Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Bad John

So, his name is John. Peter says we're not keeping him.

Zack called the other day, mere seconds after I had hung up with my sister Kris and was slinging my pocketbook on my arm to go out and drive down to pick her up from the subway down the hill.

"Hello, Mom? I found a kitten. He's really skinny. Can I bring him home?"


Yes, shit. I'm sorry, but as a mom, and a mom with two cats in the house already, and a mom who has worked for years to not be a sap and not be a sucker, this is bad news. Because as good as I have gotten at looking the other way when passing the occasional stray ("Well, he looks healthy...well, he's scared and doesn't want to come near me anyway...well, someone appears to be feeding him...well, it's summer and it's warm, he'll be OK") something about the tone of Zack's voice led me to say, with little more than a micro-second's hesitation,

"OK, bring him home."

I had to pick up Kris. I had to pick up my dad. We were all supposed to be going out to dinner.

I mentally changed the plan as I turned to head out the door. I'd pick up Kris, I'd pick up Dad, but we'd come back here for Chinese takeout. Dad loves Chinese takeout. Extenuating circumstances. We'd be fine.

My phone rang again. Zack.

"Mom? There's a lady here who says you should really come to get me. She says it's too long a walk with the cat in my arms. Could you bring the carrier?"

What lady? Now there's some lady in the mix? Some lady telling me what I should "really" do?

"Where are you anyway, Zack?"

"I'm at the corner of Independence and...oh, you know...where the street gets really narrow right before it hits the park...I'm in front of this lady's house." He's a regular Rand McNally, my Zack.

OK. So I have Kris waiting, and I have Dad waiting. I have no time to argue. And I'm glad deep down, because I know what's going to happen once we get this cat in the house, and I know I'm going to use the rush I am in as an excuse later ("I had no time to think!") for Peter, who will undoubtedly be less than thrilled when he discovers we have a new kitty in the house--permanent, temporary, or otherwise. I open the hall closet, rummage around on the top shelf, pull a cat carrier onto my head, and rush out the door.

There he is, Zack, on the side of the narrow part of Independence. He's holding a dark gray tabby cat, and he and a middle-aged lady not much taller than he is both wave me down. I had to drive past them, past the narrow part of the road to pull my big van over.

The lady was smiling. Zack looked a little stressed and quite relieved to see me, as making small talk and answering nosy questions from friendly, well-meaning, middle-aged ladies has never been one of his things.

"Hi, how are you?" I extended my hand as I approached her. Thanks so much for staying with Zack. I'm J."

"I'm Barbara," she said, "Barb."

"Hi Barbara, I mean, Barb." Oops, that sounded a little sarcastic. I was just a little frazzled and rushed. But Barbara Barb didn't seem to notice.

The cat was indeed skinny, as Zack had claimed. "He's about six months old, I'm guessing," said Barbara Barb. I thought for a minute she was talking about Zack... Oh, the cat.

Of course.

"Oh, he's a sweet little cat," I said. "Hey, Zack, how are you?"

"Fine," said Zack. "Mom, can we take him home?"

"He's a good cat, said Barbara Barb. Very calm. We've been standing out here with him for ten minutes, and he's been nothing but a good kitty."

Mom," asked Zack, "can we take him home?"

"You sure you don't recognize him?" I asked her. "Zack found him in front of your yard. Is it possible he might be a neighbor's cat or anything?"

"No, I've never seen him before," she said. "But he's a good cat, I can tell. I'd take him in myself, only I already have four."

Of course.

Well, there was not much else to do. I thanked Barbara Barb again for her help, or maybe just for her budinskiness. We put the cat in the carrier. ("Watch his tail!" she said. Hey, I know these things. I've had cats all my life.) Zack and I put the carrier in the van and climbed in. "We're going down the hill to pick up Aunt Kris at the subway station," I informed him. "Then we'll drop you and the cat home, and go up to pick up Grandpa. Go straight into Everett's (emptied-out) room. Whatever you do, DO NOT let the cat out in the living room. DO NOT try to do anything fancy with him before we get back. DO NOT introduce him to Max and Minnie!" Max and Minnie, the other cats.

We picked up Kris at the curb near the subway. "Hey, get on in, we have a cat here, change of plans," I spouted as she entered the van. Kris is a cat person. Kris is also a lot things you wouldn't associate with a "cat person," including a quick-witted cynical rock artist, but she is a big softie down under. When our old cat Albert was on his last legs, she called me every day to check on him. It took her a full week to call to check on me after I had my foot surgery.

