Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A few days ago, I wrote about my cat Annie. Turnaround's fair play, or so the expression goes. So I decided I should write about Alex this time. He's my other cat - the one who beats up on Annie. He drives me crazy. Still - he's really a sweetheart at heart.

Here's a picture of him, curled up next to me. When he wants to cuddle, he's like a rag doll - lets me move him around however I must, so long as he can be right up next to me. Sometimes when I'm typing on my laptop, he wants to cuddle up across my arms. It's hard to type, with him lying across my arms like that. But it's the sweetest thing. So I let him. He is soft like a plush stuffed animal. He lets me hold him like a baby, on his back. People comment on how beautiful he is.

This is how I got him.

On the morning of Independence Day, 2002, I woke up and realized that I was going to meet a guy that day that was going to have big impact on my life. I was so sure of it that I called friends and told them - predicted it. I had a party to attend that evening, so I figured I'd meet this guy at the party. I went, scoped out the place... and nothing. No guy. No interesting and available guy, anyway.

Somewhat discouraged, I decided to skip the fireworks and go home early. It was getting dark as I pulled off the highway on my way home. As I pulled up to the stop sign, I looked to my right. And there he was. My guy.

He was still pretty small - just about two or three months old, they think. He had his back to me as he busily dug at the bottom of the doorway to an abandoned apartment building. I pulled my car off to the side of the road and went up to him. "Hey you," I said to the little kitten there. He looked over his shoulder at me, then went back to his digging. I almost heard him say, "Hey! Glad to see ya. But I'm really busy here, digging out this leaf." Some people walked by as I stood there. They confirmed that the kitten had been there for a few days - definitely abandoned. They encouraged me to take him home. What did me in was when one of them suggested that a homeless person might decide to eat him if I left him there. They likely were yanking my chain. I wasn't willing to take the risk.

I put him in the back of my car where he sat in the middle of the seat, all propped up and eager to see what would come next. When I got home, I held him and walked over to my neighbors across the street, to see what they thought. He got a little nervous with their dog there on the porch, but then relaxed... A few minutes into our conversation, my neighbor said, "Beth, look. He's fallen asleep." And so he had. He had fallen asleep in my arms.

I brought him home and Annie initially presumed he was a playtoy for her. "Annie, be nice - he's a baby!" I scolded her. The next morning, when I let Annie outside, this baby kitty went outside with her. He never got lost. He always knew where home was.

Turned out, he had mange and ringworm. It became his gift to the entire household. So he started out life having to take baths. I was supposed to leave him wet for five minutes, so the shampoo treatment could soak in, but he cried and cried and I broke after about 30 seconds. Annie didn't like any of the shampooing either, but she trusted that I was putting her through this misery only because it was necessary. This baby - he couldn't know me well enough yet, so he just felt betrayed. I think those first days really did traumatize him. He's still a somewhat high-strung cat.

When I brought him into the vet for his next check-up, she asked if I wanted to have him fixed. "Might as well take care of it now," she said. Sure, I said. The next day, I went to pick him up. The bill item was "castration." I was horrified. I don't know what I was thinking - but I thought "fixed" was a euphemism for "vasectomy" - not "castration." What had I done? I told my sister how upset I was. She thought it was something worth reflecting on - to figure out why I was so upset. "I know why I'm upset," I told her. "I've been wanting male energy in my house, and as soon as it arrives, I castrate it!"

Luckily Alex did not appear to notice the absence of anything. He's a little like a prince, that cat. Once a friend drove up to my house and Alex walked up at the same time. "He thinks a lot of himself," my friend said, as she saw him prance towards her, tail held high. "Oh, that's just the way he walks," I explained. She raised an eyebrow. I was proving her point.

Figuring out a name for him took awhile. Initially I thought of calling him "Sasha," the Russian name for Alexander, and a name that I have always loved. But then everyone thought he was a girl. Suddenly his name became Alex. Then I thought, Alex and Annie - they match. It made me think of the two youngest Romanov children - Anastasia and Alexei - the only two children of the Russian czar whose bodies were not found during the Bolshevik revolution.

