Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sam

 3153-D Barbara Court, Los Angeles, CA 90028.  The upper, one-bedroom apartment of a four-plex set about a large wedge of an interior park,  You can and have walked to the Hollywood Bowl rather than cope with the traffic and parking.  The back porch looks out on the interior park.  The arrangement allows some sense of privacy.  You've only heard the closest neighbors arguing once.

You are working on a novel, which is not unusual behavior for you, even though you prefer short stories.  You have in fact published two or three novels and have made connections whereby you essay an experiment of writing a novel a month in order to get a more intimate relationship with plotting. The time frame of this recollection will soon become clear.

The day is warm, edging toward hot.  You take advantage of the cross ventilation by opening a living room window and both the rear, breakfast nook windows.  Your work area is pleasant. You have so far had a good morning, the pages coming out of your red Olivetti portable typewriter with agreeable pace.

As you write, you hear a thump which is loud enough to arrest your attention.  You are used to thumps at the downstairs mailboxes.  These thumps are rejected manuscripts being returned, books from book clubs being delivered, items purchased from mail order catalogs.  Often these thumps are in concert with your name being called.  But this thump was not from downstairs; this thump was from the back balcony, where you keep a small hibachi and a director's chair.

In the dining area, you see a large, elegant-looking cat with the appearance of striped trousers and a tuxedo shirt, thus the cat's chest and rear haunches.  You and the cat exchange cursory examinations.  At this point in your life, you've had minimal experience with cats, but since this cat was, after all a visitor, you thought immediately to offer it a snack, which consisted of half an uneaten pork chop from last night's supper.

The cat sniffed the pork chop, lowered its girth to allow it access to the dish, then began a well-mannered dispatch of the chop, all the while you watching with interest.  The cat made eye contact, which led you to believe that it would not refuse a saucer of cream.  You were right.  The cat daintily lapped the saucer clean, gave a slight burp, then started for the door.

The cat returned most days, in your estimation guided originally by the sound of the typing, but then by the cuisine. After a week of leftover meals, you began picking up cans of cat food.  About a week later, you were on a first name with the cat, which is to say that since he wore no collar and had no tangible source of identification, you took to calling him Sam, which he did not seem to mind.  Often, after finishing his afternoon meal, he'd nap near your work area.  You enjoyed this and began thinking you'd somehow acquired a cat, although he'd yet to spend the evening or night.

After another week or so, you saw a neat, well-lettered notice in the laundry room, to which a picture of Sam had been taped, asking all and sundry to please not feed this cat because he was apparently "working" the neighborhood for treats in spite of the fact that he was being fed at home.

You lasted one day, but Sam's reproachful look when you failed to provide his afternoon tea had a wrenching effect on you and you began to realize that although you'd been thinking about a dog, you were so taken with Sam that perhaps a cat was the right path to follow.

Friendship called you to San Francisco, which seemed a good way to break the Sam habit, clear the deck, then, when you returned, see about a cat of your own.  But Sam was waiting for you when you returned, which was bad enough for your resolve, and he began spending the night sleeping under your dining room table.

In short order, Sam's owner became known to you, in fact became a dear friend, while Sam became in fact your cat.  He was the beginning of a long string of dogs and cats, most of whom you've managed to achieve some unimaginable sense of closeness with and appreciation of, this to the point where you cannot imagine the thought of living without the close companionship.

Sally has been with you since 1997, when you were advised to get your ass to the Animal Shelter on Overpass Road in Goleta, which had just taken her in and put her up for adoption.  One quick visit was all you needed.

She has had many fine adventures of her own devising, including a few you wished at the time she'd have not had, one of those a stare-down with a bob cat, and two others stare-downs with a skunk, without the same success as the one with the bob cat.

You do not for a moment think you'd be the person you've become without the succession of dogs and cats in your life.  Each time you've lost your heart to one of these, you've come out of the exchange in much the same way as the discovery of a book you truly valued to the point where you felt it become apart of your thinking and feeling.

Year end means filing records and artifacts in preparation for a new cycle.  New day book.  New check register.  New folder marked IRS/2013.  New chart of classes to be taught.  New reminder not to park the car on the east side of Sola Street between one and three on Monday afternoons.  All temporal things, most of them residing in the kitchen cabinet reserved for such mischief.

Your good fortune is that in this same cabinet, there is a sheaf of old photos, which are temporal things of yet another nature; these are visual records.  A photo of Sam caught your attention and you were back in Los Angeles/Hollywood on Barbara Court on that summer day, being distracted from your red Olivetti portable.

There is little difference so far between January and December; these are man made divisions, along with many others, some based on grand human logic.   Trying to become what you wish to become is easier in practice when you are able to move beyond the man made divisions, keeping track of the sentimental divisions and, yes, the sentimentality inherent in relations.

Your friend Barnaby Conrad has said that no story about animals has a happy ending.  You see the sad wisdom of his observation.  You see also the grandeur of the companionship you have had ever since that day when Sam came into your life.

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