Good girls love bad boys. — Cats!
When Adam and I moved to our SE Portland neighborhood back in 2007 I was surprised at how many cats I would see strolling the sidewalks and streets on any given day. These cats seemed to be at ease out in the open, lazily laying along the pavements or sitting on porch steps or stalking some unseen beast in a lawn shrub. For the most part these cats have collars and tags and seem to belong to particular houses or land. These neighborhood cats are friendly and allow petting by passerby, sometimes even choosing to follow [me] for a block or two. Over the years I've become familiar with their faces and can point to a particular house and tell you what the cat who lives there, looks like.
About two years ago I blogged about a cat that I had dubbed Lucifer. Unbenownst to me at the time, this cat had begun a seige on my apartment/house. After our first encounter he started showing up regularly, marking his territory by spraying my front and back door, chasing the indoor/outdoor cat that lived upstairs, when let outside, onto the roof! This Lucifer cat walked all over our cars putting his tiny dirty little footprints all over the hood and windshield. He would start fights with neighborhood cats yowling it up in the middle of the night. And yes, he still would launch his attacks on Commodore and Tsunami when they were in open windows. When I would see this cat outside it played nice, sometimes approaching me and rubbing on my legs. But as soon as I would walk away from him he would swat at my ankle or calve with a crazy look in his eye, that sideways lowered head stare that cats do when they're saying, "I will cut you, for real". It soon became apparent that this cat was insane. The name Lucifer never really stuck, in fact I never actually called him that out loud, instead the first name that I ever had the impulse to call him was Bastard. He just seemed like a bully, a deceiver, a bastard. I started seeing Bastard around the neighborhood constantly. He would be hanging out on a different neighbor's porch every day, laying in the middle of the sidewalks, sleeping under cars. One day I walked past a neighbor's house and there was Bastard sitting next to some dude. I stopped and asked, "Is this your cat?" He says, "Oh no, he just comes around here sometimes and I give him food. I tried to bring him inside once but as soon as I reached my hand out to him he attacked me. So now I don't touch him. I wouldn't try to pet him or anything." No shit.
Bastard Cat did his very best to irritate me on every encounter. At least once a week I would have to put up with his antics of chasing the cat that lived upstairs, which always resulted in yowling and hissing and stampeding. At least once a month I would find myself washing his spray off of the front or back door. And on the nice weather days I would anticipate the moment wherein he would launch himself at the screen of an open window, scaring my cats and me to death. I even bought a large water pistol that I left filled and ready to fire so that when Bastard made his appearances I could shoot through the screen and super soak the sucker. He has been shot with the water pistol, soaked with the outdoor water hose, and on a few occasions I have chased him into the bushes tossing water from a drinking glass at him (resulting in a very satisfying yowl to let me know it had been a direct hit). He is the most disagreeable cat I have ever met and somehow he has managed to weasel his way into my affections.
I can't really recall when my hatred for Bastard turned into sympathy. He had stopped his frequent visits and with the coming of winter I rarely saw him around. I'd strongly suspected that Bastard didn't have a home, that he just kind of lived wherever he could find a warm dry place to hunker down, and with the snow storm of 2008 I didn't see him at all. When spring finally rolled around I spotted him trolling around outside and was glad he had managed to survive the long cold months. He spotted me and started to run but he was looking a little thin so I called out to him and he stopped to give me a good long stare, trying to figure me out. I went back inside and emerged again with a bowl of wet cat food, putting it down on the porch, calling to him again and then going inside to give him his space. He came up to the porch and ate the entire can of food within minutes, then sauntered off again.
In 2009 the people upstairs moved out taking Bastard's favorite target with them. I still saw Bastard often but he kept his distance and no longer attacked the windows or sprayed my doors. When I would pass him on the sidewalk he would eye me suspiciously and I would nod toward him with the respect of two foes that have come to a shaky peace agreement. We spent the year quietly regarding each other but otherwise exchanging no real interactions. I started to suspect that Bastard lived in the slowing crumbling garage of our crazy shut-in neighbor lady. The garage was missing part of its back wall and inside you could see the piles of broken crates and shopping carts and other disused objects that were rusted and in shambles. One afternoon I spotted Bastard sleeping in a pile of, something, nestled in with the careless comfort that is only gained through familiarity. Later that year crazy shut-in neighbor lady hired some men to repair her garage. They boarded it up, fixed the roof, cleared out the trash and painted it. I worried that Bastard had lost his home and wondered where he would sleep and keep dry in our rainy months.
