Not Mr. Roger's Neighbourhood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story about a stray kitten, "Popeye", and how she taught me to take on and appreciate each and every day as they come.

 

Not Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

 

(Popeye)

 

I got home from school yesterday afternoon full of trepidation about tomorrow's deadline for having my assignments complete for the school year. Now that I'm a senior citizen and working a little less, I've decided to go back to school and take some courses on subjects I havem't thought about in fifty years or so. For one thing, I'm struggling with my goes into's. You know, three goes into twenty-seven, nine times, five goes into twenty-five, five times. That stuff. The New Math, for at least it's new to me, is a pain. Creating amortization tables and figuring annuities is as foreign to my mind as the truth is to all the politicians polluting the air waves the last few weeks. I'm behind in my English too. And that's nobody's fault but my own.

I keep getting ideas about little nothings I'd like to write about, and I forget about my book reports. I never did much writing before, but now that I've learned the ABC's of how to operate a computer, I'm easily distracted. The slightest, and most inconsequential germs of ideas that pop into my head stew and bubble in my mind. I find myself distracted to the point where I have to put aside what I should be working on, and get it down on paper. I guess I've forgotten how to focus on the task at hand. Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. Which reminds me, I'm two assignments behind in my computer course as well.

It started raining heavily when I was still about six blocks from home. My metal cane that's a stop gap soulless replacement for my temporarily misplaced hickory cane was just a-clacking along the sidewalk, as I scurried down John street. I was wondering about lightning strikes and outside TV antennas, and whether or not an aluminum cane such as mine would be as attractive to the god Thor, or whoever it was up there tossing the fiery bolts with such random and reckless abandon.

I tried futilely to protect my math papers with all the teacher’s corrections on them. He had tried to show me the errors of my ways, and I needed those papers as a guide for my homework. The effort was in vain, as I was soaked through long before I got home.

Our two cats, Sammy and Redd were waiting for me on the upper deck out of the rain. They were in an ugly mood because the sudden storm had brought an end to their terrorizing of the other neighborhood felines. And anything else that had four legs.

As I unlocked the door, and went into the kitchen, I could hear the water dripping before I turned on the lights. It took every pot, pan, pail, and waterproof container I could find to catch the rain pouring into the apartment. In five rooms, I counted a total of forty- two leaks. A neighbor in the building told me later that the building attached to ours was having some work done on it, and the contractor had used the flat roof above my apartment as a staging area for his material and equipment. The people next door were no doubt all warm, dry, and snug, but the damage done to my roof will take a lot more than just patching with a pail of tar.

I did my best to clean up the mess. The cats hunted for someplace dry to sleep, and I got on with my homework. A couple of the light fixtures began to sizzle and pop from the water, and I wanted to get as much done a possible before I had to resort to candle light.

Anyhow, I struggled with homework ‘til about ten o'clock, and then just gave up on it all and went to bed. Around three-thirty in the morning, Redd, our crippled cat, dragged himself up onto my bed with his front legs, (the only ones that work), and dug his claws into my back. That's just his friendly way of saying,

"Good morning, bright eyes, I want food, and I want it now. So get your butt out of bed."

He used to wait until about five A.M., my normal wake up hour. I don’t know when he discovered that he could begin on his daily ration of three cans of salmon two hours earlier. However, sometime in the last month or so, he decided to get started at half past dark in the morning. This extra two hours gives him more time for the really important task of sleeping, which seems to be his forte.

I leave a fresh dish of food out before I go to bed every night. No matter how late I'm up though, it's gone at three o'clock or so. Both he and Sammy need more right away, or they'll just collapse from hunger.

I got the coffee going, and had my first of the usual six cups that constitute my balanced breakfast. The habitual pea soup thick fog that seems to roll into my head, like the mists that blanket San Francisco and the Oakland Bay area, begins to lift after three or four strong black ones. The rest are just a bonus to set my nerves on edge for the rest of the day.

