Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hello Kitties

So, Kirsten's move has begun and I have cats again. And not just cats but hulking, black and white fur-manatees. Lucy and Tobias are siblings. Lucy's pretty hefty, but Tobias is just a moose. The floorboards creak when he walks and he's always reaching down to loosen his belt and then realizing that he's a cat and he's not wearing one. I don't even have a picture of him to post here because I don't own a lens wide enough to capture his girth. He goes by Tobes for short, pronounced "Tohhhbes," in a slow surfer drawl. That's fitting because he has a stoner's disposition - perpetually calm and given to flopping over onto his back. Lucy is a chill one too, but that sweetness masks a born troublemaker. Her favorite pastime is waiting for the house to go to sleep and then ransacking the place like she's faking a burglary.

Kirsten spotted them as kittens 11 years ago while accompanying a friend to the animal shelter and made a rash, on-the-spot decision to adopt them. Since then they've lived with her all over the damn place, in big and small cities. And now, after four years of the Chicago high life, they've arrived at the Manor. Guess who's thrilled about it?

Guess who's so thrilled she spent the day in a catsuit rolling around on the ground, meowing?

Growing up, the Johnson house was a cat house. I was raised to know the joys of waking to your hair getting licked off by a sandpapery cat tongue (which, everybody knows, is basically a brillo pad that cats wipe their asses with). I liked our cats, but it never translated into becoming a "cat person." And so, though I always considered myself a friend of the feline, I had no real desire to get one of my own when I struck out to carve my way in the world. I was living a petless single existence. That is, until Keith Sanchez.

I found Keith about a year before Claire was born, in a parking lot. He tried to buy weed from me and, though I couldn't help him, we hit it off talking about our different backgrounds. He was fascinated by my descriptions of living in southern California, miles from the Tijuana border, and he regaled me with stories of his Mexican ancestors, all of them freedom fighters. I decided to put him up until he could check himself into a decent rehab program. He never moved out.

Keith lived hard. There were mornings I'd wake up to find him passed out in the living room, empty wine bottles scattered like so many leaves. When I left for tour that first summer he got into a bottle of AJAX, no doubt assuming it was some heaven-sent can of blow, and my roommate found him passed out with his nose all covered in chemical snow. He had to get his stomach pumped. And then there was that time he sold ad space on our front lawn and scored himself an eight-ball and a couple of Eight Mile hookers with the proceeds. But though Keith had his fair share of demons, it was his gentle charisma that he'll be remembered for most. He was stocky. Handsome. With smoldering eyes and thick fur. To women, he was entirely irresistible. And men wanted to be him.

Over the years I came to know him as a mess of contradictions: a lovable rapscallion; a misogynist with an insatiable hunger for women; a son of Mexican immigrant parents who was still, somehow, the quintessential American cat. And the most telling of all: he dreamed always of Revolución!, a bright vision of a new Mexico, but wasted his days instead sprawled on the couches and floors of my Ferndale home in half inebriation, a slave to the sauce. I think deep down Keith hated himself for this.

Ultimately what endeared Keith to me most was the way he was so gentle with Claire when she was a baby. Anybody else, he'd mangle their hand just for petting him funny; and even as Claire ascended into toddlerhood, he began to take the gloves off a bit. But in those first months, he was all cuddles. True, if he had made one false move I would have brained him with lasting damage. Still, I appreciated his soft manner with my infant child.

In the fall of 2006 I was on tour in Kansas City. I got a call from my then roommate, Tim, saying Keith was making strange sounds. Four hours later, Keith was put to sleep. The vet said he had developed a urinary blockage that, untreated, was fatal as well as extremely painful. The procedure for it was over a grand and they told me point-blank he would probably develop it again. I didn't have a thousand dollars. Not even close. He's buried behind the shed in my backyard now.

Keith was a cat with the soul of a dog, the claws of a tiger and the carnal appetites of a bandito. He had many names - Tubesteak, Diablo, Biggs Brigante - but only one home while he lived. Mine.

Vaya Con Dios, Keith.

1 comment:

Megs said...

you know that is my scarf keith is wearing in that pic... i let him borrow it during his stint as a professor at OCU.