"Oh what?? Oh hey, kitty, kitty, kitty! Oh...hey, Zack. How did all this happen?"

I gave Kris the Reader's Digest version, and as I did, decided that it made much more sense to just go straight to pick up Dad as it did to take Zack and the cat home first. So we drove to Dad's, I waited in the van with the cat while Kris and Zack went up to bring Dad down on his scooter. We introduced Dad to the cat once they got back down, ("I didn't tell him, so it would be a surprise," said Kris. Like Dad needs surprises in his life.)

Once home, we put the cat in Everett's room, as planned. We got in quickly enough that Max the Cat didn't even notice. Minnie, however, did, but after some quick machinations while clunking through with the carrier, we were safely in the room. We gave him some food and water but he barely sniffed it and sat there quietly. "I think the poor thing's a little stunned," I said, and Kris agreed. We left him alone.

Kris and I then drove over to " Chinese restaurant on Johnson Avenue, the one that doesn't deliver , but conveniently has a wine store located a few doors down. Some wine was in order. While our food was being prepared, we walked a couple of blocks down to Riverdale Avenue to the vet to see if they were still open. They were. Wow, what a nice big plasma TV they had in the waiting area. And it was on the Food Network, too!

I complemented the guy at the desk on his choice of viewing, and asked to make an appointment for the stray cat my son just picked up. He had me on the computer already from Max and Minnie, though it had been a while since we'd had either one of them in, hence my surprise at the plasma TV. "Cat's name?" he asked.

"Hmmmm. John Doe, I guess. Or maybe Jane Doe. We haven't been intimate yet, ha ha."

My appointment was unlaughingly made for the following day. I would bring him in after work.
"Now let me call Peter so he doesn't have another heart attack when he gets home," I said to Kris as we walked back up to the Chinese place.

"Hello, Peter? On your way home? Oh good. Kris and Grandpa are here and we're picking up some Chinese. Yup. Yup, got some General Tso's chicken, yup. Oh, and just so you know, we have a cat here too. Zack picked up a cat on the way, I know. I know. He called in the middle of my running around and he was upset because he was so skinny, and he sure is skinny, so he's in Everett's room eating and resting, and I made an appointment at the vet just now, just to make sure he's OK, and then we can figure out what to do, so...yeah, so when will you be home? OK, see you in a bit." Click.

Kris and I were setting out the food and the plates as Peter came in. Zack ran over to him.


"No, Zack, no. We don't need a third cat. Do we?" Peter shot me one of those pointed, meaningful looks.

"Huh?? Oh I'm sorry, I was scooping out the rice, I didn't hear you. Well go at least meet the cat then come out and eat."

We ate, and I left with Kris and Dad to take Dad home and drop Kris back down at the subway.

"What do you thnk is going to happen with Kitty?" asked Kris. "Do you think you'll end up keeping him?"

"Well, Peter's the biggest softie of them all, when you get right down to it," I said. "He'll put on the biggest show about not keeping him, and 'we don't have room,' and all of that. But he has trouble even throwing a house plant away. So we'll see. On the other hand, we really don't need a third cat."

But third cat, first cat, or otherwise, once the cat's in the house, I am pretty much a goner. "We're not keeping that cat, you know that, right?" Peter said when Zack was in the other room. "Fine," I said, "just fine," and got all weepy. Damn it. I hate getting all weepy. "Then just cancel the vet." I said, "What's the point? I'll just take the cat down to the ASPCA after work tomorrow."

"Well wait, they must have no-kill animal shelters somewhere," Peter said. "Maybe up by Kathy." Kathy, who lives an hour and a half away. "Peter, I don't have time to be ferrying a cat around to upstate New York. And every time I look in that room or touch that cat, never mind put him in my car, I am going to be that much more attached to him, so why don't you decide what to do with him and just do it and keep me out of it. I have my period anyway, and I can't talk about this any more tonight!" I flounced off into the bedroom. Yes, I played the period card. It's my card, and I'll play it if I want to.

A little while later, I poked my head in Everett's room just to check on the cat one last time before I went to sleep. Who was in there but Peter, sitting on the bed and scratching him behind the ears. "I thought he needed a little company...."