As a kitten, Alex had this habit of getting himself in predicaments. He would climb a tree and then not be able to climb back down. There he would sit, high up in the tree, crying. Four different times, four different neighbor men helped me get Alex down. Each time they each told me that if Alex could get up the tree, he needed to learn to get back down. "He'll learn," I said, each time. "But he's still just a baby..." Those experiences have never has stopped him from climbing. He loves to get up on the roof, and then cry when I come home as though he can't figure out how to get down. These days, I leave him to his own devices.

For as much as I adore Alex, I know he is a little bit of a terror in the neighborhood. One neighbor had to get rid of Bo, one of her cats, because Alex had so terrorized him that Bo started peeing indiscriminately in her house, desperately trying to mark some territory. (Alex really started terrorizing poor Bo after Bo finally got up the courage to let me pet him. Alex saw this, narrowed his eyes, and then tore after that poor cat, lawn by lawn, with me chasing after them and Bo's black-and-white fur flying everywhere. It's the last time I pet a stranger cat in front of Alex.)

But it's so hard to imagine all this! Alex is such a sweet guy otherwise.

I remember my neighbor, who loves Alex, saying once that Alex was a juvenile delinquent. "My baby?" I said, shocked. My neighbor laughed at my naivete. "If cats could hold spray cans, there would be cat grafitti everywhere," he said.

But really, really. Alex is such a sweet cat.

Alex does have this habit of disappearing for days on end, especially in the summer. I completely freak out when he does this, thinking he is dead. Annie literally goes out and finds him for me when I get really frantic, and brings him home. I don't think he goes far - the mailman tells me the various streets where he see Alex, and they are not too far from here - but still... One neighbor a block away said something about "Gray Cat." Apparently Alex comes into their home often enough to eat their cats' food that they have named him. The thing is, no one really corrects his behavior. He's so beautiful and charming (to people, not cats) that they just let him get away with pushing every boundary in sight. At least he is well behaved in other people's homes (my neighbor assured me).

On the other hand, Alex does keep clear tabs on me. One summer I was feeding Cat (the name of the cat next door) when my neighbor was in the hospital and couldn't take care of her. Alex was, as usual, nowhere to be found. As soon as I opened that creaky back screen door to Cat's house, however, suddenly he was there, meowing at the door. "Don't help her. Help me!" he seemed to be saying. It's a miracle he's ever nice to Annie, given how jealous he is of other cats.

But Alex does have a good heart. Get this - once, my neighbor's friend (several blocks away) lost her cat name Snowball. My neighbor didn't tell me about it, but it was on his mind. A few days later, Alex came up to my neighbor's house with Snowball at his side. Alex had found Snowball, and somehow knew that if he brought Snowball to Matt, that Matt would know how to get Snowball back home. How weird is that?

One more story about Alex. Once, he was hunting a squirrel. I was getting in my car to meet someone for breakfast. I started to pull out from in front of my house, but then realized I didn't know where Alex or the squirrel were, and so stopped to watch them scatter away. No scattering. I got out of the car. Apparently the squirrel had decided to commit suicide, because he had run head first into my front wheel tire just as I had started moving. His head was crushed under the wheel. Alex was crouched next to him, waiting for the next move. OMG - my cat had used me as a tool for his evil plans! I got back in the car and rolled backwards off the very dead squirrel. Before I could get back out, Alex had grabbed the now-free squirrel's body and was trotting with it down the street - carcass hanging between his legs. "Alex! Drop it!" I yelled. This made Alex only trot faster. I chased him, finally cornered him, and shooed him away. A neighbor helped me bag the squirrel in a plastic bag - ick - and I threw the poor squirrel away in a nice dumpster nearby. Ick, ick.

So, that's Alex. Adventurous. Incorrigible. And then he curls up next to me and he's my baby, all over again.

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