Near the end of a mild winter in 2010 I saw Bastard sitting on the hood of our car. He looked a little skinny and I noticed there were new notches in his ears. I called out to him and gave him a can of cat food again and again he scarfed it down in loud wet gulps and then returned to the hood of the car to clean himself. After that day I started seeing Bastard on a regular basis again. He would emerge from the bushes if I was outside or I would bring him food if I saw him laying around the yard. This quickly snowballed into a daily feeding ritual and for the past nine months I have fed Bastard nearly every single day. In the summer he spent his days laying in the yard or sunning himself near the car and he spent his nights sleeping on our front porch furniture. Now that it's the cold rainy winter months I see Bastard only when he wants to be fed, which is about twice a day. In the morning he's usually waiting for me on the back porch, keeping dry on the folding chair I have put out for him in the only small section of space that the rain misses. He spends his days somewhere dry though I'm not sure where. And in the evening I usually hear a mournful meow from the porch, alerting me of his presence. When he's not around and I'm ready to feed him he's usually always within earshot and I suspect he's still living on the property of crazy shut-in neighbor lady because he always emerges from the bushes that lead into her yard. He may be living under her front porch, much like her garage had been it's falling down and has many entry points. Or, what's an even more entertaining notion, he may be living in her basement. On occasion her backyard fence door has been left open revealing her backyard (which is full of trash) and the door to her basement, which inexplicably has a large crudely cut hole in it with an orange extension cord running out of it. There is nothing blocking this hole on either side of the door and considering our neighborhood is rife with raccoons, possum and cats, I can only imagine what could be taking refuge from the rain in there.
The comedy of this story is that even after nearly a year of regularly feeding him, after providing him with blankets and cushions and introducing him to catnip (a highly entertaining spectacle to be sure), Bastard Cat is still very much a bastard. If not distracted with the prospect of immediate food he will still reach out and swat at my legs. I have never reached out to pet him (though I can stroke his back while he eats) but I have reached above his head a few times and every occasion has resulted in him jumping up to bite my arm. I take every precaution against him, always being sure I am fully covered in clothing when I near him, never reaching out for him, and washing my hands afterward in the instances that I stroke his back while he eats, and even with all of this he still makes my heart race when he gives me that sly sideways glance. He is dangerous and untrustworthy, without a doubt.
One day I heard him outside meowing and when I looked out the window I saw him balancing on the top of a wooden fence. I went out and stood on the porch and called to him, "Bastard, get down from there." Bastard jumped down and came over to sit on the step and I heard a woman's voice come from the other side of the tall fence, "Is that your cat?" I tell her no, he's not mine, he's just a homeless neighborhood cat that I feed. She says, "Oh. Did you call him Bastard?" I say, "Yeah, he's not the friendliest cat, he's somewhat of a bastard and so that's what I call him, Bastard Cat". She laughed and said, "He comes around here too, my roommate and I call him Jack the Asshole Cat". Yup. That's about right.
You may wonder why I maintain a relationship with a cat such as this. And the only reason I have come up with is that I respect him for being a survivor. He doesn't have the luxuries and comforts that domestic cats have, he has to hunt or beg for food, search for shelter and warmth, fight with neighborhood cats over territory, and never gets pet or played with. Yet he's at least five years old, probably closer to six or seven, he must weigh 15 pounds by now (thanks to Friskies twice a day), and has a coat on him in the winter as thick as a bear. There is a part of me that feels sorry for him sure, but mostly I just see this tough wild thing that lives his life unencumbered and free. And if I can fill his belly and make one of those necessities in life a little easier to obtain, then I'm going to chose to do that.
When I think of Bastard my mind often wanders to a short story called By His Wild Lone, written by Nina De Gramont in her book (a personal favorite) Of Cats and Men. In it a woman grapples with her emotions when it comes to caring after a cat who was once a stray and who still was uncomfortable with domestic life. The cat, Abelard, shows no real affection for the woman and always wants to be let outside, often during storms or at night. The woman frets that the cat will get lost or hurt or go hungry but her battles of will with the cat are not successful and it's wearing her out. At one point her sister says, "Remember how the cat walks? 'Through the Wet Wild Woods, waving his wild tale, and walking by his wild lone.' Thats the thing. Cats will accept what comfort they can get, but when it comes down to it, they'll always take care of themselves." Later in the story the woman describes letting Abelard out during a storm. Abelard in that moment seemed perfectly suited to winds and ravages. Darkness and wilderness: his origins, his homeland. So I opened the door. Watching his tail poof and disappear into the night, I felt a strange amalgam of admiration and dread. In the end the woman resigns herself to the fact that Abelard is better suited to be in the wild and she stops fighting him on it. I lifted myself, still feeling battered, and walked obediently to the door. Abelard slipped outside, noiseless, his form black as coal, black as ebony, black as black can be. I watched him disappear into the bleak, gusty, salt-scented night. Not believing, really, in any force beyond the tangible, the detectable, the visible. But still. I couldn't help but notice, despite the glow from my porch light, and all the silhouettes cast by surrounding trees: the cat proceeding into the wild, without even the company of his shadow.
Ahh I love your writing! It's always an unusual relationship between a stray and a kind person. This photo of him is telling - you can see his "you're going to pay for this photo" look in his eyes!
As a another Bastard Cat who was taken in by a Nice Girl, this really hit home.
This is like the cat version of Albee's Zoo Story. :)
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