Poor Peter.

We decided over the phone from our offices the next morning that I would keep the vet appointment, just to make sure the cat was in good health. "Oh, I thought maybe you would leave him with the vet," said Peter. "No, Peter, you don't just leave animals at the vet, that's not what a vet is for...I'll make sure he's OK, and then we'll put some photos up around the neighborhood. He's not a feral cat. He must have belonged to someone at some point. If no one claims him, then we'll try to find him a home. Sound like a plan?"

"We still agree we don't need a third cat....right?" asked Peter.

"I agree we don't need a third cat. Oh, and we're going to call him 'John' in the meantime."

Poor Peter.

Lovely Everett arrived on the scene in the middle of the John drama, home from college for the weekend. "Can you pick me up from the subway?" she text-messaged me, "I'll go to the vet with you."

It was several minutes before she was able to get a good look at him. We had to get up the hill, park the van, get inside the vet's outer office and into the inner office before we could open the carrier and let John poke his head out. "Oh! He's sooo cuuute!" she cried, as she whipped out her camera phone and snapped a shot. The little bat-eared, roman-nosed kitty puss was prominently featured on her Facebook wall within minutes.

The vet came in and gave John a going over. She ran a fine tooth comb over his back, and found "some evidence" of fleas. She looked at his stool sample and found "some evidence" of worms. None of which was a surprise in a cat that had obviously spent an extended amount of time on the streets. "We can treat the fleas with a pill here, which you can follow up with a bath at home," she said. "Great," I joked, "nothing I like better than giving a cat a bath!" The worms could also be easily treated, and then she started talking about the shots.

"Um, I should to tell you that we aren't sure what exactly we'll be doing with this cat," I said. I want to get him fixed up, so to speak, but I want to keep my monetary investment down to a dull roar, if you can take that into account when you're deciding what to do to him?" But what was I talking about? Why indeed were we there, if not to get him taken care of?

Before the vet did any of the things the was suggesting, she gave him an exam--looked in John's ears, looked in his eyes. Squeezed his belly.

"Uh oh. I feel something in there," she said.

It could be the worms, but it felt "too round" for that. It could be his bladder, but it felt "too hard" for that. She wasn't sure, she said, but it could well be a tumor.

Damn. My eyes started to sting, for this little cat I didn't even know twenty-four hours ago. But I pushed my pragmatic self back to the forefront. "Perhaps we should do an x-ray before we do the shots and the meds and any of the other things you were suggesting?" I looked to Everett, who nodded in agreement. Thank goodness Zack wasn't here.

Yes, indeed, the vet agreed. She took John in the back, and Everett and I went out to wait in the outer area. "I don't know, Everett. If it is a tumor, we'll probably have to make a tough decision right here and now, you know?" She knew. I walked down the street to add money to my parking meter. This was taking longer than I'd planned on. I steeled myself for the tough decision. We'd just have to put poor little John to sleep, right here and now, if it was a tumor. No operations. No chemo. No crazy amounts of money. It would be ridiculous.

"Good news!" said the vet, when she emerged a few minutes later. "It wasn't a tumor! He'd just been holding off from urinating for so long that it was his bladder, which was just that full. I expressed him. He should be fine. I'll give him his shots and the worming medicine, and I'll give you some more to give him at home and then I'll bring him back out."

"I have the bill here, whenever you're ready to settle," said the guy at the counter.

I'm not going to tell you how much it was. Peter might read this. But let's just say, when she heard the amount, Everett said, "Screw putting up pictures around the neighborhood! He's our cat now!"

We washed John that night. Everett and I took him in the bathtub, and Zack and Peter squeezed in the room to "help." If he looked skinny before, you should have seen him wet. I handed him to Peter, who had a towel open at the ready. He took him as if he were receiving a newborn at the hospital. "Aww...he's shivering. Aww...what a good boy. OK everyone, stand back, you're making him nervous."

Poor Peter.

It's still not official, a few days later. Peter still says we have to find John a home. And if we could find a friend who wanted him, we'd all probably be OK with that. But it's hard to find anyone who wants a cat. People who want a cat tend to already have a cat.

I tell Zack it will be helpful to his cause if he doesn't ask Peter "Can we keep him? Can we keep him?" every five minutes.

"Leave Daddy alone," I whisper to Zack. "Daddy will come around in his own time."

If indeed, he hasn't already.

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