October 1, 2014

Al Martinez ... On Everything Else

 

A Requiem for the King of Cats

It took my wife, the soft-hearted Cinelli, a few moments to compose herself before telling me that Ernie, my tough, loyal little cat was gone.

He had failed to return home a few evenings ago and no amount of searching or calling produced the sudden burst of speed that usually brought him scurrying to the back door.

She revealed this to me on the day I was ending three months of hospital treatment and therapy for pneumonia and COPD and, at first, I couldn’t believe that the only cat I ever called mine was gone forever.

It had to be those damned coyotes that savaged and killed him, an unlikely death for a small animal who had spent the last three years successfully eluding them, his low growl seeming to fit into night’s unrevealing patterns.

Our three-year old granddaughter, Gracie, sensing my grief, comforted me with the possibility that Ernie was just visiting a friend somewhere and would return home soon. “Yes,” I said, “that might be it. Just visiting a friend.”

He was a street cat that my daughter Cindy had fed when he began appearing at her apartment door in Sacramento. There was an appealing quality to Ernie but he began terrorizing her own three cats, establishing his territory wherever he wanted it to be.

He did the same with our existing cats in Topanga. Ernie was the boss and kicked out yowling adversaries with aggressive ease.

When I think about him I try to visualize his last stand, his head flipping from side to side, attempting to size up the army of howling adversaries darting in and out, facing an overwhelming destiny with a warrior’s courage and a hangman’s knowledge.

Ernie was a cat of many moods. We bonded on the way to Topanga with him sitting on the back of my driver’s seat, purring, a cat of seemingly peaceful intent, until he began scattering our cats and dogs when we opened the front door of our house and he shot in, yowling and swatting. Our gentle Sophie was the main target of his anger. Whenever there was a disturbance in the house---a glass accidentally breaking or maybe Gracie’s crying over an imagined “ow-ee”---to Ernie it was automatically the dog’s fault and he would come flying down the stairs, leap on Sophie’s back, claws dug in, and ride him around the room until he felt the yelping dog had learned his lesson. But time and hunger eventually consumes us all and they have taken Ernie away, the little cat that slept on the foot of my bed every night, who sat on a corner of my desk and watched me work.

I’m too sad to fully absorb the notion that he will never return. I’ll just hope Gracie is right, that Ernie is just off visiting a friend somewhere and will come home again when he’s damned good and ready. n

Al Martinez is a Pulitzer Prize winning essayist, former columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of a dozen books, an Emmy-nominated creator of prime time television shows, a travel writer, humorist and general hell-raiser. He can be reached by e-mail at Almtz13@aol.com.