Yes, I finally made it to New York after another drive of nearly 8 hours’ duration. It would probably have taken less time if I’d gone with my alternate route via the George Washington Bridge rather than the Google Maps-recommended route through Manhattan. I decided to avoid the GWB because I’m kind of acrophobic and not comfortable with bridges. I thought the other route would let me avoid them. But it wasn’t until too late that I wondered why a particular segment of the route I chose was called the Pulaski Skyway. Eegh, not fun. And then there was a similarly forbidding elevated section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — which I missed at first because Google’s directions were ambiguous for getting onto the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street (it said “slight right,” but both options, to the upper and lower decks of the bridge, are slight rights), so I went several blocks down Flatbush Avenue before I was fortunate enough to pull up next to a police car at a red light and asked for directions. I guess there’s no way to avoid bridges in New York City.
Nobody was home at David Mack’s place when I arrived, since I came a day later than planned and Dave was at Comic-Con all day. So I just parked (eventually), walked to the subway (or the elevated train, here in Queens — more high-up structures, eegh), rode it to Times Square, and walked to the Javits Center to meet Dave. I was there for like ten minutes before Keith R. A. DeCandido took Dave and me to a meeting with someone who might have work for us. It was in a nightclub with dim lighting and blaring music, very much not my kind of scene, but the business part of it was promising and I hope something comes of it. It would be very well-paying for the amount of work involved, and theoretically has the potential to be a recurring thing. Plus I got to hand out the first of the business cards I had printed up a few days ago for just such an occasion.
After the drive and the nightclub, I was too worn out to keep going, but Dave’s wife Kara was home by then, so I took the subway back and she let me in. I spent some time getting to know her and the Macks’ two cats, especially their new kitten Freddie (Winifred), who’s adorable and very, very friendly, and spent most of the time on my lap — a nice sensation that I’ve missed getting to experience. Even their older cat, Mr. Puck, came out to investigate and even let me pet him slightly, which apparently is remarkable because he usually hides from strangers. Maybe it’s just that I was there at the time of night when he gets frisky. I had fun watching him chase his tail, something he did entirely within the confines of a cat tree’s “nest.”
After that, I turned in, so I don’t have much to tell yet. Today will be the first significant amount of time I spend at the con. I’m not sure what I’ll do all day; Pocket has no booth this year, so I have no “home base.” Hopefully I’ll talk to various industry people and hand out some more business cards.
And maybe I’ll buy some stuff. The trip here was more expensive than I’d reckoned on, but by not staying in a hotel I’m still saving hundreds of dollars, so I guess I can justify buying some swag. While driving to NYC was maybe not the greatest idea, at least it gives me more leeway for accumulating stuff to take home with me.
A little while ago, I decided to walk over to the local organic foods store to restock on chips, and when I got there, I saw there were a couple of people evidently playing with a kitten in the corner of the parking lot. Once I got closer, though, I saw they weren’t playing. The little orange tabby had broken its leg and was weak and struggling. A young woman — whom I later learned was Nadia, an employee of the food store — was trying to give it water from an eyedropper and get it to eat something. She told me she’d called the SPCA but didn’t know when they’d come. I told her where the nearby animal hospital was, but she didn’t have a car. I regretted that I’d walked there instead of driving.
But after a bit, once it became clear there were no other options, I told Nadia I’d jog back home, get a cardboard box, drive back to the store, and take the kitten to the vet. I did this, though I was slowed down a bit when I went right to the car and forgot about the box, so I had to re-park and go get one.
By the time I got back to the store, though, that corner of the lot was empty. I got out and looked around, and another store clerk recognized what I was looking for. He had the kitten in a box and told me he was fairly sure it was dead. I took a look at it and couldn’t get any response or feel any breathing or pulse. I was too late. Although given how quickly the kitten passed, I would’ve still been too late even if I’d had my car there in the first place.
The clerks were wondering what to do with the body, and I told them they should call animal control or the sanitation department or somebody. Which reminded me I needed to wash my hands, which they let me do in the store’s washroom. But when I checked in with them after I did my shopping, the male clerk told me that the kitten’s owner had shown up and claimed the remains. I didn’t get the whole story, but they’d left the kitten somewhere while going to the nearby Starbuck’s. I don’t want to rush to judgment without knowing the whole story, but I have to wonder where they would leave a kitten that would end up with it lying in a parking lot with a fatal injury.
