July 8, 2014

Fatso the Cat

fatsocatso.jpg

"In the past if someone was famous or notorious, it was for something—as a writer or an actor or a criminal; for some talent or distinction or abomination. Today one is famous for being famous." -- Malcolm Muggeridge

I’m a man who doesn’t like cats. I don’t understand why women and certain men don’t get the simple axiom: “Dogs? Cool. Cats? Not.” It is one of the universal truths that no sane man can deny. And yet the chicks and chestless men persist in promoting this most useless of animals which steadfastly resists domestication, becoming an agreeable amusement, and is next to useless if not downright nauseating when sauteed or roasted, grilled or boiled, or even deep-fried.

There was one cat, however, that I did come to admire; Fatso.

Fatso arrived in my life like most cats arrive in the lives of men -- attached to a woman. Indeed, Fatso was one of three cats attached to this woman, and he was the least promising at the outset. The other two cats were: 1) “Spotty” -- an utterly coal black cat whose only “spot” was directly under his tail, and 2) “Oswald LeWinter” -- a cat who was so utterly gay that he could have been the reincarnation of Liberace. And then there was.... “Fatso” -- a cat so utterly beaten down and scabrous that on him a sucking chest wound would have looked good. When this particular woman arrived in my life the cats were all firmly established in hers so it was a done deal if I wanted her to stick around which, at the time, I did.

Fatso was not only a fat cat -- from eating anything no matter how vile and rotten, -- he was a loser cat. He was continually wandering off into the neighborhood and getting into screeching, yowling, spitting, clawing, gnawing fights with every other cat whose food bowl he tried to hoover. And he always, but always, lost and came dragging home with this flap hanging off him, that long slash in his side, and claw marks slanting across his face. His fur would be matted with urine, spit, drool, feces and blood. Fatso was one ugly beaten down fat cat.

The woman who owned him was, obviously, committed to him in the way that women get committed to hurt things, battered things, stupid things, and things that don’t really run on all cylinders. It’s their training for putting up with men, I guess. She’d hold him down and squirt this fine yellow powdered sulphur into his wounds to promote healing or at least hold off gangrene. After a day or so of recuperating around the house, Fatso would haul himself out the window and start catting about the neighborhood looking for food and finding a fight. Then, after a day or so, he’d come limping back with yet more of his body turning into scar tissue.

I put up with Spotty since he was a black cat and I didn’t want to alienate any black cat lest he put some bad juju and mean mojo on me. As for Oswald LeWinter, the gay cat, I said, early on, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” -- even though I suspected, with cats at least, there might be. As for Fatso, well, he disgusted me. I had no use for him. I was even starting to measure him for a river diving bag.

And so it went until..... until.... until the hippy girl arrived.

In those years hippy girls were always arriving. It was what they did. They came and then... they went. And they all had.... they all had to have.... a handicraft. Some did tie-dyes. Others did very heavy and clumsy pottery. Some chipped arrowheads out of flint. Some made teepees in the back yard. Still others wove macramé diaphragms.

This particular hippy girl did beaded belts and chokers. And, needless to say, methamphetamine. She had several egg cartons holding a mass of teeny-tiny beads and a kind of wire frame loom. She’d wire up the loom, smoke a lot of dope, pop a little meth, and then crack open the egg cartons and bead up a bunch of stuff she hoped to sell somewhere along the edges of Telegraph Avenue. I once figured she was making about a dime an hour and when I told her this she said, “That much? Groovy.”

She lived in the apartment behind ours and one day, while setting up her loom, Fatso wandered by her and wiped the latest blood from his wounds on her tie-dye skirt. She glanced down and said, “Oh, Fatso. Uncool.” Then she went to work her hippy girl fingers flying lightly over her bead loom as only the young, stoned, female speedfreak can manage.

Within two hours she had finished a large cat-sized collar in beads. She called Fatso over and strapped it on him. He tossed his head a little bit since the collar was over an inch in width and must have pinched a bit on his neck, but then he seemed to accept it. He sauntered over and has he passed me I glanced down. The hippy girl had woven and arranged a collection of bright red beads against a black background to read, in capitol letters, “FATSO!” (Exclamation mark included.) You could read it from six feet away. The cat, supremely indifferent to this gift, wandered through my legs, into the back garden and hobbled out of sight. “Good riddance,” I thought and hoped he’d try to kill a large delivery truck with his teeth at thirty miles an hour.

It was not to be. Instead we heard, for over a week, a whole chorus of yelps, screeches, yowls and other indications of a virtual tom cat war breaking out across the back yards of the neighborhoods with nary a sign of Fatso limping home for repair. A few days into the week some neighbors would, walking by, remark, “Hey, I saw your cat Fatso kicking some ass the other day. Slipped him some tuna. Cool cat, man.” Other praise kept coming our way. It would seem that Fatso was becoming, if you were of a feline persuasion, a force to be reckoned with in the neighborhood.

Then late one afternoon a changed Fatso sauntered casually back into our house. It was, of course, just at feeding time and he immediately walked up to Spotty and knocked him away from his bowl. Then he turned to Oswald LeWinter and knocked him away from his bowl. Both cats began to make aggressive gestures and take on puffed up postures, but a single glance from Fatso and both shrank away and went to a far corner of the kitchen where they made faint mewling noises. He ate from each of their bowls and then his own. Then he sauntered back to the door and down the stoop and walked slowly away up the center of the sidewalk.

The woman and I, stunned, followed him at a discrete distance. All along the way as he was being passed by people, they’d glance down and, taking note of his collar, say “Hey, Fatso! What’s happening?” Some would even stop to pet him until he purred. Then Fatso would seem to give a feline shrug then and saunter on.

At his approach, other cats would disappear until he passed. Fatso had, by virtue of his collar, become known by name to the entire neighborhood. He had become famous by being famous. He'd become a celebri-cat, the first I’ve ever known.

All it took was a collar and a name and Fatso was never beaten up again and certainly never went hungry ever again. In time his saunter became a strut. You couldn’t help but like Fatso since liking him was what Fatso was all about.

In a year or so the woman and I decided to move up into the hills above the town. We packed up Spotty and Oswald LeWinter, but when it came time for Fatso he was nowhere to be found. He’d decided to stick to the old neighborhood. With nearly twenty women putting out food for him and with all the other cats living in fear of him there was no motivation to move with us. We were now “little people.” He was.... well, he was “FATSO!”

For all I know he's still there to this day, kicking fur-butt and flaunting his name; master of his domain, King of Kats. All he needed was what we all need.... a little name recognition.

[Republished for Geoff: Hello Kitty Captain of Queen Anne]

Posted by gerardvanderleun at July 8, 2014 2:36 AM
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Posted by: Deborah at December 27, 2012 6:32 AM

As the old saying goes, "A celebrity is someone who is famous for being well known."

Posted by: Donald Sensing at December 27, 2012 6:34 AM

You, sir, are a riot. I have known cats with a similar lifestyle. Thanks for the chuckles.

Posted by: altered states at December 27, 2012 9:07 AM

LOL

Great story!

Yes, even animals respond to (positive) attention, don't they? Notice how animals in those Breedeer shows always walk with a gait that says "I'm too sexy for my ..."?

Positive attention sure makes a difference.

Posted by: Con0011 at December 27, 2012 9:23 AM

"The woman who owned him was, obviously, committed to him in the way that women get committed to hurt things, battered things, stupid things, and things that don’t really run on all cylinders."

Hence her attachment to Mr. Macho there.

Posted by: Bear at December 27, 2012 9:43 AM

A Kardashian by any other name.

Posted by: indyjonesouthere at December 27, 2012 9:43 AM

Malcom Muggeridege, not someone quoted enough nowadays.

Posted by: thud at December 27, 2012 11:56 AM

This explains Obama better than anything else I've ever read.

Posted by: Lorne at December 27, 2012 3:39 PM

You didn't ask the hippie chick for a collar? What a missed opportunity.

Posted by: chuck at December 27, 2012 9:59 PM

What reminded you of this?

Posted by: DeAnn at December 28, 2012 3:35 AM

A few things. First the constant background chatter of what passes fo celebrity in this era. Second the constant elevation and persistence of lolcats as a meme. Third the sighting in my neighborhood of an extremely fat cat being pushed about in a baby stroller.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 28, 2012 8:58 AM

Robert A. Heinlein liked cats.

Posted by: Sam L. at December 28, 2012 12:41 PM

Nobody's perfect.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 28, 2012 12:54 PM

Reminds me of a cat I found one cold Christmas night. We named him Christmas - for 1 day. We renamed him Hilter and he ran the 'hood

lol

Posted by: Kim at December 28, 2012 2:49 PM

Ah, but Mr. Vanderleun can immortalize a cat the way Mr. Twain could a frog. Your skill with words is such a pleasure to the reader. Scene by scene, I could capture every rich detail in my mind's eye. Thank you. I am glad the blogosphere has recognized your well-deserved place in modern American literature.

Posted by: Lesley at December 28, 2012 2:55 PM

Wish I could do similar justice to my cat Sylvester (female in spite of her name), who used to watch Mets games with my landlady's father-- a Holocaust survivor who came here from Poland and had not been allowed to have pets as a boy. Sylvester took a real shine to "Dad," who in turn would ask for her to come downstairs for a visit during the last months of his life. There has to be something good about a species that can freely offer companionship and comfort to an elderly man who lost over 30 members of his extended family to Hitler.

