Tuesday, January 22, 2008


In Memoriam: Cramer, 1992?-2008

I have no rituals for death, and don't want any. It would be my preference if death were exceptional, not universal, transitional rather than final. 21-gun salutes routinize tragedy and minimize personality, and better, it seems, are the flowers planted and picked than bought professionally arranged.

When I met Cramer, his name was Latte, which we considered a misnomer, one surprisingly ill-applied. We could see an inherent ferocity, even a dominance, in the essential nature of the beautiful, long-haired, all-black Maine Coon despite his neutered status. I was skeptical about Latte's arrival or continued presence; my girlfriend C. had a co-worker whose new boyfriend did not get along with her cat, and she asked me what I thought of taking it in. I provisionally assented, knowing her long history of cat-keeping, smiling on her intentions and figuring it might be innocuous enough. But I maintained a right of first refusal. If I didn't like the creature, it could look elsewhere for a home.

Being an itinerant creature myself, I'd had no pet of my own since a small turtle, George, crawled under the refrigerator or went lost down an air vent when I was 4, seeking shelter from my clumsy inspections. C. was a "cat person," but I had limited patience or understanding for animals who generally seemed rather stand-offish, entitled, having too high an opinion of their own intelligence. All true, from a certain perspective. I envisioned one day getting a dog, a big loyal one, possibly a Golden Lab.

Cramer arrived in a cat carrier, complete with his own supply of cat food, deposited by a bureau while we discussed his presence. As a stealth bomber confuses radar, so does his fur confuse light, absorbing almost all of it but for his green eyes, so it was impossible to get a good look at him in the carrier. Finally his owner opened the carrier's door, and a black torpedo instantly made its way low and fast across a dozen feet of floor, hopped up on the arm of the couch with alacrity, climbed my shoulder, and started nuzzling, purring, licking, and biting my left ear. He had made his decision, and mine, and there wasn't much way of backing out of it. I was his human from then on, and he was my familiar, to the extent that C. was hurt and later expressed jealousy. When we broke up, there was no debate over the fate of the luxuriant long-hair, he who shed so much over the years I could have made a sweater, a blanket out of him, whose fur once dragged along the ground. Such hair, it would've been possible to harvest his wool like a sheep every spring. To wear him like he wore me, so often drooling on my shoulder.

The reason Cramer and his former owner's boyfriend didn't get along was clear. One night after their closer acquaintance, Cramer shat into the boyfriend's jeans while they were crumpled on the floor. In the morning, said boyfriend hopped into his jeans and pulled them up, with distressing results. A variation of "He goes, or I go," was bruited, and the cat lost that battle. Later, on helping that boyfriend move his stuff to her apartment, I realized Cramer was right about him, and that appropriate summary action had been taken. Before moving, due to his girlfriend's apartment contract, he had his Golden Lab put down, dismissing her as "just a dog."

My new companion was highly individuated, eccentric, intelligent, and prone to a certain clownish exuberance when not murdering prey, so I named him Cramer in recognition of the Seinfeld comic known for exquisite pratfalls, and also for a benignly rich venture capitalist I had recently met with, last name Cramer, The spelling was intended to be less derivative, and to allow for fortune in life, a position which he soon achieved. We kept him on dry food until he moved us on to smoked salmon, cream cheese, shrimp, crab, etc. He had a gourmand's nose for good food, his tastes running from tuna to vindaloo, from spaghetti to tortilla chips and salsa. He tried to like caviar, knowing it was a delicacy, but it just wouldn't take. My house, its location on a relatively quiet street, its ready access to its yard, its trees, was bought with Cramer fully in mind. I didn't take a waiting job in London because of England's quarantine policies, and somewhere along the way, I gained a healthy appreciation for the intelligences which dwell in cats, and learned that they were the only animals to ever domesticate themselves.

This cat manipulated his media. I once jumped in front of a van to save his life while he lolled in the street. The driver jammed on the brakes, the cargo collapsing like falling buildings inside. Cramer loved Japanese maple trees, there were two big round-full ones off the sidewalk in front of our house. He would climb up in them to wait for us or to ambush passers-by, the only warning of his presence a curious shaking of the red pointy cover of leaves. Then out would pop his head to trill or meow, and sometimes he would just leap onto my neck. He terrorized a large swath of neighborhood, a hard-nosed soldier who never lost a fight to another outdoor cat (yet restrained and reticent indoors). I once saw him leap five feet into the air from a stationary position to land, all-star wrestling style, on top of his tackle-sized orange tabby opponent. His only misfortune came by one or more crows when he was 4 or 5, always checking eaves and trees for the presence of crows thereafter.