Well, best not to dwell on that. They have a loss to deal with now, a loss I can sympathize with all too well. I’ve lost too many cats lately, too many in my lifetime, and I was hoping I could help this one. But by the time I got there, it was already too late. At least the kitten wasn’t alone at the end.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a title like “Pictures from my phone” would be sheer gibberish, or at best something out of science fiction. But I’m gradually catching up to the 21st century, technology-wise, and today I bought a microSD card that enables me to copy the photos I’ve taken with my relatively new cell phone and transfer them to my home computer. And I can then transfer them here, so I’m going to do that just because I can.
(I actually got the card so I can transfer my CDs onto my phone and use it as an MP3 player. I still need to buy the special headphones that go with its particular type of jack, and I’m annoyed that LG didn’t use a standard headphone jack so I could use a set I already have. But buying the SD card and the headphones are still cheaper than buying a separate MP3 player.)
First off, an amusing thing I saw up on the corner. The Friar’s Club building that’s been there for a long time, and all the houses around it, just got demolished to make way for… I have no idea what. After the last major bit of demolition, I saw this (click to enlarge):
A perfectly intact doorway and wall section (aside from a torn canopy) leading into a pile of rubble… awesome. I wonder how far you could get inside? Not that I’d recommend it. Either you’d be underneath a bunch of unstable debris that might collapse on you, or you might find that this door leads to… The Twilight Zone!
Next, here’s a photo of a couple of cats I saw at the local park a while back:
They sort of followed me from in front as I strolled down the walk — staying ahead of me, with the striped one occasionally stopping and letting me pet her (?) for a bit. They pretty much maintained this relative distance from each other all the way down the hill.
On a more nostalgic note, here’s just about the last photo ever taken of Shadow:
I have a few seconds of video footage of Shadow on my phone, taken at about the same time, but I’m not sure they’re in a format playable online. Basically it’s just him sitting there glaring at me, like in the shot above, while I informed him that he was a pussycat. Which I think he already knew. But it bore repeating.
That’ll do it for now. Now that I have the means to transfer photos off my phone, maybe I’ll take more of them. Don’t expect me to post any Shore Leave photos until after the convention, though, since my laptop is relatively old and doesn’t have a port for the SD card adaptor. At this point, I can only copy between my phone and my (now-repaired) desktop PC.
“The Seal”: An unremarkable tape scene, except that for the first time the mission briefing is on a cassette tape; Jim brings the player with him on a shoulder strap. (It’s worth noting this was considered cutting-edge technology at the time, and was the inspiration for the Star Trek tricorder.) As I think I remarked before, it’s odd that cassette tapes were so rarely used on this show even after they became commonplace.
The mission: Industrialist Taggart (Darren McGavin) has purchased a jade statuette which is the stolen royal seal of Kuala Rokat, a nation important to America’s strategic interests in Asia. His refusal to give it back risks driving the country into the Soviet bloc. The team must get it out of his possession by any means. Their plan hinges on Rusty, a ginger tomcat who’s been trained to fetch things. This is the second episode to feature a cat prominently, the first being last season’s “The Diamond.” This time, the cat is one of the good guys. (But really, a plan depending on a cat deigning to follow instructions? What were they thinking?)
Cinnamon plays reporter to interview Taggart while Jim pretends to be a subcontractor whom Taggart Aviation has been overpaying for his rivets — the perfect bait to make Taggart’s accounting department eager to bend over backward to “help” him. In this way, he sabotages their computer with a doctored punch card. He’s also slipped a fake punch card into the phone’s autodialer (the ’60s version of speed dial, where you had to insert a punch card encoded with the number to be dialed) so they’ll reach Barney when they call computer repair. Willy sneaks in Barney and Rusty inside a replacement computer, then fakes Jim’s signature on the signout sheet to hide the fact that Jim’s still inside. He couldn’t so easily hand back two security badges, so he uses a gadget to stick two together for several minutes, then reveal the hidden badge shortly after a security alarm has been sounded due to the badge discrepancy. This little trick gets the poor security guard fired by his mean boss. Congratulations, IMF! You’ve just ruined this poor guy’s life! Now his wife’s going to leave him and he’ll descend into drink and wrap his station wagon around a telephone pole!
Anyway, Taggart spins this whole tale about how the jade seal has been stolen so many times throughout its history that its rightful owner is whoever happens to possess it at the moment. Conveniently, he concludes that if anyone steals it from him in turn, they’re welcome to it — thus sort of absolving the IMF for the crime they’re in the process of committing. Cinnamon concocts a legend of a curse that will kill Taggart in six hours if he doesn’t return the seal. He doesn’t fall for it, but he’s amused enough to let Cinnamon invite in a visiting professor from Kuala Rokat (Rollin in subtle but profoundly unconvincing “Oriental” makeup) to tell him about the curse. Rollie performs magic tricks to make it seem he has mystical powers (spouting some Orientalist rubbish about how such things are commonplace in the East). This culminates in Rollin making himself disappear (making a sheet appear to levitate with a helium balloon he somehow smuggled in and inflated silently–huh?) in order to sneak to the vault and pretend to be electrocuted by its door (he’s wearing a special gizmo that protects him from the current). While the security system is shut down to save him, Barney’s able to drill through the wall and use another balloon to insert a strip of material that emits a harmonic to neutralize the sound detectors once the security system is turned back on. Interestingly, he uses magnets on one side of the wall to catch the drill dust on the other side, since the vault floor will go off if even a few ounces’ weight lands on it.
Rusty almost ruins the plan by playing with the fishies in Taggart’s fish tank, but is caught in time. Barney inserts a telescoping rail for Rusty to walk along and sends him instructions through a headset attached to his collar, goading him to retrieve the jade and bring it back. Naturally, Rusty takes his time. I wonder how many dozens of tries it took to compile enough bits of footage to make it look like the cat was following instructions. But eventually Rusty brings the jade out, and Jim and Barney sneak out by switching clothes (at gunpoint) with the paramedics who’ve come in to take the “electrocuted” Rollin to the hospital (serves them right, since they were apparently too unskilled to tell he was faking). So the day is saved, the team drives off in the stolen ambulance, Rusty gets the last word, and they all have a good laugh at their morally questionable and illegal activities against a US government contractor in the name of some tenuous gain in the mad game of brinksmanship that was the Cold War. But there was a cat involved, so I guess that makes it okay.
“Charity”: The DVD calls it “Sweet Charity,” but other sources disagree. Anyway, it’s a weird episode. The mission this week involves busting a charity scam. That’s right, not a malicious foreign government or a spy ring or a powerful crime syndicate, just an unhappily married couple, the Hagars, who have bilked various rich people out of their money on the pretense of funding charities. You really have to wonder why the IMF is being given such a minor case. I mean, they already know somehow that the Hagars have the stolen money in the form of platinum bars hidden under their pool table. Why can’t the authorities just arrest them on the basis of that knowledge? Okay, they’re living on the French-Italian border, but America’s on friendly terms with those countries, so what’s the problem? (And their home happens to be the same Pasadena location used for Stately Wayne Manor in the ’60s Batman, at least in exteriors.)
Anyway, the plan is very convoluted for such a minor mission. Cinnamon plays a wealthy recluse (wearing an odd feather swim-cap thing that makes her look like a baby bird or something) who gets acquainted with Erik Hagar (Fritz Weaver) while Jim pretends to be a doctor attracting the attention of the man-hungry Catherine Hagar (Hazel Court). Willy, as Cinnamon’s chauffeur, “accidentally” damages the grill of Hagar’s car, so Cinnamon has him drive the car into town for repairs. Hagar lets him have it without question, thus proving himself incredibly trusting for a career con man.
Jim appears to make some mistakes with his cover story, so Catherine catches on that he’s a fake. However, that’s part of the plan; his real game is to pretend to be someone Erik hired to distract his wife so he could go after Cinnamon (or rather, her millions of dollars). Catherine is sufficiently smitten with Jim that she tells him to “earn your money.” Turns out the gigolo biz only paid 300 bucks a weekend back then.
