Monday, October 10, 2005

From Flagpole...


Pooper The Wise

On Sept. 11, Pooper, a brown and black tabby of Maine Coon descent, extracted his claws for the last time and passed away roughly 26 years after he entered the world. A regal and rotund beast, he was a friend, a family member and the closest thing this writer has had to a lifelong confidant.

On nightly family walks around our Atlanta neighborhood in 1980, my parents encountered a stray cat that emerged from bushes nightly until he allowed them to gain his trust and convince him to stay. He chose us as much as we chose him. Like a Cuban baseball player, he had no records, and we never could verify his age. At his first checkup, the vet said he appeared to be at least a year old. At the time of his death, according to various different formulas, he would have been the feline equivalent of a nimble and sprightly 120-year-old eunuch.

My mother backed over him with the car without damage, and he survived dogfights and raccoon tussles. He lived through five presidents, several wars and the combined runs of "Cheers," "Family Ties" and "Herman's Head," and nearly matched River Phoenix's time on Earth.

Lately, I watched him fade. His amber marble eyes sank into hollow caves as his fat disappeared and muscles began to atrophy. Pooper could no longer groom himself, so little brown furry dreadlocks twisted. The growl turned into a grumble. He was bowlegged and shaky and lost all interest in food. The delicacies my mother fixed for him - chicken, chili, raw hamburger - were left uneaten.

There were a few last gasps of bravado. After a winter in the kitchen, he started hanging out in my room again, plopping next to my turntable which he covered in cat sneeze. The dreadlocks he shed clung to the fibers of my carpet. His nails grew long and were always extracted and tip-tapped out a shuffling cadence when he patrolled the first floor.

Still, Pooper inhabited the midday sun like a Miami Beach yenta, lying out, passing out, and bathing in the scorching heat.

When his ears failed him, he relied on his eyes. When his sight faded, he chose to keep closer to home, albeit sometimes dangerously; he liked sleeping under my car and many times I would back out of my driveway only to discover my wheels barely missed the bastard. Still he dozed, deaf as nails.

So loyal, he would wait silently with us for the school bus. So caring, he would bathe us with licks. He loved Doritos and cheese and fought raccoons and stood down dogs. Remembering all his former strength and chutzpah, it was painful to see him sound asleep on the porch one night, oblivious to his surroundings as a possum crept close to him and sniffed his impending death.

The day before he died I spent an afternoon fanning away green flies that already pegged him as gone.

The morning he died, I found him cold and slipping, his mouth moving without sound, one eye cloudy, one eye clear. To make him comfortable, my mother and I wrapped him in dryer-toasted towels and sat with him. At 10:50 a.m., he was dead.

In my parent's backyard, next to the skeleton of an old swing set of mine, I dug a hole three feet deep, wrapped his body in a flannel pillowcase, and laid Pooper to rest. Afterward, my mother, father, two of his friends and my mom's divorcée pal conducted an Irish wake with ginger beer and sandwiches. Mom scattered his grave with sunflowers and I checked intermittently at night to see that coyotes from the mountain did not disturb him.

God bless you, you bastard, you orphan, you neutered miracle. May you push up lemon trees and grant us the same sweet sourness in death you gave in life. You were a rarity and a charm and a friend. You are the argument I give whenever somebody says cats suck. Godspeed, bud.

Thomas Wheatley

Thomas Wheatley, a frequent Flagpole contributor and UGA graduate, is a writer and photographer living in Marietta, GA. He can be reached through

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