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Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2014

A tale of four kitties

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Morning! And thanks for taking a quick gander at my new column -- even though it is printed here under the same old title and writer's name.

Chuck Nash has been writing the "At Random" column for about 32 years now. (Whew!) And during that time, he wrote a series of columns about Stumble and Bumble's (his own and wife Ginny's) amateur efforts to spruce up some tumble-down local houses, including their own (although, truth to tell, he never quite decided who was Stumble and who was Bumble).

But, hey, now the guy is nearly 70. So, how many more sunny Saturdays do you figure he'll be able to, in his own words, "dance gracefully across a steeply slanted roof while holding, without spilling a single drop, a cup full of scalding coffee"? My guess? Not many!

So, I saw my chance! "Hey," I whispered in his ear late one night, "I can spell ya out for the occasional Sunday when you're stumped for a fresh topic." He sat bolt upright in his side of the bed, looked at me, then cackled softly, so as not to wake his wife.

"You write, do you?"

"I do," I replied, the hackles on my neck rising a bit at the sneer I saw twisting his lips. "Didn't ya ever check out those cute archy and mehitabel comic pieces Don Marquis started writing for the New York Evening Sun in 1916?"

"I seem to remember . . . "he began, rubbing his right eye. "Sure," he continued, "mehitabel was a scrappy alley cat, and archy was a cockroach, who wrote his columns on the . . . "

"Typewriter, yeah," I interrupted, proud of my memory (not many people even know a cat has one.) He jumped from key to key. Of course, there were no capital letters, because a cockroach can't very well jump to the Shift key and to any individual letter key at the same time."

His eyes widened a bit. "You tellin' me that stuff was true?"

"Sure!" I exclaimed, but not so emphatically as to imply Chuck was a dunce for not knowing. "Well," I continued, ready to make my pitch, "if a cockroach could write those, then why can't a well-fed, well-read, pint-size cat do the same?"

"OK!" he yipped, fully awake now and happy as a clam, "what are you going to need?"

"Well, I said, "my paws are tiny, so I don't have much control over the keyboard. If, for example, I type 'grekong' for 'felines,' I'm going to need some agile, 5-fingered help, know what I mean?"

"I sure do!" he said. And with that we agreed on the ground rules for our journalistic arrangement. I said I'd soon type up a few columns for his approval. In fact, that's how this column came to be, completely Chuck-approved in advance. If the columns have spelling and punctuation mistakes, blame Chuck, because he proof-read them all.

First, I need to introduce you to my three housemates. All four of us -- Harry, Boots, Atticus, and I -- are feline castaways, abandoned by our original owners into the barbaric cat-eat-cat world.

First to arrive here at the Nash home for shelter, recuperation, comfort and solace was Harry, who, in truth, is not so much hairy as "fluffy" and muscularly lean. First-time visitors bend over to pet him, and find not a solid body, but, instead, a thin backbone covered by a thick cloud of soft black fur. At first, he acts like a gracious host, speaking softly to you. But later, when you enter the darkened family room at night, you'll find him toppling drinks from the coffee table, grabbing bits of food from the wastepaper basket, or nibbling at abandoned, half-empty, greasy pizza boxes he's dragged onto the carpet, like a Bowery drunk. Pathetic!

Last weekend, even though he has seniority here, I had to scold him: "You know, Harry, I resent your boorish and ungrateful behavior here. I mean, where would you be if Chuck and Ginny hadn't taken you in? Starving in the winter streets? May I remind you, cats are a dime a dozen? So, don't mess up this cushy gig we've all lucked into, OK?"

Gosh, sometimes I feel uncomfortably smarmish! Harry just sulked.

One freezing winter night, when Chuck drove to the farm and opened the red Dodge's front door, Boots jumped in . . . for good, as it turned out. He's the vain showman of our quartet, Boots is, wandering around the house, mewing audibly, begging desperately for attention.

He's vain, pathetically proud of his luxuriously thick and glossy, black-and-white coat. He was bigger than the rest of us, until Atticus arrived on our front porch. Boots can bully Harry, but when he tries to bully me, I've learned to step right up to his face and sneeze, sending a small blob of snot flying splat into his eye.

The high strutter Boots seems already to have forgotten the loneliness and pending starvation from which he'd escaped. When I told him, he just ignored me and, without a word of response, proceeded to groom the white part of his left rear leg. Showoff!

Atticus, the last to join us, has certainly been around the block. He just appeared one day on our front porch, a battered and bruised, torn and tooth-punctured, orange-taffy-colored bruiser of about 20 pounds. He's missing one of his big lower front teeth, wears a mine-field of inch-long scabs all over his body. Yeah, he looks to me like one of those lumbering old boxers who've had their heads addled to a fare-thee-well. In short, he's sure earned the right to sleep peacefully, without fear of attack, but Boots, out of uncertainty, always seems compelled to challenge him. Hissing and spitting prevail here.

Atticus doesn't "frisk" much anymore. He sleeps a lot, mostly in cardboard boxes big enough to've held mattresses. Sometimes he growls, as if he owes it to the butch image he's trying to develop.

And, last, of course, there's myself, Betty. (I used to spell it Bette, then Bettie, then Bettye.) But Atticus took me aside one morning, pushed me up against the wall, like a common city thug, and meowed loudly, "Why don't ya stop putting on airs, you pretentious little pipsqueak? Call yourself what you will, girl, you'll always be a tiny, fuzz-coated little twit that somehow lost half her tail. Just spell your name plain ol' Betty, why don'tcha?"

Amidst all this peace and plenty, why do we always have to bicker and snarl?

( MORAL: YOU CAN TAKE THE CAT OUT OF THE RAT RACE, BUT YOU CAN'T TAKE THE RAT RACE OUT OF THE CAT.)