Cat Parking

I was up early because I had to get my car in behind the sweeper to hold a spot for a refuse bin. We're going to have the garden redone. The gardner is an old friend, whose husband works the business with her. So it's one of those projects that is enjoyable. But getting a particular parking spot on this street demands good timing and sometimes a lot of nerve. The same people who used to meet the cookie truck with George Carlin are now following the street sweeper in a desperate attempt to nail their favored space.

In the city, there's no parking at all in some neighborhoods. When I lived in North Beach I would position myself at the top of my street like a vulture, waiting for somebody to come up from the bars and leave a space. Sometimes somebody else would show up; maybe an Asian guy, crafty in the ways of high density living. He positions his car down the hill. There's another predator in my territory. My testosterone inches up to provide an increased willingness to poach if I have to.

Nob Hill is terrible for parking. I used to have clients who, when they came to San Francisco, stayed right at the top, by Grace Cathedral. The only appointment time I would give them was six o'clock, because that was when the right lane shifted from a traffic lane to a parking lane. The space vultures would be circling by a quarter till, and then it was a matter of who was brave enough to gamble on Parking and Traffic not picking that day to clean up the early parking problem.

Slowly we are going through the San Francisco apartment and transforming it from spartan to something with a woman's touch. I remember when there would always be dead flowers in little containers here. A woman would visit and she would look out the back door into the wilds and say, "Oh, look." There would be something with blossoms growing out there, especially Jasmine vines, and she would put them in a little container and set them in the kitchen window or somewhere. Slowly they would realize their situation, then hang their little heads and die.

Linda buys flowers and puts them in vases sometimes. But she's realistic. She doesn't do that if she's not going to be around to enjoy them. She has one of those questions that women sometimes form and never seem to let go of. My grandmother had one. I was grown and she'd still ask me, "What happened to my good paring knife?" I was throwing it and sticking it in an oak tree and it got lost. Ten years later she still couldn't let it go. "That was my good knife."

And now Linda asks, "Didn't you know those were the flowers I planted? They were going to bloom." She has asked me that several times. I told her I thought they were weeds. What do these women want? A pint of blood?

When somebody wants to give me good advice on enjoying living every day they say, "You've got to stop and smell the flowers."

I think it's surprising how many flowers have no scents at all. It could be just me. If I was a dog every flower might be as fragrant as catshit. Or if I was a special case ... I read someplace about a doctor who was doing meth, and one morning he woke up with heightened senses. He was suddenly like an animal, and could tell which patient was coming by the scent. After awhile it went away. But I'll bet some people always have those heightened senses; Hannibal Lecter comes to mind.

I just talked to Clay, who had to stop playing guitar for awhile because he was getting carpal tunnel or something in his wrist. He's letting it heal. "You can listen to me play, man," I suggest.

He mocks me. "Want to hear a G chord? How about a C? I can even do an A minor."

"Three chords and the truth, Slick. The rest of it's just Cat Dancing."

"Or parrot dancing?"

"Keep it clean."

He comes over and feeds the cat when I'm in Prescott, and hangs out sometimes. He lives in his recording studio and has a jerry rigged shower and a hot plate. Here he has access to a kitchen and a real shower as well as a guitar not his own to play.

The cat is getting old, but still earns her keep by killing rodents. She is under the protection of Lady Diane, who, when she left for her island under the southern sky, said, "Promise me something."


"Look after Tigger."

In a moment of weakness I promised I would. Diane isn't somebody you can fool around with about cats. She is a woman who doesn't repress her emotions. She had a big Tom Cat named Puki (a Maori name), who was her spiritual husband. In her dreams he would appear as a human man. He even showed up in one of my dreams, and he looked just as she described him.

She was couch surfing while getting ready to go to Hawaii. She moved Puki in with her girlfriend in an upstairs flat in Sausalito, where she stayed sometimes. She built a cat ladder, so that Puki could climb up and through the bedroom window when he wanted in. He was like Dracula. The curtains would blow and there he would appear, driven by blood lust and feline instinct. "She is mine."