Meanwhile, Barney and Willy are doing the old “cut open the floor from the basement” trick and stealing the platinum from under the pool table, replacing it with an inflatable set of fake platinum bars. Also meanwhile, Rollin barges in on Erik’s naptime, holds him at gunpoint, and tells him to take off his tie and shoes and lie back on the bed. Just as it looks like it’s going someplace really disturbing, Rollin sets the blanket on fire to make it look like Erik died in a smoking accident. As the world’s slowest-burning blanket gives off smoke, Rollin tells Erik that his wife arranged the hit, and Erik pays him off to switch sides. He then pretends to try to suffocate Jim and Catherine with natural gas, but the branch he’s used to barricade the door is pre-scored so Jim can break through easily enough. Jim convinces Catherine that her husband is out to bump her off for her money, and they need to run away with the platinum first. She shows him where the (now fake) platinum is, and then trustingly leaves him to take care of moving it to their car so they can run away with it.
But the real platinum is back at the garage where Barney & Willy are fixing Erik’s car — by way of melting down the platinum and molding it into a replacement grille and headlights for the car! They return it just in time for Erik to see his wife and her gigolo driving away with his ill-booten gotty, so he can drive off in pursuit of them. Jim gets across the border because his trunk is empty save for a deflated balloon whose resemblance to platinum bars goes unnoticed by the border guard, but Barney arranges to be driving a van that crunches Erik’s grille for the second time today, so that when the guards inspect it, they discover it’s platinum and arrest him for smuggling.
This episode is full of holes. Aside from the question of why the authorities couldn’t just arrest these guys, or publicize their scam so people wouldn’t be taken in, there’s the question of why this convoluted plan would work. Okay, they can arrest the guy for having platinum on his car, but what about the subsequent investigation? There’s no way to prove he knowingly turned his car grille into platinum, since he didn’t, and a warrant for his house will turn up nothing now.
And the Hagars are very unimpressive antagonists. They’re not hardened killers, not physically dangerous at all (so the whole “If any of your IM Force are caught or killed” line is rather incongruous). They don’t have some vast organization or Soviet-bloc government protecting them. They’re just a couple of con artists working alone, and barely functioning as a team at all, since they clearly hate each other and are easy to turn against each other. And they’re really quite gullible and easily manipulated. I kind of feel sorry for them, going up against a crack spy team that’s overthrown governments and saved the world from weapons of mass destruction time and time again. The Hagars are completely out of their league. And they should’ve been beneath the IMF’s notice. The very existence of this episode doesn’t make sense.
Yesterday, I finally got up to my father’s place for the first time since Shadow passed away. Up until then, the idea of his loss had been pretty abstract for me, since I haven’t lived under the same roof with the cats for years. As I expected, it wasn’t until I went into Shadow’s favorite closet and saw he wasn’t there, until I saw his litter box emptied out and packed away, that it finally really hit me that he was gone and I was finally able to start grieving properly. I spent some time in that closet saying goodbye, and since then I’ve been letting myself be sad, letting it become real to me.
Just a bit before he died, we bought a new case of his special food from the Cat Clinic, and as it happens, Shadow left us just after he’d finished the last can from the old case. So the new case was never opened. I’ll be returning it to the clinic when I get the chance.
Looks like I’m finally going to get another paying gig, and one that will bring in enough to let me pay off my debts and get comfortably in the black again, at least for a while. I can’t say anything more about it yet; heck, I don’t even know much more myself, since it’s all still coming together.
The bad timing is twofold. One, it’s too late to help me with my immediate financial situation. I’ve got various sources of possible or definite income heading my way in the months ahead — some savings become available next month, I applied for a census job that will start next month if I get it, I’ve got checks coming for “No Dominion” and the story I sold yesterday, I’ve got this new gig coming, and I’ve got several other job applications and short stories in play — but at the moment, I’ve got just barely enough to make it until then. It’s frustrating knowing that I will be out of the hole soon but still having to pinch pennies and put off buying things I need (and things I don’t) for a while longer. (While we’re on the subject, I’ve still got plenty of autographed books for sale if anyone’s interested…)
The other bad timing is all this good news coming right after Shadow passed away. I mean, yeah, it helps to be cheered up after a loss like that, but not so soon, not before I’ve really had time to process it and honor his memory. The happy and sad are getting all jumbled together and watering each other down. Like I said before, it doesn’t really let me do justice to either feeling.
