Requiem For A Cat
An obituary befitting a legendary asshole
Scratchy’s name preceded him. Folks in the community spoke of the myth before ever meeting the feline. Some might call him a free spirit. But we felt he was more asshole, or scapegoating con artist. He’d flick breakables off the counter with wild abandon and then blame it on the dog… who was elderly, arthritic, and epileptic — hardly nimble enough for antics like counter-surfing.
Scratchy met humans of the neighborhood by visiting often and uninvited. He could be found squatting at the neighbor’s house for days on end, or gate-crashing backyard barbecues of strangers. If Scratchy considered you among “the elite,” he’d make sure to find you wherever you happened to be sitting, resting, or eating, and he’d carefully present his butthole to your face—a noble gesture of affection.
A cat of cavalier inclinations, Scratchy was proudly guided by the principles of feng shui (or “fang shui,” as he called it), and balanced ch’i. He reserved militant tidiness for his eating and sleeping quarters, and he took great pains to disturb you into action if you weren’t moving fast enough to replenish his kibble or clean his litter box.
I would’ve liked being able to answer “yes” every time we were asked if his name was derived from “The Itchy and Scratchy Show” (the cartoon within a cartoon on “The Simpsons.”) But his naming was merely the work of our two oldest, who were preschoolers at the time. Moreover, it was the name my husband and I quickly seized upon, after turning down their initial recommendations—an assortment of names inspired by kitchen gadgets & lawn tools— “Shovel” being their favorite.
Like their suggestions of “Tupperware” and “Hoe,” “Shovel” just didn’t seem a good name for a cat. Though in hindsight, “Wine Tool” would’ve worked out just fine.
Scratchy lived up to his name. Once, after the vet shaved him nearly bald for a major surgery, she marveled:
“You can tell this one’s a badass… his battle scars are on his chest.”
My husband Matt and I must’ve looked confused.
“When cats run away from fights,” she explained, “their scars are on their back ends. Scratchy only has scars up front. