipped up and jauntily curled over one hip, it’s almost an invitation for her to follow him around the house with her nose glued to his unmentionables. She still does it. Don’t ask me.


She still craps on the cellar rug pretty regularly, but neatly, in a small heap that pops right off with a litter scoop. She prefers a folded towel in the spare bedroom to the litter box five feet away. It’s a small price to pay for a buddy for Fergie, who wanted to chase and rassle with Apricat from the moment he was adopted and was understanding, but wistful, when he realized his old companion was too arthritic to do much more than stump to the kitchen for dinner. In the winter she creeps right under the coverlet and sleeps against my shoulder, and after Apricat left us, though I missed him horribly, I loved seeing her play with her best bud all day long.

Dana wrote a few days after we left to say that peace reigned in the household again. I hope she took that fishing pole away from the kid — well, I actually have more vivid ideas of where I wanted it to end up, but not my problem. I haven’t heard from her since I extracted Nickel’s vet records later in the summer, after several attempts; she was quite clear she would not be at home when I came by, and left the few Xeroxed pages taped to her door, marked “Veronica.”

Dr. Cohn scanned them into a file and typed in the document title “Nickel.”

Are You There, Margaret? It’s Us. Thanks.

Today, I discover in surfing the news trivia, is Margaret Sanger’s birthday.

When we finally have a woman president I want her to push this day up there on the calendar with Lincoln’s birthday and the Fourth of July. Margaret Sanger was born when Rutherford Hayes was President and lived till I was around twelve. A hundred years ago, when she was working as a public health nurse in New York City, it was illegal even to send information about contraception through the mail.

Take a moment to digest that, please. We can get probably every form of contraception itself mail-shipped through an online pharmacy. Condoms are near the pharmacy-end register at the drugstore nearest me. My 14-year-old friend could recite all the main methods available a year ago, after taking the relevant unit in her health class. We sign petitions concerned with helping Planned Parenthood keep its clinics open for poor women in developing countries, but we don’t think twice about laying our hands on the means to separate sex from pregnancy.

Margaret Sanger became a revolutionary after seeing a patient die from the second bungled abortion of her life. After the first, the doctor treating her had blown off the notion of offering her any sort of contraception — although the means existed at the time — and said simply that she should tell her husband to sleep on the roof.

For refusing to accept that as the status quo of pregnancy prevention in America, Sanger went through multiple arrests, jail and hunger strikes. For advocating a sensible outlook on human reproduction, she has been maligned over and over as some sort of Nazi eugenicist. Here is what she actually said:

Ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide for them. Herein lies the key of civilization. For upon the foundation of an enlightened and voluntary motherhood shall a future civilization emerge.

…a woman possessing an adequate knowledge of her reproductive functions is the best judge of the time and conditions under which her child should be brought into the world. We further maintain that it is her right, regardless of all other considerations, to determine whether she shall bear children or not, and how many children she shall bear if she chooses to become a mother… Only upon a free, self-determining motherhood can rest any unshakable structure of racial betterment.

This was written a good long time before language like “racial betterment” was yoked in our minds with various programs of ethnic cleansing, and a good long time before anyone sounded the alarm that human overpopulation had the potential to lay waste to the whole earth. Sanger bears no blame for the former; if we can do anything about the latter, we should remember her as part of the solution.

Meanwhile, if you’re a woman who has ever used birth control, or a man who gives a damn about the autonomy of any woman you ever slept with, you could do worse than pause sometime today and say: “Thanks, Margaret.”

T-Shirt Friday, August, 2009 – The Important Things

I have several times mentioned Donna Barr and her creation the Desert Peach, who is my hero for many reasons, not least because he has his priorities straight.

Harlan Ellison once said that the important things in life were sex, violence and labor relations.

The Peach is more idealistic and votes for Love, Honor, Death, and Tea.

Peach Shirt

I am a Darjeeling and Assam woman, myself, though all tea is divine; I must find out from Donna what the Peach’s favorite brew is, when he can get it.

Gilbert and Sullivan

I always hated Gilbert and Sullivan. It seemed to me to be a fetish of the simultaneously snooty and G-rated mind, a sort of Mensa songbook for people who like to show off their eidetic memories and don’t know how to shut up.

So naturally when I got married — disastrously and heroically — it was to a man whose entire adult achievement consisted of performing in the Savoy operas. Specifically, he was the Little Man Who Sings the Patter Song. About 5’6″, and around 140 pounds dripping wet. When he died, ten years after I divorced him because of appallingly deteriorated personal habits and an approach to life that can only be called Creative Incompetence, it was closer to 110.

He had a magnificently filthy mind, adored cats, was a repository of literary, historical and musical minutiae, and wept to hear an undiscovered good string quartet. He could compose the vilest limericks that anyone has ever heard. He loved jazz and swing but tended to rhyme the word rap with crap, regarding it as a cheap ploy by people who couldn’t bother learning to sing. He never drove a car, and walked five miles a day until he got too ill to take another step. By that time he was living on the street (and resisting, to the last, everyone’s efforts to steer him into help with housing or medical care — or a bath, for that matter).

The hospital called me. I showed up with a stack of books and CDs, and on the way to surgery he sang Private Willis’ aria from Iolanthe. Goddam if the nurses didn’t join in.

So I am probably the only person who ever cried watching this video, which I blundered across tonight:

He would have laughed his ass off. God love you, sweetie, wherever you are.