The day we brought Shadow and Tasha home, before Shadow had his name, Tasha immediately hid behind the loveseat and didn’t want to come out, but Shadow was braver. The 6-week-old grey kitten just settled down on my lap and went to sleep, and would’ve been content to stay there all day, it seemed. That was a great way to start things off. However, after his car accident, he became more reserved and didn’t sit on my lap anymore. He didn’t like to be paid attention to except on his terms, where and when he wanted it. He’d run away from my attempts to pet him unless they were in his preferred places, generally either the dining room window or the top of the cat tree.
Someone in a tree, and Tasha
I think maybe it’s because when he was healing from his broken leg, his cage was on the living room floor (in the house we lived in before the one in the above photo), and from time to time we’d take him out of the cage and put him in the front windowsill and pay attention to him up there. So maybe he came to associate high-up places with affection and the floor with being confined and lonely. Then again, maybe he just wanted to be bossy and control when and where he interacted with people.
And he wasn’t shy about demanding attention. My father liked to quote Willy Loman in reference to Shadow’s insistence: “Attention must be paid!” It was paradoxical, the way he’d meow sharply at you (or quack — seriously, over the years his meow evolved into a definite quack, though according to my father, in his last years it had become “Mkngaow”) for attention and then run away when you offered it — at least until he led you to one of his places. And then he’d let you pet him for a little while, and at an arbitrary time of his choosing, would start to claw and bite. Not with genuine aggression, more or less playfully, but he played rough. (Oh, so many of my memories of Shadow involve impromptu acupuncture….)
Later in life, starting a few years ago, he began taking less care of his claws, giving up on using his scratching posts/pads and letting his claws grow out to the point that they dug into the pads of his feet. I was living on my own by that point, and there was no way my father could manage to trim the recalcitrant Shadow’s claws by himself. We tried to remember to take him into the vet for trimming when his walk started to sound like he was wearing tap shoes, but sometimes we let it go too long and by the time we took him in, his feet were pretty sore. Once we took him and Tasha to a local vet — not the usual cat-specialty clinic we took them to across town — to get their claws trimmed. Tasha’s were easy, but Shadow’s were really ingrown and painful and it was very hard for him, even though the vets tried to be as gentle as they could. But it was a striking experience. The vets wrapped him in a heavy towel to try to calm him down, and the sounds that came out of that bundle, these unearthly caterwauls and snarls and growls, were unlike anything I’ve heard before and really rather unnerving. Beautiful in a way, but scary.
And when the vets tried to shift the towel around to get to another paw, suddenly there was this savage hiss and this set of claws bursting out and slashing at them with lightning speed, and everyone jumped back in fear. Seriously, it was like the chestburster scene in Alien. Shadow was really, really scary that day. Of course I feel sorry for him that he was in such discomfort, and guilty that we didn’t get his claws trimmed much sooner, but I look back with great fondness on what a genuinely fearsome and awe-inspiring beastie Shadow could be.
It wasn’t so charming an experience for my father, though. After we let Shadow go back in the carrier with Tasha, I suggested that, given how agitated and angry Shadow was, it would probably be safer for Tasha to go home in a separate carrier. So my father made the mistake of reaching in to retrieve Shadow again, and got his hand bitten for his trouble. Luckily Shadow had been an indoors cat for a long time, so there was no risk of rabies.
But of course my father and I didn’t hold it against Shadow. He was certainly justifiably provoked. And it was just his nature. Cats choose to live with us for mutual benefit, but they are by no means tame. That’s why it means so much when they choose to offer us affection and companionship.
My father just called me to inform me that our cat Shadow, who lived with him, was put to sleep today. The news doesn’t come as a great surprise; just a few weeks ago, when I went to visit, I discovered that Shadow was getting very skinny and weak, and when we took him to the vet, she advised that it might be time to end it right then and there. But he wasn’t in any pain or anything, and she was able to “jumpstart” his system with a subdermal fluid injection to compensate for his failing kidneys, or some such thing, and he seemed to rally for a while. So while I knew this was coming, I wasn’t expecting it so soon.
So I kind of already said my goodbyes to Shadow. I knew it might happen when I wasn’t around. Still, it feels kind of unreal.