On a lighter note: I dare you to call Abraham Lincoln a chestless man. Lincoln, the first president known to have pet cats in the White House, used to spend time with them as a little R & R from the pressures and burdens of the Civil War. When a newspaper reporter once asked Mary Todd Lincoln if her husband had any hobbies, she replied, "Playing with cats." She apparently resented Lincoln's allowing one cat named Tabby to eat at the White House table. Lincoln replied, "If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.” (source: http://www.examiner.com/article/lincoln-and-his-cats). Now if only Tabby had had a hippie girl to make him/her a beaded collar, perhaps Mrs. Lincoln would have been more gracious.

Last, congratulations on your Fabulous 50 Blog Award for Best Essayist. Can't resist hoping that the award comes with a beaded collar.

Posted by: PA Cat at December 28, 2012 7:22 PM

Lesley is on to something. Maybe you should think about turning FATSO! into a screenplay. (I hear a BeeGees tune as the credits roll, and you know which one it is :)

Posted by: Deborah at December 28, 2012 7:44 PM

As someone who likes cats and has been around them more or less constantly for a half-century, I don't find Fatso's behavior all that puzzling. Cats do learn from experience, and while it seemingly took Fatso a long time to learn how not to get his ass kicked, learn he did. Maybe the other cat was injured or sick at the time, maybe Fatso found a rival he could beat, or maybe the other cat bit into Fatso's fancy collar and broke a tooth, who knows? But once Fatso knew he could win, there was no looking back.

Posted by: waltj at December 28, 2012 7:48 PM

Celebri-cat???

Posted by: Flannelputz at December 29, 2012 3:22 AM

I was amused again. : ) It's funny when the fatcat really is a cat, confusing as a social trend though ...

Posted by: DeAnn at July 8, 2014 6:23 AM

We started with 4....

The way to make a cat act like a dog is to treat it like one.

A month to the minute after my favoritist dog in the world died she landed in our yard, a veritable cast-off from some far away place. No one around Ruralville ever seen her before, but a couple people said they'd take her for a barn cat if we didn't want her.

She was a circus clown, a lover, and the most beautiful cat in the world - mostly white with an unusual dark to light gray merlish sort of pattern on her back, sides, top of head, and tail, not very old, maybe 9 months at the most, and she was not welcome here.

But we did not chase her off, leaving her to her interests while we went about ours. She was still here the next day and I showed a little attention to her but not much. That evening we saw her stalk a bird in the yard, catch it, then run off to the woods.

....then we added 1 more....

Later that evening she came to the door of my office-workshop and I let her in and that is where she stayed for the next 2 weeks as we didn't let her mingle with our other cats until such time she was *safe*. We took her to the vet for shots and checkup and scheduled her for spaying, 3 weeks away.

Like a vacuum she automatically filled the void left by my favoritist dog in the world. Her name was now Bella and she followed me everywhere, hung out in the workshop even when my table saw was running, road in my truck to the hardware store even shared a tuna sandwich from the Speedway while sitting in the parking lot.

Bella came when called, instantly jumped in my lap when I motioned to her and actually retrieved and released a paper ball "mousey" I made for her as long as I threw it again. Her favorite place to be was laying right on my desk, between me and the keyboard, stretched right across my mousing hand while I was designing in AutoCAD, insuring she had my undivided attention as she slept until my arm went to sleep.

The other cats think she is weerd but they are getting used to her, and dare I say that they are taking lessons from her.

2 days before Bella's spaying appointment her water broke and she gifted us with 5 brand new babies.

....and now 8 weeks later there are 10 cats in our house and Bella has a new appointment for being spayed.

Posted by: ghostsniper at July 8, 2014 6:46 AM

Gerard, I remember the first time I read this and how it made me laugh. I, too, have a true story about a fat cat (he wasn't really fat, just huge and pure muscle). Remind me to tell it to you sometime. It takes place at the Chelsea apartments on West Olympic (like the church and the library, another Harlan Thomas building).

Posted by: AbigailAdams at July 8, 2014 8:25 AM

ghostsniper,

Great story! Thanks.

I have had both cats and dogs for 40 of my 66 years.

Cats are better. They do not complain. You do not have to train a cat. They are regal, while dogs are... well, dogs. Which is OK, i guess.

Mark Twain liked cats. A lot. He did not like dogs. Give me Twain's writing over Muggeridge's any time. Give me a cat over another creature any time.

Posted by: Smokey at July 8, 2014 4:09 PM

My wife made a good point. In reality, the hippie chick didn't make Fatso some bling. She made him kick-ass cat armor - though the mere suggestion would likely have given her the vapors.

Think of the lion's mane, made for fighting with other lions. Think of the male tomcat's neck fat.

But Fatso's inch-wide collar could stop claws and jaws dead. And it didn't cut or bleed. Only his enemies did.

Viva Fatso. Who got his armor on and Gave War a Chance. And it was very, very good to him....

Posted by: Joe at July 8, 2014 8:44 PM