He hated going to vet clinics. They hated having him. The last occasion, he had to be held down by two assistants wearing chain-mail gloves, with one very wary vet giving shots, each one precariously contested with a couple of violent near-escapes with ear-rattling, threatening, vengeful howls. So we got a house-call vet from then on, who came today at 1PM to mercifully end a grand life.

The weather was kind today, the winter sun full rare and shining, so Cramer's last hours were spent mostly outside. I carried him around the perimeter of all his former territory, pausing at each square, and when we got back to the property line he asked to be set down, where he defiantly marked his redoubt one last time. Then he basked with the sun's warmth in his favorite spots, surveying all that was his, purring, his head occasionally drooping down to a rest on a window sill or welcome mat. And then my old friend drifted off on a ketamine high, to a death more merciful and gentle than many of us humans are likely to find, held in the same place I met him, next to my left ear.

Death is unfortunately natural, and fully appreciating life is unfortunately not. Both are things I struggle with. Over time, I began to more appreciate the surprises one is thrown, and the lessons in them. So it is here. To a mere feline, I owe a debt of profound gratitude, a thing I never contemplated nor thought possible. Yet I was Cramer's human, and he changed my mind about not just himself, not just about cats. He changed my perspective about life and individuality amongst all creatures, be they great or small. He makes me think the Lord God made us all.

21 comments:

Still Life Living said...

That cat had criss-crossed the continent on your search for ... what was it you were searching for again?

I am probably responsible for at least three of its lives. I know you loved that cat. I am sorry for your loss.

Marc Lord said...

Searching for a woman he wouldn't attack. Found one he liked.

Thanks SLL. Coming from you, that means alot. He could spot you from 400 yards away and scurry to take cover. I still have fond memories of him peeing on H's prized possession, and her bellowing like a sailor, "Where is that MFer!?"

He had a good life, and will be buried under his Japanese maple lair.

Naj said...

a hug, marc lord.

Phil said...

My condolences.

MarcLord said...

Thank you, guys. Pets really do become a member of the family. You hope you do right by them almost as much as by your kid(s).

isabelita said...

Very sweet memorial to your cat; we have an almost 14 year old black and white neutered male named Rico Suave. He has been a boon to my elderly mother, who lives with us, as well as a loyal and loving companion to the rest of us. We had another black and white named Natasha who lived to almost 22 years. Many people denigrate cats or worse, and in fact, if you love them, they return it.
But I think it has nothing to do with any deity.

MarcLord said...

Iz, Phil,

My regards to Rico Suave! And to the long-lived Natasha.

The reference to deity was riffing on "all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful...the Lord God made them all." I added the last line after posting, originally thinking it went too far, so left it out. But something happened last night to make me put it in.

Lord Wife thought she heard a meowing cat in our bushes by the gate when we came home, but didn't say anything. Later I was standing on the side porch and heard a meowing cat, faint but in the same location, as she later told me she heard it. To me, it sounded enough like Cramer, and coming from his favorite spot, that I immediately went and checked his body to see if he were trapped in our shed. He was still there, in rigor mortis, and the shed is nowhere near where the meowing seemed to come from.

Then I investigated the bushes, then across the street, calling and whistling for a cat. You can be sure that if I had found a cat near Cramer's japanese maple on the cold night of his death, it might well have been coming inside. But no cat was discoverable.

I poured myself a drink, stepped back out on the porch to smoke, a sometime-vice, and mulled. Whew, what a day, and my grief was still giving me a little trouble. I heard the same meowing again. Resisting the urge to go check Cramer's body once more, I went to get a flashlight, and looked through the bushes, in the trees, across the street. No cat.

After telling my wife about it, she related that she heard it before me in the same spot. I know that meow pretty well, and it wasn't the first time similarly odd things happened with Cramer, when he was alive. It may be there was a cat out there, cold nights play tricks with noises, but what if not? I called his name, told him he was a good kitty, and came back in and added the line.

Phil said...

Perhaps, in his later years, Cramer was subcontracting some of his heavy lifting to an undocumented Siamese? Who hasn't been paid for his last timecard?

We have the same Japanese maple syndrome.

MarcLord said...

Yes, phil, your Rico is quite the lurker. Same good positioning! I'll look around for the timecard. ;-)

Karen said...

While you were walking on the Great Wall of China and perusing the Grecian way of life, present and historical (that was a job???), I would get in my car and travel two plus hours to feed Cramer for another day. It was during those trips that I really grew to know him, as much as any of us really get to know our feline friends. I was flattered to have him jump on the bed and sleep on my feet, but I was really touched when he would lay across the sidewalk to try and prevent my leaving...The maple tree was indeed his lair; as I walked past it upon arrival, a black paw would dart out to say "Hi" to me, Cramer being clever enough to take care of the hand that fed him. I will miss my Grandkitty dearly...
He was a Prince among cats.

Zoey & Me said...

Such a wonderful story, Marc so sorry for your loss. I think I shall pass this story around the cat blogs so other human beans can share your thoughts. Thanks. Z&M

Maggy & Zoey said...

Lovely in all its sadness. A tale well told of love...

Marc Lord said...

Thanks, grandmere. His personality provoked strong reactions, it must be said! He was fond of you, and thanks for reminding me of how he would try to keep us from leaving. Thank goodness he stopped lying in front of the car when we were ready to go, after we started spraying him with a water bottle. He wouldn't have made it to a ripe old age if we hadn't disabused him of that.

Marc Lord said...

Hello, Cat in Bag lovers, and thank you for your condolences. Not sure I did Cramer justice here, but I would be honored if cat lovers appreciated his story. The bonds can be very strong, and can last beyond death--Cramer has apparently haunted us five times already.

Mr. Tigger said...

That was a wonderful tribute to a special furiend! It made our eyes leak. It is always hard when they cross to the Rainbow Bridge and you did a loving thing being with him to the end. Our condolences are with you.
Purrrrs and (((hugs))))
Samantha, Tigger and Chandra

Jane said...

What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful cat. Cramer was lucky to have lived with you. Those are wise words you have written about how an animal companion can change an outlook on life.

Parker said...

That was beautiful. Please accept our sympathies. We cats consider it a great victory to give a new perspective to life. Good job Cramer, we salute you.

Skeeter, LC, and Ayla said...

Thank you for the moving tribute to Cramer. As "the human" of many cats over the years, I found your understanding of the bond of one animal to another both considerable and well-described.

Sometimes, with a cat on my lap or on me in bed, I ponder how odd and remarkable it is to be in such close physical and psychological contact with a completely different species.

I fully understand that the food and shelter we humans provide to cats encourages them to stay around us, but I think there has to be something more than that.

I will never fully understand what attaches them to us any more than a cat can comprehend the existence of a house or where the cans of their food come from. But the bond exists in spite of the incomprehension. I suspect that the mutual interest resides in some unknown similarities and a lot of mystery and curiosity.

Cramer did good by you, MarkLord, and you did good by him. "Well done" to both of you...

The Big Thing

MarcLord said...

Thank you, Jane. Adam is said to have named the animals, and in the biblical myth was given stewardship over the animals. With dogs, that was true. With cats it seems to be a little more complicated. ;-)

MarcLord said...

Parker,

Thank you, and for providing the perspective of your species. I have some unused cat-nip on the kitty cabinet with your name on it.

MarcLord said...

Big Thing,

I've pondered the odd bond with cats at some length...perhaps it is due to identifying with each other, being agile meat-eaters who occupy, on appropriate scales, similar positions on our food chains. And being so beneficially symbiotic.

For a really neat book on the essence of cats (big ones, too), give 'The Tribe of Tiger' a look. (http://www.amazon.com/Tribe-Tiger-Elizabeth-Marshall-Thomas/dp/0743426894/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1201649938&sr=8-1)
It's written by a scientist who grew up in Africa, the lady who wrote 'The Hidden Life of Dogs.' Among her experiences is having dreams of a purring cat, which were disturbed by villagers causing a ruckus. She went back to sleep, and on waking found in the morning found large lion paw prints on either side of her sleeping bag. One had stood astride her in the night and purred.

Much as we loved Cramer, we did reflect that if he were 30 lbs or larger, we would probably be in mortal danger! One of his favorite games was to hide under the bed while C. got ready to retire. He would leap out and prick her feet with his claws, resulting in a yelp and a jump. It got so they were both doing fairly athletic vaults and twirls, resembling some sort of comic ballet.