But maybe that’s for the best. It was rough for me when we said goodbye to Tasha, Shadow’s sister, back in June ’08. She’d become very ill and was in considerable pain when we took her to the vet. She also lived with my father instead of me (since my building doesn’t allow cats or dogs), so it came out of the blue for me, and I had to deal with suddenly having this awful choice thrust upon me. I stayed with Tasha right until the end in the hopes that it might bring her some small comfort, though I’m not sure she was even aware of anything at that point.
At least this way my final memory of Shadow will be of a time when he was alive and reasonably comfortable. And maybe in the back of my mind I’ll be able to pretend he’s just vanished into the night, returned to the primal darkness he embodied so magnificently.
Shadow was so very good at being scary. When I was a kid, we had a black cat we called Spooky, but stereotypes aside, he was a nice ol’ chubby guy. Now, Shadow was really spooky. Sometimes he would stare at me and I’d have this shiver of primal fear run through me. He was that good at it.
And he was a mighty, cunning predator, a master of stillness and calculation. When he and Tasha would go after cat toys, she’d be the Tasmanian Devil, a whirlwind of claws and teeth flying every which way, but Shadow would bide his time, wait for his moment, then BAM! His claws and teeth would snap like a sprung beartrap.
My father, Tasha, and Shadow, June 1991
He was smart, too. In the house where they first lived with us, we had a back door with a cat door in it, but it had a cover so we could keep them inside at night. But the cover was loose so we had to put a chair in front of it, or actually more of a highchair/ladder/stool sort of thing with a seat high enough for the cats to stand on their hind legs and see out the window. Now, once I saw Shadow pawing at the deadbolt knob, trying to unlock it. He’d observed that we used that knob to lock and unlock the door and had deduced that if he wanted to get out, he should do the same! He didn’t have the leverage to turn the deadbolt, let alone work the stiff knob and open the door, but he’d reasoned it out. (And I’m not fooling myself here. It’s well-documented that cats are skilled at figuring out how to open doors by watching and emulating humans. Which is a far more genuinely intelligent behavior than simply learning a trick through stimulus-response conditioning.)
Of course, Shadow didn’t always like going outside. At first, we had to get him and Tasha used to the idea. We’d try taking them out into the backyard in their carrier and letting them out, and they’d usually make a beeline back to the house, the carrier, or us. So we’d take them farther out into the grass, let them out, and walk away. Once when we did that, Shadow promptly ran over to me and climbed clear up to my chest level before I could get a hold of him and get those needle-sharp kitten claws out of me. I was laughing and in pain at the same time. That was Shadow all the way. He didn’t make it easy, and he was always quick with the claws and teeth, but he was worth it.
And we were lucky we had so much time with him. One night when he was just a couple of years old, my father heard him racing through the cat door and into the living room, and then we didn’t see him at all the whole next day. We found him huddled under the couch, very quiet and still, and when I moved the couch and picked him up, I realized one of his back legs was hanging limp. Apparently he’d been hit by a car and broken his leg, and had done what cats do, secluding himself to wait for death. But we had other plans. We took him to a specialist (though we had to wait a couple of days until the guy was available, something that wouldn’t be tolerated with a human patient), and despite the wait, the doctor did amazing work. Shadow’s femur was shattered into little pieces, but the doctor managed to reassemble them into a functional bone, supported by wires. All that work to train the cats for outdoor life proved moot, since we were told that Shadow’s leg would never be strong enough for outdoor survival again and we had to keep him indoors — and we couldn’t let one out without letting them both out, so Tasha had to become an indoors cat too. Shadow was in a cage in the living room for weeks before he was well enough to regain normal activity, and the whole experience left him kind of neurotic (well, more so than usual for a cat). But despite what could’ve been a crippling injury, he managed to regain nearly full mobility, certainly enough to keep up with Tasha, who was the fastest, most hyperactive kitty I’ve ever known.
