The Rip Post




B.C. and me
(Apr. 30, 2003)

       He was sitting on a butcher block dining table, staring with great yellow-green owl eyes at the stranger who had just invaded his little world. What, he obviously wondered, was this creature who spoke in a gentle, friendly voice, "Oh, he's beautiful!"?
        Turns out that the creature was a reclusive freelance writer who had come to visit his owner. A reclusive freelance writer who would become one of his closest friends.
        It's twelve years now since B.C. the cat and I became  pals---for the last seven, almost 24 hours a day. We both work at home, you see.
        That day we met, I stayed far on the other side of his domain, because I sensed his skittishness and how inviolate was his territory. I moved slowly, slowly, and was pleased that he didn't flee when I finally reached out and patted his head. He was beautiful---big, with jet-black long fur, velvety ears, and plume-of-smoke tail that twitched, without fail, every time you addressed him by name. His face was handsome, working-class; more Spencer Tracy than Cary Grant. . .
        B.C. was born in West Los Angeles April 2, 1984, the shiest of a small litter. His brother and sister were multi-colored,  gregarious, and swiftly adopted, but B.C. was. . .uncomplicated. He sat, benignly, blankly, exhibiting no flare, precious little curiosity, and a good deal of bafflement. What do I do? was written all over his face. Three months passed, and no one wanted him. Which is exactly why my Annie gave him a home.
        And thus he has remained: a gentle, unprepossessing animal who went about a daily routine learned from his owner and the other cat he lived with for many years---a suffer-no-fools, cuff-your-ears, black-and-white streetwise female named Baxter: breakfast, morning nap, a little chasing around, afternoon nap, dinner, bedtime (Baxter relegated B.C. to the foot of the bed), late night madcap chasing, breakfast. . .
        Annie employed the name, "B.C.," ("Black Cat") provisionally, but it stuck. "I should have named him 'Ferdinand,' like the bull," she says, "as he is the type to daintily walk about, sniffing at flowers, snoozing contentedly, bothering no one and nothing."
        On the other hand, he wasn't exactly a sweetheart. He groaned (cat equivalent to "Oh, hell") whenever you'd pick him up, and eschewed being mollycoddled and sweet-talked like many an obscenely pampered pet. He had his dignity. Annie knew this, and never anthropomorphosized him or Baxter. These were roommates, but they were cat-roommates.
        Well, guess I kind of screwed that up. I decided that B.C. needed to learn a little more about the good things in life; see the world a bit. True, he had once flown across country and lived in Virginia for six months when Annie was transferred, but his horizons had remained house-and-four-walls. I take full credit for introducing him to Sunday morning sunshine, by placing a chair and pillow near a quasi-east-facing window, where he parked himself  regularly, with great pleasure. I also acquainted him with the magic of the paper bag, by placing one on the top rung of a piece of "cat furniture," and one on the bottom rung. He and Baxter took to their bag-condos like kids to chocolate (Baxter grabbed the top), settling contentedly inside and warming on their own body heat.
        When B.C. was about eight, I figured it was time for him to see the sky. The top of the world, as far as he knew, was a faded white apartment ceiling. What kind of a cat should go through life without seeing clouds? So I picked him up, told him not to worry, massaged the scruff of his neck, and gradually took a few small steps into dazzling, dangerous day. Every muscle in the guy's body tensed, and his eyes turned into Peter Lorre's as he looked up and saw. . .nothing! No ceiling! Just. . .expanse. . .endless air. I figured this was equivalent to kitty LSD. Could he handle it? Yes. I kept talking to him, holding tightly to his neck, and after about a half-dozen trips, he came to enjoy it---and expect it.
        Just as he came to expect---no, demand---his own paper bag. All his life, the larger B.C. had been cowed and bullied by the small, wiley Baxter, and never dared to challenge her authority. But as she grew old and feeble from diabetes, she no longer bothered to make the big leap up to her bag on the top rung, and stole B.C.'s lower bunk. One morning, I noticed him standing in front of his Baxter-occupied bag, staring fixedly. This went on for some minutes until, without warning, he raised his front paw and just whacked the holy hell out of the bag---one time---prompting a shocked expression from Baxter. "My bag!" he was saying, and I suddenly understood that this was a creature of self-respect.
        And courage. In fact, with the exception of vaccuum cleaners and ironing boards, I dare say this cat fears nothing. I base this on a Sunday morning long ago, when he sat at the open front door, peering through the screen. A neighborhood feline was outside, curiously sniffing about. I said, "Who's that, B.C.?" He looked up at me, looked at the stranger outside, lowered his head, and butted, head-first, into the screen, trying to push right through and vanquish the interloper! With all his might! His back paws slipped and slid as they sought traction on the hardwood floor.
        "Ferdinand" or not, I think B.C. would have been much respected among his peers, had he been an outdoor cat.
        But this was not his fate. When Baxter passed away (B.C. solicitiously sniffed at her in her last days), Annie swore that he would be king of the house for the rest of his days, and so he has been. He promptly assumed Baxter's exclusive spot at the head of the bed(!), and his little outdoor scruff-of-the- neck sightseeing tours turned into (supervised) daily visits to the garden wall downstairs, where he smells the daily news, tastes some grass, and stares blithely at passing dogs straining at their tethers to tear him limb-from-limb.
        The two of us take our breaks this way---me from the hard work of writing, and him from the hard cat-work of concerted day-sleeping. One day, a double for the departed Baxter happened by, below the garden wall, and B.C. turned toward me, meowing declaratively. "Is she back?" I thought he might be saying. Or maybe not. Maybe it was "let me at that trespasser!" Recently, in an echo of the screen-door-butting incident, I took him downstairs because he had purred at the sight of a visiting neighbor cat, and I figured he might be lonely. Wrong! He stepped purposefully downstairs and hissed the other animal right off the premises. I was impressed. Still, I suspect this was all reflexive bluster, and that in the end, he's just a pussycat.
        Well, the old boy turned 19 this year, and I attribute his longevity, as I always joke with Annie, to "fewer moveable parts." Yet they are well assembled. He is one tough, indefatigable fellow---bearing out new studies that show black cats are genetically adapted for longer lives. B.C. beat cancer three times in the last decade---on his neck and forelimb---and last year overcame a fatal thyroid condition by surviving a week's worth of radioactive iodine and isolation in a tiny cage. Bravo! And when his hearing all-but-disappeared last year, this seeming simple "old dog" surprised me by learning the new tricks of hand signals meaning "come and eat," "no more food," and "please leave the kitchen." He is the lone survivor of his litter, Last of the Mokittens.
        Well, I like to think that I had a paw in all this. I have put him through a daily regimen of exercise (I am a surrogate Baxter, and chase him up the stairs and around the house) and massage (very good for regularity in old cats), and he, in turn, comes in to check on my writing from time to time.
        But I am about to lose my best editor. B.C.'s days of sitting on the garden wall, and sleeping contentedly on his beloved Annie's legs all night, of supping on the occasional "good stuff" of chicken soup or tuna; his days of perching on the balcony, watching the passing people, of complaining of our mollycoddling, of being king of the house, are drawing to an end. Cancer got him, this time. In a few days or weeks, we will call a doctor, who will come to the king's home and help to gently and peacefully send him to the place where everybody goes.
        And all this time, I thought I was taking care of him.
        I have never been more grateful to any human being for what this little creature has given to me and Annie. I hope that somehow, he knows. And I hope his last dreams are of endless sky, and garden walls.
        Meow, my dear, old friend.

Beecee.jpg (18806 bytes)
April 2, 1984-July 19, 2003

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