By Dorothy West
Outside our apartment one afternoon I heard a car slow down, stop, then pull away quickly. After the screeching of the tires died down, I waited for a couple of minutes and went out to investigate. Because we lived in an area in L.A. that was less than stellar, I slowly walked the area, looking carefully as I went. For a minute I nearly missed the gift left at the curb…a tiny kitten that looked newborn. My granddaughter, Shalonda, was four at the time and besides her there was only the guy I took in, who was a political co-worker.
I brought the kitten inside and told my kid that I needed one of her doll bottles. I had goat’s milk in the fridge and heated some up to warm, then started dribbling small amounts into the kitten’s mouth. Soon he was moving to find a nipple. It didn’t take long to get him to use the doll bottle. I couldn’t tell if we would be able to save him since he was away from his mother so young. I told everyone it was iffy. My roommate, Steve, immediately announced that we could not keep him. He didn’t have a vote, but he was outvoted anyway. WTF? I wondered when he thought he had a vote about anything in my household. I had charged him only $25 a month for rent and had yet to see a dime from him in three months.
I’d been really busy with a new job and a lot of meetings and wasn’t paying attention to him. Even though he sat at the dinner table every night, yammering about the various political campaigns we were working on, my focus was elsewhere. I was trying to be nice, but he made it hard. I suggested he apply for unemployment after the first month of him sitting around the apartment doing nothing. As far as I could tell, he hadn’t bothered.
Shalonda wanted to call the kitten Samantha, saying it was a girl, and she was sure it would grow up big and strong. The tiny, furry, pearls beneath its bottom refuted that claim. Since it was close to Xmas I wondered if our tree would survive once that cat began to run around. After a few weeks of goat’s milk, a bath, a flea treatment, and brushing its Cosmic Tabby markings on his sides, his first run was at the tree. The next run was up my leg, so he was renamed, Sammy Claws. Those small claws claimed skin, curtains, and one Xmas tree, all in one week.
I knew he’d eventually run up my back too. He was a strange mix of some breeds that were later identified as Siamese and Maine Coon Cat. He had swirls of black, white, and orange on his sides, but he was mostly striped black and white. He had a skinny rat-like tail, big ears, and thinning fur under them, he had cosmic tabby markings on both sides. He grew and grew and grew. When he went past the thirty-pound mark, I wondered if we would end up with something akin to a cowardly lion?
He patrolled the apartment and regularly jumped at the window when the apartment manager went by. The guy was a real creep and I found that he was poking at the window, teasing the cat, one day. Sammy got his revenge that day when the guy came into the apartment while I was taking a bath. He’d given no notice, nor had he knocked on the door. He just walked inside. Sammy Claws earned his name that day, he grabbed the guy’s leg with both claws, sunk his teeth in next, and growling, clawed him repeatedly with his back feet.
Hearing a lot of yelling inside the apartment, I rushed out of the bathroom, with the baseball bat in my hands and stark naked; I was ready to do battle. I cussed out the damned manager, threatened to sue him, to remove his balls, among other things, then gently removed Sammy from his leg. I hoped Sam hadn’t loosened his teeth. I told that manager that he had five seconds to leave before I would call the police. I was livid! Sitting down immediately, I wrote to the owner, citing the rental codes about giving notice before entering someone’s apartment. After that, I petitioned the owner to allow me to make a couple of improvements at my own expense. I sent him the pictures of what I did after each one. He didn’t want trouble, so he allowed my improvements. After all, it cost him nothing. He did come and inspect the apartment noticing the other things I’d done. It just so happened that I’d been volunteering at a lawyer’s office, and we were working on rental issues in the area. Sometimes, life gives you gifts, with humor attached. In the seven years that I lived in that apartment the manager never again even knocked on my door. I mailed the rent in rather than giving it to him. I put up a piece of cardboard on the window so Sammy couldn’t see the jerk pass by the window. I didn’t want our little troublemaker to hurt himself or break a window.
Being a real devil, the cat used to sneak attack me, playing some cat game. Every day when I came home from work, he was waiting at the door. The minute I’d get in the door, he’d nose my foot and run away. He wanted me to chase him around the place. Then he expected a rub and a treat. He’d run through the living room, then the dining area, down the hall to the kitchen, through the pantry, and through a half door into a closet, ending in my granddaughter’s room. If I didn’t play his game, I’d get a not so gentle nip on the back of my leg. After the second incident I gave up ever wearing stockings around that damned cat.