I guess we got lucky with Tasha too, since she developed a serious medical problem a few years later, lymphoma or something, I think. She had to be shipped to Columbus for special treatment, but she came back okay. And ultimately they were with us for a very long time. Tasha lived 17 years and 4 months, Shadow 19 years and 1 month. Those are records for me. The previous longest-lived cats we had were Mia and Spooky, two of the first cats I ever lived with. Mia, a beautiful blue-eyed white cat with a grey forehead mark like an inverted Y, started showing up in our backyard shortly before my seventh birthday, i.e. somewhere around June 1975, and we soon found that she had a litter of kittens including Spooky. When my mother passed away not long thereafter, Mia and her brood kind of filled the void, and we got kind of carried away letting her and her offspring breed; we had dozens and dozens of kittens over the course of a few years, though what with giving them away and losing some of them, the most felines we had in the house at any one time was seventeen. But eventually we got Mia and the junior matriarchs fixed, and the number of cats continued to dwindle, because we gave a lot away and because outdoor cats have short life expectancies or sometimes just run away. Eventually we were down to just Mia and Spooky. Spooky left us after 15 years, and Mia, who we estimated was about a year old when we found her, outlived Spooky by another year. Ironically, our first cat of that line was also our last.
It was a week after losing Mia that we adopted Shadow and Tasha. They were two of a litter of eight belonging to a coworker of my father, and they were about six weeks old when we got them. The litter was a mix of black cats, grey cats, and a couple of multicolored females. That family had named the eight cats Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, Natasha, Larry, Moe, Curly, and Pizzaface (who was a mottled female, kind of a tortoiseshell). I took one look at Natasha and it was love at first sight — she was the most beautiful kitten I’d ever seen. My father was drawn to the one who became Shadow, who was the most beautiful shade of grey I’ve ever seen. No grey has ever been so colorful. As a kitten, he had kind of a nebulous, shimmery quality as if he wasn’t entirely there, or as if he were made of fog. It was remarkable to see.
I don’t know which of the names listed above was given to the grey kitten we adopted. I wanted to keep Natasha’s name because it reminded me of Natasha Yar from ST:TNG, but whatever name her brother had been given, we didn’t want to keep it. (I’d like to think he was Boris, since it would’ve been fitting given what a menacing figure he was. On the other hand, I kind of hope he was Bullwinkle or one of the Stooge names, because it means we saved him from being saddled with such a monicker.) I wanted to call him Kiri, the Japanese word for fog. But since I decided on Tasha’s name, my father got to choose the other, and he went with the basics, so Shadow became Shadow.
I guess it was always that way — Tasha was closer to me and Shadow was closer to my father. Though I’ll miss Shadow a lot, my thoughts right now are more with my father, who’s lost his best friend.
But we had over 19 years with Shadow, which is a really long time for a cat. As the vet said a while ago, he’s been in “bonus” time for a long time. I guess you could say everything since his car accident has been bonus time. We’re lucky he and Tasha were with us for as long as they were.
But I still miss them.
The coolest thing about having a balcony that’s more or less at ground level (it’s in a bit of a trench around the building) is that I sometimes get visits from neighborhood cats. Many of the cats that have lived on and around the apartment building’s grounds have been strays who were fairly aloof, but some are cats that tenants keep (against the building rules) and then abandon when they move away. Those cats are used to being around people and are friendlier — not to mention being accomplished beggars.
I’m afraid I never got pictures of the first two I got to know. The first was a beautiful ginger tabby who was incredibly friendly; she just showed up while I was sitting on my balcony, curled up in my lap, and fell asleep there. And once I needed to stand up, I just held her in my arms for a long time and she was more content to be there than any other cat I’ve ever known. I called her Angela or Angie-Cat, after a former college friend of mine with the same gorgeous red-gold hair color and a similarly friendly manner. Sadly, Angie-Cat never came back after that one time.
The next was kind of a scruffy-looking grey tabby with a clouded eye. She was quite the beggar, always coming by and meowing for food and attention. I took to calling her Mandy, which was short for “demanding.” She showed up periodically for a few months and then stopped coming by, which has turned out to be a pretty regular pattern for the local cats. I hope they’re just wandering to other territories or ideally finding new homes.
Somehow, virtually all the cats who come to visit me are female. I wish I had that kind of luck with humans.
My favorite feline visitor was another grey tabby, but a much more beautiful one I called Gracie. Here she is at her most coquettish (click on any picture to enlarge):
Or maybe that’s this one:
Isn’t she gorgeous? I liked her because she reminded me of a cross between my family’s two cats, Shadow and Tasha (who was still with us at the time). You can see photos of them both at my website’s Kitty Pictures page. Gracie’s base grey shade looked a lot like Shadow’s and her features and behavior were not unlike Tasha’s. And she was the friendliest neighborhood cat I’ve known in all my time here, coming by almost daily. Well, every single day since I started putting out water and an occasional bit of chicken for her. For a while, it was almost like having a cat of my own. Except she kind of took turns residing on various near-ground-level balconies on this side of the building, and one other had a water dish out for her. She was quite the effective beggar herself.
