Back in another life, I lived in a little house on Long Island, not far from the university where I’d gone to school and at which my husband worked. We always had a dog and several cats. In those days, we let our cats outside. There wasn’t much traffic and everyone’s cats roamed the neighborhood.
One day, while we were out in the yard, we had a visitor, a medium-sized black and white cat. He was extremely friendly. Sidled right up to us, purring, and doing that little head butt that’s so endearing. Maybe he was hungry? Of course we fed him.
My son fell immediately in love and we said he could keep the cat.
My husband had a passion for the classics. He named the cat Ahab, which he said meant “wanderer.” Princeton University agrees, except the name in Hebrew means “uncle.” (Which is irrelevant but I threw it in because I did the research and wanted to do something with the information. Back to the story, already in progress.)
Ahab was a sweetheart, the most laid-back cat I ever knew. My 4-year old felt he needed a bubble bath in a bucket. Ahab purred his way through the bubbles and the rinse cycle, then continued purring all the way through dinner and a relaxed evening on the sofa with the whole family.
We couldn’t figure out why anyone would let a sweet fellow like Ahab go. He was young. Healthy. Litter trained, though he preferred going outside to do his business. His coat was shiny and he showed no sign of abuse or neglect. He oozed charm.
Ahab settled in like he’d always lived with us. He got along with the dog and the other cats. Loved children. Loved everyone. We made a date to take him to vet and get his shots.
He never went to the vet, at least not with us. The following day, without so much as a “by your leave,” Ahab moved down the block and took up residence with a different family. We were a little wounded. We’d never been abandoned by a cat before. His new family adored him but Ahab only hung around a few day, then moved on.
We eventually lost track of Ahab. He moved from house to house, charming everyone and purring his way to his next home. He never stayed longer than a few days and was always the perfect house guest.
Was he a stray? If he was, it was because that’s what he wanted to be. Ahab was a wanderer by choice.
In the continuing battle of felines against literacy, Chewy goes for it! Success!
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My journey to find knowledge started when I was very young and has not ended. It will end when I do, at which point whatever knowledge I’ve sought will be mine at last. Until then, there have been many strange stops along my heroic quest. This was one.
My intrepid husband, professional journalist and seeker of truth in his own way, was working weekends that decade. This meant that whatever stuff happened on Sunday was his beat. This week, the old church of St. Mary, less than a block from our condo in Roxbury, was where Cardinal Bishop Bernard Law would be presiding.
It’s a big deal for any Catholic church when a Prince of the Church holds Mass. Even though I’m not Catholic, I have plenty of friends who are or were. And we lived spitting distance from a grand old cathedral, though it was desperately poor and in urgent need of repairs to … everything. What didn’t need to be repaired?
Roxbury, an almost entirely Black neighborhood that had once been a Jewish neighborhood and had been redlined by brigands in the guise of real estate developers, was where we lived. We had been among the first two or three upper middle class mixed race couples to choose to live in Roxbury. Aside from hoping it would start to charge the way the neighborhood was viewed by the media and the people of Boston, it was a great location and a wonderful place to live.
Rumors to the contrary, it was not crime central. You could leave your car unlocked on the street and no one would touch it. I know this because my neighbor had tried desperately to have his two cars stolen, even going so far as to leave them open with the keys in the ignition for three weeks. Nope, not a chance. The problem was that Roxbury and Dorchester were where car thieves left cars they had stolen in tonier neighborhoods, like Beacon Hill. It was not where they went to steal them because many of them had roots in the neighborhood and eagle-eyed granny was probably watching the street.
People watched out for each other in Roxbury. I never had better neighbors. I never felt safer or more loved.
That day, the day Cardinal Law was visiting the church down the street, Garry called.
“I was telling Bernie (Cardinal Law, if you please) that you lived in Israel and are really interested in religion and stuff.”
“So he’ll be dropping by for a visit.”
“I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run. Love you. Have a great day.”
BING BONG said the doorbell.
I looked at me. At least I was wearing clothing. The house was almost acceptable. Thanks for all the warning, Gar, I thought. Showtime!
And in swept His Grace, His Eminence, wearing his red skull-cap and clothed in his long, black wool cloak. Impressive.
Big Guy stretched. Our Somali cat — the best cat in the world and certainly the absolutely smartest, sweetest and gentlest — was also our meeter and greeter.
I offered the Cardinal the best seat in the house, the blue velvet wing chair by the bay window. Big Guy promptly joined him. We chatted for almost an hour. Israel, the church, whether there was any hope that St. Mary’s would get some funds to repair and upgrade before it was too late. The neighborhood. A hint of church politics. Although Bernard Cardinal Law was ultimately blamed for the long-standing and terribly wrong policy of the Church in hiding the misdeeds of child-molesting clerics, this was years before that story came to light.
The man I met was wonderfully intelligent, friendly, witty and a real pleasure to spend time around, probably why Garry — no Catholic he — was very fond of him and considered him a personal friend.
Eventually, it was time for the Cardinal to depart and when he stood up, and Big Guy finally left his cozy spot on the warm lap of the region’s reigning Catholic cleric, I realized the Cardinal was absolutely coated in cat hair.
Oh my. Exactly what does one say?
“Wait a minute, your Eminence. Let me get the pet hair sticky roller and see if I can get some of that hair off your long black cape?” I was pretty sure that the cloak needed something a lot more oomph than a lint roller. This was going to need some firepower beyond my limited means.
So I shut up. Wincing with foreknowledge, having gained in wisdom though not what I had hoped for, we parted and as he and his retinue swept out my door … I pondered how life’s journey takes strange side roads, unexpected twists and turns. This was one.
“Meow?” questioned Big Guy. Clearly he liked the Cardinal and it had been mutual. I believe Big Guy came away from the experience with some special, secret understanding of Truth. I, on the other hand, felt obliged to call my husband and warn him that Cardinal Law was dressed in more than he realized.
“Oops,” said Garry, master of understatement.
“Yup,” said I, equally downplaying the difficulties that would arise from the incident. I had wrangled with Big Guy’s fur. I knew how bad it would be.
Some weeks later, when Garry, in the course of work, again encountered the good Cardinal, he called my husband to the side for a private word. The other reporters were stunned! What scoop was Garry Armstrong, ace reporter, getting from which they were excluded? Rumors ran rampant. Armstrong was getting the goods and they were out in the cold. Mumble, mumble, grouse, complain, grr.
“Armstrong,” murmured the Cardinal.
“You owe me. That was one gigantic dry cleaning bill!”
“Yes sir, Your Eminence,” Garry agreed. “Been there myself.”
“I bet you have!” said Bernard Cardinal Law. And the two men shook hands.
When the other reporters gathered round and wanted to know what private, inside information Garry had, he just smiled.
“I’ll never tell,” he said. “Never.”
But now … YOU know. The truth has finally come out.
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Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!
Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!
He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!
And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumb;
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE !
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!