We had camel bells hanging on the side of the front door. One of his favorite things to do was to reach up and make them clang together. Any time someone came to the door, he’d jump up and ring the bells until I went to answer the door. Anything a guest would put on the floor immediately was taken possession of by him. If he couldn’t climb into it, he sat on top of it. Sam loved anything with perfume on it but hated and ignored catnip. Cleanser attracted him, as did celery salt. He was just a strange little being, in a world unto himself. When he smelled celery salt nothing could stop him from jumping up on the counter or the dinner table. He rolled around in the tub every time I cleaned the tub.
Spontaneously, without warning, he’d jump into my arms and lick my nose. I have to say that I’m not fond of cat spit. He didn’t care. Having claws around my neck isn’t that much fun either, especially from a huge cat.
There was a squirt bottle at the ready to try to dissuade him from his scratching antics, but he mostly ignored it. The couch was his favorite target. When I got the bottle out, he turned his face up to it and gave me “the look.” If I squirted him, he’d wait until my back was turned and nip the back of my leg. It was a game to him. He taught himself to use the toilet instead of the litter box. No closed door was safe from him. He jumped at the knobs or pulled at the bottom of the door with his claws. He thought the bathroom was his domain. I had to put the deadbolt on the front door to keep him from opening it, even though it was a heavy door.
Certainly, Sam didn’t think he was any different than the privileged humans in his space. He tolerated us except when we ignored his needs. He wanted the tub faucet turned on to drip so he could have a drink. He walked around the edge of the tub, stopped by the faucet, waited a second, then if you didn’t turn it to drip, he bit your butt when you were on the toilet. Otherwise, he made noises like a grumpy old man.
Shalonda could dress him up in her doll clothes, but when I tried to put an organic flea collar on him, he yowled pitifully and clawed at me every time. He hammed it up, and I swear, that he’d give us a wicked cat smile afterwards. Once he went out the front door when a neighbor came in to visit. It went unnoticed for about ten minutes. When I checked outside, he was sitting by the front door, looking totally panicked. His ears were laid back and his tail was fully fluffed out. When I picked him up, he was quivering all over…silly cat. Once free to go outside, he didn’t know what to do and just stayed by the door. I was really glad because we lived close to a main street a block away. Some of his antics were truly funny. Some were sneaky and wise enough to be considered brilliant. Maybe he was the reincarnation of a court jester or some ancient wizard. After the first Xmas together, I hung the tree upside down from the ceiling to keep it safe. It didn’t need his magick touch.
To be honest, our apartment didn’t have much he could destroy. I’d added the drapes and curtains after we moved in. So, I allowed Sammy some leeway to just be a cat. I had spent the first month cleaning and scraping paint off windows and hinges. Someone, in their infinite wisdom, had painted the beautiful bricks around the fireplace. I sanded off the paint and polished up the bricks. There was nothing I could do about the carpeting, except rent a rug shampooer and hope for the best. In the 30’s, the building had been a mansion. Now it was divided up into eight apartments. No longer a grand house for the elite who lived close to MacArthur Park, it sat mostly neglected.
We had a corner apartment with windows facing south and west. There was a big fireplace in the living room and a built-in buffet in the dining area. It was listed as a 2-bedroom apartment, but one of those had a really old Murphy bed in it and the other was barely big enough for a full-sized bed. I hired someone to remove the Murphy bed and built some shelves in the space. Then I repainted that room. There was only one bathroom, and the kitchen was a nightmare. I replaced the stove the first week we were there, knowing it had to be left once we moved. I didn’t care, I needed a decent stove to make meals on and I built a shelf along one side. The best thing there was a space off the back that I thought must have been used for canning. And there was a huge pantry area where I added more shelves.
At the end of the pantry area there was a small half doorway that opened into the closet of the front bedroom. It was Sam’s favorite place. He used it on his daily rampage. He hid out in there. Some days he just ran through the area, hit the camel bells on his way past, and exited into the front hall. Often, he also felt it necessary to give the arm of the couch a few swipes with his claws as well, ignoring the scratching post next to it entirely. It wasn’t a new couch. It wasn’t even pretty, but it was what we had, and it had to last. We couldn’t afford to replace it at that point. One day, in a bad mood, I gave him the ultimate cure. I put him in the tub and turned the water on his back. It took two more times, but he finally started to ignore the couch. I laughed when he gave me a look when he passed by the couch. I almost felt a little guilty.
Sammy Claws had a decent, pampered life with us. He died unexpectedly after only seeming ill for two days, at age thirteen. I had a friend bury him under a tree in his mom’s back yard, giving him the outdoors he looked at through the window every day.
By Dorothy West
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