It took me a while to hit upon the perfect name for her. Her color reminded me of Shadow, and it occurred to me that I sometimes called Shadow “George” (an old family inside joke based on the Looney Tunes Abominable Snowman, who in turn was a pastiche of Lenny from Of Mice and Men: “I will call him George! And I will hug him and squeeze him and pet him and love him and…”). So it struck me — George and Gracie! Plus she’s grey, see?
Did I mention she was really friendly?
Gracie eventually stopped showing up, then came back once a couple of months later, and I haven’t seen her since. I hope she found a good home. I’d be surprised if someone didn’t adopt her. If I could’ve moved to a place that allowed cats, I might’ve done so myself.
I had a few other visitors during the time Gracie was around. Here’s a tomcat who came by once, the only male cat who ever came within my camera range:
This next one was a particularly diminutive cat born and raised on the grounds.
She probably didn’t get very big because of the poor quality of food being provided. I learned once that the maintenance man fed some of the grounds-living cats with bologna sandwiches, which wouldn’t come anywhere near satisfying the protein requirements of an obligate carnivore such as a feline (cats need 5 times as much animal protein per day as dogs, IIRC — in proportion to their weight, I assume).
This little one (whom I came to think of as “Tablet,” i.e. a diminutive tabby) had interesting whorls on her sides. That’s called a classic tabby pattern, I gather, while Gracie (like my Tasha) was more of a mackerel tabby. But look what Tablet had on her starboard flank:
She’s in Starfleet!
Unlike this disreputable character:
This big calico lived across the street and sometimes came over, especially when I had food out for Gracie. She often muscled Gracie away and took the food for herself, a habit I tried to discourage. At times, she could be pretty affectionate, letting me pet her, but then she would unpredictably attack me. And not the playful kind of attack, but in earnest. I got some substantial scratches from her once or twice.
Since she had a split personality, going from friendly to violent, I started calling her Niki/Jessica, after Ali Larter’s multiple-personality character on Heroes. Niki-slash-Jessica quickly got shortened to the highly appropriate name Slash. Which became Slash Calico, which sounded like a hard-boiled detective name, so I ended up calling her Slash Calico, Cat Detective. Even though she was hardly on the side of law and justice.
Anyway, because of her bad attitude, I kind of had to shun Slash Calico, Cat Detective for my own safety (one doesn’t want to risk a bite from an unfamiliar cat, or even a familiar one) and for that of my other feline visitors that she tended to bully. She was kind of the exception to the rule that I never met a cat I didn’t like. Except it was kind of too late; Gracie’s visits tapered off before Slash Calico’s did, and I was afraid the bully might’ve run her out of town.
Anyway, I had a dry spell on my balcony for a while after that, but finally I started getting visits from another cat. This one was very aloof at first, always on edge, darting away when I reached for her. She was a small grey tabby, and at first I thought she was Tablet, but photographic comparison proved otherwise:
Plus she was too big to be Tablet. I took to calling her Edgy. But over time, she got more used to me and finally let me pet her, and it wasn’t long before we got to this stage:
Which ended up happening almost every day for a while, until I discovered that Edgy is one of those cats who drool when they’re happy. And she must’ve been really happy. Ick. Call me overly squeamish, but the excessiveness of it made me wonder if there were some health concerns, and it’s probably a good idea to err on the side of caution when dealing with unfamiliar cats (I’d say strange cats, but that’s a tautology). So I kinda made myself less available, and Edgy stopped coming around after a while, but I’ve seen her intermittently since then.
But when it comes to feline presence, my side of the apartment complex has nothing on the other side. There are more bushes and trees there, it’s away from the road, so it’s a more amenable place to supporting stray cats. I often go out of my way to walk by there to look for cats and kittens. That’s where I originally met Mandy. I usually don’t have my camera when I’m there, but one day I saw something so adorable I raced to get my camera and document it, though my lack of zoom capability didn’t help: