Tuesday, November 30, 2004
The Menagerie

Taking a bit of time off from the NaNo madness to... well... write.

I'm up to 15,000 words, which means there's no way I'll make 50,000 by the end of the month. But I knew that when I started. I won't even make it to 25,000, which was my revised goal. But I've gotten further with this than any other attempt I've made so far. I think not having a plot in mind helped me out. I usually start with a plot and an idea and try to go from there, trusting that the characters and setting would come naturally. This time I started with a setting, characters, and a few random stories and the plot is coming along. More interestingly, the ideas are presenting themselves to me in quite an organic fashion. The more I write the more I realize I actually do seem to have a point to be making here.

But that's not why I'm writing. I'm writing because of something that happened to me last night. I got home a bit later than usual for a Sunday, because some indie filmmaker had rented out the Cafe to film a scene or a short or something. So the whole time we were trying to clean up there were people setting up lighting equipment. That and Sundays are always horrible. Hatehatehate closing on Sundays.

In any case, I got home and decided it would probably be a good idea to take the pooch for a stroll, since she was snuffling at the door in her usual "let me out or I'll dump doo on your stairs" fashion. So I grabbed a plastic bag, two doggie treats, coat hat and her leash and headed out. Somehow when I got out the cat was waiting for me.

I'd heard the tales. I've been told by multiple housemates how they'd take the dog for a walk and the cat would just follow along the whole way. So on my preceding several walks I'd held the door open and invited the cat along, which was met only with a contemptuous look on all occasions. This time I didn't even notice him slipping out. I looked around as I was exiting, but didn't see him anywhere, and suddenly there he was right in front of me.

The whole thing was... the cat would hang about a half block behind us, then suddenly charge ahead and scout out the route, or else go wandering off onto somebody's porch or into an alley, always eventually to return. At one point I heard a scrabbling behind me and turned around to see the cat about four feet up, embracing a tree and peeking around it at me.

I let the pooch off her leash when we got to the park behind the school and she ran about sniffing everything to her heart's content. The cat kept on vanishing and reappearing, his grey coat perfect camouflage but for the reflective strip on his flea collar.

It was when we were a block away from the house that I heard a woman's voice from across the street, "Ohhhh, look at that kitty cat!" She crossed the street and came toward me, a slight woman in what looked to be pajama pants, missing a few teeth.

"Isn't this something?" I asked, "The cat just likes to come along."

"Are you sure your name isn't Doctor Doolittle?"

I laughed. "Sometimes I wonder!"

Then she started talking to me, and continued talking for about twenty minutes. The pooch shied away at first when she tried to pet her, but eventually consented.

"It's weird to see, but you know... you never know with cats. When I was a girl I had a cat, I lived out on Montana Avenue, a few miles east of here. And there was a field next to the house, about as far off as that next block up there is. And I could stand at my bedroom winda, it was on the second floor, I could stand at my bedroom window and call his name and I'd see him all the way, coming through the tall grass. And he'd get up to the garage, which was next to my window. The garage was only, half as tall, like the top of it was even with my winda, and he'd get up on that garage roof somehow and come right into the winda, so you never know with cats.

"There was this one time... I have epilepsy, and I had my first seizure when I was eight. I was at the school, which was about as far away from my place as that school up there is from here. I was on the playground and I had my first seizure, I was eight years old, and the cat saw what was happening. He saw that something was happening to me... he ran all the way home and got my mother's attention, and lead her all the way back to the school."

"Wow, that's like something Lassie would do!" I said, smiling, the first hint of doubt creeping in.

"Then there was another time, I was on the playground again, and the cat attacked some boy he was about to hit me. He was pullin' back, gettin' ready to hit me and that cat just jumped right on him, he was just... he was gettin' ready to hit me and the cat just went right for the boy's face."

"Trained attack cat, huh?" Starting to wonder how much longer she was going to go on.

"You never know with animals... there was one cat, it was a few years back, lived down there there was a crackhouse on Adams street and the guy had a crackhead cat. This cat. One time he was in the middle of a deal and he had a little baggie sitting on the wall next to him, he was waiting for the guy to give him the money, and the cat came running right by and grabbed the bag, and I told him, 'man, you gotta watch that cat!' and they all went running after the cat, right down the block.

"There was this other time, he, the guy that owned the cat, he had his stash hidden in a hollow tree, this little hole at the base of a tree, and the cat came by and found it. I saw it, I told the guy, 'you gotta keep your eye on that cat, he just stole your whole stash!' and the cat was up in the tree with this plastic, like sandwich bag musta had two hundred dollar worth of crach, jus' eatin' it with everybody at the bottom of the tree jumping up and down and yelling at it.

"Then on the next block, there was this guy who had a crackhead dog. And I... you ever seen one of those pictures where it's the dogs? They got those pictures where it's like the dogs and they're, they're playing poker. I had this dream once, I was walking down one of the alleys here and I heard this 'pssssst!' and I looked over and it was jus' like one of those paintings, except it was that cat and the dog, jus' hangin' out in the alley and I looked, and I jus' couldn't believe it! And they were like, 'heyyy honey, come on over here we need a hand' 'cause they had the crack that, that the cat was alway's stealin' and they had a pipe and a lighter and everything, but they needed my help because they couldn't, they couldn't use the lighter with their paws. And I told the guy that I had this dream, this vision and they were all, 'awwwwww,' 'cause they thought I was crazy!"

She was a very agreeable woman. She wasn't scary at all, and I was laughing through the whole thing.

"But you know how that cat ended up hooked on the crack. It was 'cause the guys who lived there would cut up the rocks on the table, then they'd bag it up and just" gesturing, "sweep it all off the table, and it would end up... in the cat's food dish, you see! That's why you gotta watch out. I'm 47 years old, I got a son who's 28, and... I don't touch the crack, but I'll give the weed a try, that goes right in me, and I'm always giving him a hard time, because I know. You got that stuff in the house, people will pick up on it. Like cigarettes. Even if you're careful and you don't let the kids see you smoke, they'll smell it and maybe get a little... you know, get a little of it, then they'll decide they want more and go out after it. 'Cause they want some more of that good feelin'

[Note: I had been writing this immediately after it happened, but reached this point and decided to leave the rest for the morning. Next morning turned into next week, then into the next month and year and... well... the rest will have to be from memory]

At this late date I can't even remember the rest of the conversation, but the cat was standing at the door eyeing me impatiently and the dog was pacing on her leash and I finally managed to get loose from the woman after she said some more crazy things... I remember it ended with her telling me how she had strokes and the doctors used to tell her she would never live past 25, how she would certainly see me around the neighborhood (I think I did see her once or twice more after that, but she never spoke another word to me), and then wandered off into the night while I went inside. If I'd gotten it all down faster it would be more detailed, but I think you probably get the idea...
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