back to the Black Table

It is a source of ongoing amusement to my friends and colleagues that Will, their neurotic and screwed-up little buddy, lives alone with a cat. There are invariably comparisons to hapless Garfield protagonist Jon, but then my friends point out that at least Jon had a date once in a while.

I’m not sure why I decided I wanted a cat. I moved to my wretched pit of an apartment about a year ago, and I’d never lived by myself before. My mother suggested that to keep myself sane, I should acquire - she actually used the word “acquire,” which doesn’t seem like something you should do to another living creature - one of the kittens a co-worker’s cat had “acquired.” I was hesitant, because my history with pets was spotty, at best.

My sophomore year in college, I lived in a small dorm by myself for one year, though I ended up spending more time at my girlfriend’s than at the room. My friend Kim, mindful of my tendency to panic when alone in a room for longer than 15 minutes, bought me a fish, which I named Roger, though I don’t know why. A fish’s companionship capabilities are limited at best, but I gave it a shot because fish food was cheap, and I thought girls might find me sensitive if I had a pet. (My skills at reading the mindset of the opposite sex were about as refined as they are now.)

Roger was doomed from the start. Because he was a fish, I quickly forgot about him, and he would spend days receiving no food and never having his bowl cleaned. He would float around in his own feces, starving, wondering what he did to deserve this life. Half the time, even if I was looking for him, I couldn’t see him through the brown and green refuse dominating his atmosphere. I suppose I could have just cleaned the thing out, but, man, that’s a lot of work.

Anyway, Roger was a survivor, and he simply decided to ignore all the evidence and not die. Christmas break came, and my father arrived to pick me up to go home for the holidays on a frigid night. We attended an Illinois basketball game, and I left Roger in the car. After the Illinois victory, we were going to fulfill a promise to visit my girlfriend at her apartment. When we got to the car, I noticed little Roger wasn’t moving. I shook the bowl - a questionable tactic, I know - but, alas, it appeared Roger, some kind of tropical fish, I think, had finally given up trying to overcome this Will guy and frozen to death. I was sad, but seriously, how worked up can you get about a fish?

We met my girlfriend at her apartment, brown fish bowl in hand, and she professed surprise only that Roger had hung on as long as he did. We stayed only about 15 minutes and then prepared to go home. I announced that it was time for Roger’s military-salute burial, so I headed into the bathroom for the ritual flushing.

I closed the door behind me and realized that, while I was here, it would likely be wise to remove the last remnants of three Cokes I had during the game. Upon completing this urinary procedure, I said a few words in honor of Roger’s memory - I think they were “Goddamn, it’s cold in here” - and poured him in this new bowl, his final resting place.

The second he hit the water, Roger sprang to life, zipping around his porcelain home like he was running a relay. “Dude, dude, I’m still alive, man, yeah, check me out!” I was now faced with a dilemma that has plagued man through the generations: I liked Roger and all, but was I willing to wade through, um, my own urine to get him back? I think it was Aristotle who wrote a man who digs through his own urine for a fish is a truly peaceful and wise man indeed, or something like that.

Maybe Aristotle wouldn’t have done it, but I flushed. I’ve reconciled my guilt with my growing conviction that the place Roger went was most certainly better for him than staying with me. (Side note: Upon telling this story to a friend last year, it was suggested to me that maybe Roger was indeed already dead in the car, and I, in fact, have magic pee. I hadn’t thought of that possibility).

Point is, my mom should have known better. Nonetheless, once I had the OK from the apartment Gestapo, into my life entered a painfully small, typically skittish, ridiculously cute ball of fur I named Wu-Tang, because, as my Impression editor informed me, I’m the whitest guy in the world and want people to think I’m down.

Wu-Tang arrived with little fanfare. Mom dropped him off, and he immediately sprinted under the bed and hid. I have many friends with cats - usually women or men with families - and I’m always bothered when their cat is antisocial or just sits on the end of the couch and gets fat. I hoped my cat would be fun, hopping up from his slumber, eager to hang out with whatever visitor happened to drop by.

Little Wu-Tang, as he grew, appeared to be up to the task, perhaps too much so. Because I am violently undisciplined myself, Wu-Tang has never learned any rules of the house. He roams wherever he wants, including on my word processor right now - Get down, dammit! - eats whatever he wants (he likes pizza more than I do) and yes, shits wherever he wants. The actual act of cleaning up my cat’s feces has become a bit of a game at my apartment; he hides it wherever he thinks my embarrassment and discomfort will be maximized. In a shoe, behind the stereo, in a hat, in the depths of this word processor, even, insanely, in the toilet. He has a litter box, but he uses it mostly just to spread litter all across the kitchen floor because he knows I’m too lazy to clean it up.

He also likes to bite. They’re playful, happy bites, but they hurt. When friends come over, they’re initially flattered by my cat’s attention. He jumps on their lap, smells their hair, licks their nose, nibbles on their ears, pees on their legs (kind of like me on a date). But eventually he’s attacking their arms, biting their heads and scratching their feet, and my friends are looking at me for answers. One time the police were called to my apartment because I was playing my stereo too loudly. Upon opening the door, a cop strolled directly into my apartment - isn’t that illegal? - and demanded to know what was going on. Wu-Tang pranced right up to him and rubbed up against his leg and bit his foot. The officer was not amused.

But back to that shit thing. A few months back, I had my first date in about a year, with a kind-hearted woman named Carrie, and I was nervous. My cousin was in town for St. Patrick’s Day, and he stuck around to help me clean the apartment for when she came by. We did a solid job at ferreting out all the dung, but when she arrived, I noticed immediately I’d missed a spot. Directing her attention elsewhere, I grabbed a rag and began to wipe a crazy smeared crap stain from the wall in the hallway. She asked me what I was doing in there, and I made up a lie and absent-mindedly threw the rag in the toilet. I came back into the front room to an “Ouch!” Wu-Tang had attacked Carrie’s arm, drawing blood, and she went into the bathroom to clean the wound off. I have a pretty good idea she was repulsed when she saw a shit-stained rag lying in my toilet. I have a pretty good idea because she asked me about it. Again, I had no answer.

I suppose I should be tougher with my cat, the way some of my friends are with their dogs, smacking them over the nose when they get out of line. But my heart just isn’t in it. My cat shits wherever he wants, bites my dates and likes to urinate on my clothing, but he’s my cat, and we’re in this together.

I’ve been quite a bit bummed out of late - I’m sure you’ll hear about the details someday - but my cat is always there for me. I’ll lie on my couch with a book, and Wu-Tang will somehow sense I am down and hop up there with me. He’ll call a temporary truce to Crap Wars, nuzzle his nose against my cheek, curl up next to me and take a nap. I’m sure my dog-loving friends will mock me for this, but my cat loves me no matter what, and I find that fact most comforting.

It is a wonderful thing to be loved by someone, and I will not deny myself such a treat simply because “someone” is a cat. My cat.



Life as a Loser runs every week. Join the Life as a Loser discussion group at: