Nov. 6, 1999

"Stevie the Cat"


       I got up in the morning just like any other day, put up the water for coffee and went to feed Stevie, my cat.  We went through our daily routine: I opened a can of Friskies Tuna Feast (or whatever it happened to be that day), Stevie jumped up on the chair near the kitchen counter and I held out the open can for him to smell and, ostensibly, accept or reject like fine wine at a nice restaurant.  Of course, no matter what I had opened was what he was getting, but we both enjoyed the routine.  Stevie sniffed the tuna, expressed his acceptance, and I put half the can in his bowl.  Stevie took two little bites and ran out the door.  He frequently liked to know that the food was there awaiting him, then would go out and work up an appetite.  I sat down with my coffee, returned to the book I was reading and what seemed like a minute went by and my phone rang.
       "Do you have a cat named Stevie?" asked a female voice.
       It sounded like some sort of solicitation for a new pet store or something, yet deep in my mind I knew something was wrong.
       "Yes," I said.  "Who is this?"
       "Your cat's in the street.  He's been run over."
       I immediately looked all around -- hadn't it just been seconds before Stevie was right here?
       "No, my cat's right here," I replied, not seeing Stevie.
       "No he's not," continued the patient woman.  "He's right here in the street."
       I walked out to the front of the building, still on the cordless phone, looked left and didn't see anything.  The woman's voice said, "We're right behind you."
       I turned around and there was a group of five or six people standing in the middle of the street.  I ran over and saw the woman speaking to me on a cell phone standing in front of a big Jeep filled with a family all looking at me sadly through the windows.  I looked down and there was Stevie -- his gray and white fur was covered with blood, his tongue was sticking out, his eyes were glassy like marbles -- he was quite obviously dead.  I picked up Stevie's warm and completely flaccid body and carried him back to my apartment, his home for the past four years.

       Stevie had originally belonged to a school of Hassidic Jewish boys in West Hollywood on Alta Vista Boulevard, two blocks south of the old Samuel Goldwyn Studios (now Warner Hollywood).  The Jewish boys had Stevie de-clawed and neutered and he lived in the dormitory with them for the semester.  At the end of the semester, however, all of the boys went back to their various homes and Stevie was abandoned.
       Stevie then became the street cat of Alta Vista Blvd.
       My friend Rick lived on Alta Vista across the street from the Hassidic boy's school.  Rick's favorite pastime was sitting in front of his building in a director's chair taking the sun and reading.  Rick and I met 22 years ago when we were both extras on John Cassavettes' film "Opening Night."  Rick had seen more movies and read more books then anyone I had ever met, had very, very strong opinions, and we became best friends.  One of Rick's many strong dislikes was animals -- he stated flatly that he hated dogs and cats.
        I spent many happy hours sitting in front of Rick's building gabbing with him and he was aware of Stevie, by name, from the beginning.
Rick's writing on the back of the
photograph of Rick and Stevie
Rick Sandford and Stevie in front of
Rick's building

       Over the course of about four years, more and more frequently when I would come over I would find Stevie on Rick's lap being petted while Rick read.  I remember asking:
       "But I thought you didn't like animals?"
       Rick would smile and shrug, "Yeah, well . . . But not Stevie."
       At some point thereafter a plastic cottage cheese container appeared outside Rick's apartment door filled with water.  At some point after that came a red plastic food bowl filled with cat crunchies -- Deli Cat, actually.  At some point after that came another bowl for the wet cat food.  Stevie moved into Rick's apartment, first taking up residence in the sock drawer, but soon moving over to the bed with Rick.
       Rick got sick with AIDS and spent about a year with increasingly failing health mainly sitting in front of his building taking the sun, reading and petting Stevie.  Rick began to go in and out of the hospital and soon couldn't leave.  Rick's neighbor Chris took care of Stevie.
       Over the next eight months Rick's life ebbed away at County General Hospital in east L.A.  Finally, when he lapsed in a coma, Rick was moved to a hospice in south-central L.A.  At some point Chris and some other neighbors of Rick's brought Stevie to the hospice to visit Rick.  I wasn't there, but I heard that Stevie completely freaked out and was taken home.
       Rick died and a wake was held in front of his building.  I was never much of a drinker -- I don't drink at all anymore -- but that night I drank three-quarters of a bottle of Absolut vodka and vaguely recall a bunch of us marching up Alta Vista Blvd. tossing Rick's ashes in the air.  At some other point Rick's neighbor, Chris, asked if anyone would like to take Stevie because he was allergic to him and didn't want him.
       "I'll take him," I slurred, drunkenly waving my hand.
       The next day I awoke with a terrible hangover and called Rick's and my mutual friend Peter.
       "Did I take Stevie last night?" I asked.
       "Yes, you did," replied Peter.
       I shook my pounding head.  "I don't think I want a cat.  I just got new furniture and it's dark red and green and cat fur will get all over it."
       Peter said firmly, "Too late, you already took the cat."
       "Yeah," I went on, "but I don't want him."
       "Too bad," stated Peter, "you took him.  Look, bring him home and if you still don't want him in a week or two, get rid of him.  But I'll just bet you in two weeks Stevie becomes your best friend."
       So I went over and got Stevie from Chris.  It was a very big process getting Stevie into his travel box, which said on it "Pet Waggin'" and had a drawing of dogs and cats on a school bus (and it's where we ultimately put his dead body).
       Stevie cried in the box all the way from West Hollywood to Santa Monica.  I had been told by several different people who seemed to know that when a cat is moved it must be kept inside for a few days to acclimate itself before being let outside.  I let Stevie out of the box, set up his bowls beside the stove and filled them with water, Deli Cat crunchies and Friskies beef.  Stevie just cried.
       Stevie continued to cry like his whiskers were being slowly pulled out for the next twelve hours, non-stop.  My patience finally ran out and I yelled:
       "You hate it here so much, get the fuck out!!!" and I flung open the door.  Stevie shot outside like a bullet, ran down the stairs and was gone.
       Hours went by . . . No Stevie.  I walked the neighborhood calling his name, but never caught a glimpse of him.
       More hours went by . . . I walked the neighborhood several more times, still with no luck.  It got dark and there was no sign of him.  Finally, around midnight I shut my door and went to bed.
       Great, my friend dies, I'm entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of his cat and I handle it for all of twelve hours, then blow it.  Stevie's gone forever.  Good work.
       The next day there was no sign of Stevie at all for the entire day.  By that night I had written him off.  A friend and I sat at my kitchen table talking and he said, "Look, there's Stevie."
       I turned around and there in fact was Stevie -- covered with blood and leaves, missing a patch of fur over his left eye and smeared with black dirt -- casually walking past without a sidelong glance.  He gobbled down all of his beef, ate a large portion of crunchies, sauntered over to the other side of the living room, flopped over and went to sleep.
       And within two weeks, just as Peter had predicted, Stevie was my best buddy.
       I got him a cat door which I installed in the window.  Stevie got the hang of it in no time and for a while everything was fine.  Then the other cats in the building figured out how to use the cat door and soon they were coming and going at will.  The evil black cat from downstairs would eat Stevie's food, hiss at Stevie, give me a dirty look and jump out the cat door before I could do anything.
       I frequently go out of town for a month at a time.  My neighbors were always very good about taking care of Stevie for me.  Everyone liked him so it wasn't ever a problem.  However, after the other cats figured out the cat door, when I returned I would find that they had taken over my apartment and thrown Stevie out.  Not having claws always put Stevie at a disadvantage.  It would sometimes take an entire week for Stevie to come back to the apartment.
       So I purchased an electric cat door with a lock that was triggered by a magnet that Stevie wore on his collar and it worked great.  Now Stevie could start trouble with other cats, run away and throw himself through the electric cat door at top speed and be safe as the other cat impotently swiped at the locked door.  Every time he did this I would pet him and say, "We beat them with technology!"
       I made sure to pet Stevie every single day and tell him that I love him.  He became more than my best buddy, he became the thing I loved most in the world.  And he loved me and I knew it.
       Stevie brought love into Rick's life and he brought love into my life.  I miss him very much.

 

 

 

 

 


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