Sammy and Redd were impatient to get outside and attack any of the hapless stray cats that seem to congregate every night in the old barn at the back of the property. I opened the back door for them, and they were gone like a shot, looking for the day's first fight.

Samantha's about six years old, and still doesn't realize she's been declawed. She's a huge, beautiful cat, and very affectionate, but obviously not too smart. If she were human, she'd be a big brassy blond. A little overweight, and probably too much make up, but loveable just the same.

Redd nearly got chopped in half last year by a sheet of plywood that someone threw down from the barn loft. It caught him right across his lower back, hitting him on edge. Now he only has the use of his front legs. Actually, Redd was one of the strays Sammy used to beat up every day. Since the accident, Sammy's taken pity on him and they've become a team.

Redd goes out to the back lot first, dragging his useless legs behind him, and looking every bit the helpless victim. Samantha lies in wait in the overgrown grass, her tail just quivering in anticipation, as though she were a lioness hunting gazelles on the African plain.

I've sat on the back deck and watched them work. If there are no nibbles within the first twenty minutes or so, Redd drags himself back and forth around the parking lot, mewling plaintively. It's surprising he has any fur left on his butt at all. Their ploy is a lot like that of a fisherman who can't be bothered going after the big one, because it's too much like work. Merely content to trail his line in the water, he trolls lazily down the river, patiently waiting for whatever takes the bait.

When some new bully tom cat in the area sees Redd, and moves in for what looks like a sure fire, piece-of-cake, no contest, walk-in-the-park, Sammy pounces, and it's all over but the howling. Neither one of them has lost a fight, and I stopped running out back a long time ago to rescue them when I realized that all the caterwauling and crying was coming from their latest victims.

Sometimes it seems to take an inordinate amount of time for the unfortunate strays to realize that it's time to leave the property, and get out of Dodge. Usually it's because they're trapped and can't escape. I just jingle my keys at the back door. Sammy and Redd obediently come running, or dragging, in Redd's case. That's because they've been conditioned like Pavlov's dogs. There are always two fresh dishes of food waiting when they come in.

Less than a minute after Sammy and Redd went for their early morning prowl, a little bundle of fur came zipping in the open door, heading straight for the food dishes. It was a little kitten, completely feral, and starving. He had been hiding under the bar-b-que on the upper deck in a useless attempt to stay dry. He can't be more than a month or so old. How he ever managed to get up the twenty odd stairs with their eight inch high risers from my back deck to the kitchen door is beyond me. He's only about six inches long, and nothing but skin and bones. I couldn't believe how emaciated and starved he was. I sat him on my food scales that handles grams and ounces. He barely weighed as much as a can of cat food. He tried to remedy that by inhaling a dish of food in huge, noisy gulps, while he kept a wary eye on me as I got the milk out of the fridge.

It must have taken him all night to climb the stairs, and every bit of strength he had left. He skittered into the kitchen between my legs, all wet, and shivering. His little nose had lead him to the first decent meal of his short miserable existence. He was eating ravenously when Redd, thinking he would never have another square meal with this little stranger hogging all the food, came scurrying back in. He took a swipe at the little piece of fluff right there at one of the three overflowing dishes with his over-developed, and monstrous right paw. Not only did he knock the little critter right across the kitchen, but he took the poor little thing's left eye out in the process.

I yelled at Redd, and since that's the first time that's ever happened, he didn't know what to think, and took off like the proverbial bat out of Hell. Usually when he moves, his useless back end just drags behind him. When he's scared, though, he moves fast.

It's like one of those giant tractor trailers on the highway. When the driver loses control, the rig starts fish tailing. It slams into everything in either lane beside it, wreaking havoc, and leaving a trail of destruction.