But there was another tom cat next door. He was okay until the people who owned him moved off and left him with the new tenants, who fed him but gave him no attention. He started to go bad. Somebody would walk by and he'd take a swipe at them. He picked fights and learned several vulgar expressions, two of them in Spanish. He was drinking heavily and there was some talk about a taste for painful sex.

Diane decided to intervene. Her mother was very British and bequeathed her a stunning efficiency in the face of chaos. She decided to collect the bad boy and find a home for him. She brought him over here, but I wouldn't let her bring him in the house. People are always trying to get a home for a cat and they're tricky about it.

Taking care of Tigger doesn't involve having a cat box in the house. Tigger comes in sometimes but her home is the garden. She had made an amazing adaptation by learning to look almost exactly like a raccoon when she wants to. She hunches her back up high, and she's a big, fat gray tabby. I wonder how she's going to cope with the big changes coming up?

I told Diane she could put the tom cat in my camper with a catbox if she wanted to. I was thinking she was just keeping it a night or two, and then was going to take it to some kind of a cat retirement home. She said she couldn't leave him in the camper shell because he would be frightened, which was already the poor thing's problem. So she slept in the camper with the cat.

She had made some calls, and found a woman who takes in cats somewhere in Marin County. She drove up with the tom, and she came back with the tom. "What happened? Wouldn't she take him?"

"It's not right for him. I couldn't leave him there."

"Hey, you're getting involved with this guy. How do you think Puki feels? First this cat threatens him and bitch slaps his wife right in front of him, and then she picks him up and starts sleeping with him. Do you know how much pet psychologists charge for these kinds of problems?"

"I'll send him to group. It's cheaper. But he can't stay there; I'd worry about him."

So she kept sleeping with him out in my truck, in the garage, and she would describe how he was actually such a sweet cat, lacking only some love and affection. He'd turned bad because he'd been ignored. It was his way of crying out for help, and lo, his angel had appeared. She doted on him, though I was firm that he wasn't going to live here. Finally she found a woman who wanted him, and whom she considered the cat's emotional equal.

When she came back she began to cry. She cried for three days. It wasn't a stray tear escaping and then the old British "carry on mates." She wept like her heart would explode, and tears flowed like lava from an erupting volcano. There was some great sadness she'd been holding, maybe for her unlived life as a mother. It can't have been easy, being married to one cat and carrying on with another one.

I haven't heard from her for awhile. She went back to New Zealand with James, a man she met in Hawaii. She took care of her mother until she died. They wrapped her and put her in an environmentally friendly casket, and they took her to her final resting place. I visited New Zealand with Diane, once, so I can see, in my mind's eye, the house where there's just the old man, now, looking with dimming vision toward his century. And back here in California, there' s me, keeping my promise to take care of TIgger.

I could have been twisted about it and taken her to Prescott, where she would have met with an accident. Actually coyotes killing cats isn't really an accident. It's hunting. They're getting bolder as they get more used to sharing habitat with people. One morning last week a policeman came to the door. He said somebody down on Gurley called in a report of a woman on the deck screaming. He had the wrong house. The woman next door had been outside with a new kitten. A coyote appeared as if from a puff of smoke and the kitten was gone.

She was left screaming there on the deck.

So Tigger has to stay here, and somebody has to feed her, usually Clay or whoever might be using the apartment when I'm in Prescott. Diane takes care of cats, even if she has to do it by remote control from down under.

That reminds me; it's been awhile since she wrote. If she reads this she'll realize it makes an old tom mean to be ignored for too long. Accidents can happen when the garden is in upheaval. Nerves get frayed. Alliances shift. Somebody might tell the raccoons they've been infiltrated by a poseur. They carry knives, you know, and some of them are on crystal.

Posted: Wed - September 5, 2007 at 09:58 AM