Redd's rear end hit the small etagere in the living room with my full cup of coffee on it. That went over like he was on the TV show Bowling for Dollars, and just got a strike. Naturally the only place a steaming cup of black coffee can possibly land in a situation like that is on your nearby, and important papers, as well as the floppy disk that created them. Seconds before, they had been perfectly safe, and out of harm's way on a wingback chair. I had just recently re-upholstered it with a white brocade material. In my rage, which surprised even me, I fired the disk out the back door like a mini Frisbee. I couldn't tell how far it went, as it was still well before sunrise, and the sun was probably just setting in the Azores. I'm sure I heard it hit a car in the next parking lot. That's at least a hundred and fifty feet away.

I did my best to clean up the kitten's face and then locked him in Wally's bedroom where he'd be safe for the day, with a dish of milk and a plate of food. I looked in on him before I left for school four or five hours later and he was sleeping contentedly.

I've decided to keep the kitten, and name him Popeye, which seems rather appropriate. Unless it's a girl, and then I'll call her Olive Oyl. I suppose I should check that out. I'll take him/her to the vet for shots and to get declawed and fixed. I don't know why it's called "getting fixed", when it doesn't work at all after if the job's done right. Another one of life's mysteries to keep me awake at night.

I've been home for about a half hour now, and as I write this, Popeye's sitting on my shoulder. He's purring so loudly I can hardly hear Sammy and Redd's latest victim's howls of terror in the back parking lot. They've got the neighbor's little dog cornered and are toying with it to build up their appetites for the first of their evening meals. Or maybe he is the evening meal. I wish. One hundred and fifty cans of food a month is not only heavy to carry back from No Frills, it's also very expensive.

Popeye's content to sit on my shoulder and watch the computer monitor as it flashes messages telling me how incompetent I am. His one eye is fixed intently on the screen as though he were proof reading. And now the little guy has got me thinking.

For the last day and a half, I've been stressed out, and more downright ugly than usual, all because of a little tension in my life that I don't have time for at the moment. Nobody's said anything to me about it, but I know what a pain in the butt it is when I have to deal with someone else when they're in one of those moods.

There's only one lesson I've managed to learn in the last two days, despite all the studying, and hair pulling, and frustrating hours of ciphering. Little Popeye is the one who managed to teach it to me, with no effort on his part at all. It's simply this.

I've got to start being more thankful for the life I've got, and be more appreciative of every day that I can still pull myself out of bed in the morning. Instead of whining about the small things that will pass, I should be happy that my body hasn't just given up altogether and assumed room temperature sometime in the middle of the night.

Popeye's been abandoned, cold, wet, scared, and starving, since the day he was born a month or so ago. He barely has enough strength to move, and he just had an eye torn out without the benefit of even a local anaesthetic. He's got a cold, and is coughing and sneezing up a storm. And yet he doesn't even whimper the tiniest bit. He just eats his food, drinks his milk, and goes to sleep.

For the moment, he's happy to sit here with me, and help me with my homework. He appreciates his good fortune, and will deal with his bad luck one day at a time. He accepts whatever life has to offer, and takes it as it comes. He'll handle his problems like the survivor he is. If I'd had the same attitude a month ago, my schoolwork would be finished by now, with a lot less whining.

Sammy and Redd seem to have forgotten that they were both first abandoned by their owners, and then rescued too from Death’s door. They were in the same dire straits as Popeye not that long ago. They could learn a thing or two from the little guy as well, but I don't hold out much hope for that.

Popeye's a survivor though. A real tiger. If he was abandoned by his mama because he was the runt of the litter, I'd be a bit leery of Redd and Sammy ever running into his brothers and sisters when they're in an ugly mood. Sammy and Redd better learn to be nice to Popeye and stop their incessant growling at him now, while he's still a kitten.

I've got a feeling they're in for a big surprise a year or two down the road. He's one they won't be able to double team that easily. And he just might remember how he got the name Popeye.

2611 sv ertl


Submitted: September 25, 2007

© Copyright 2022 sv ertl. All rights reserved.

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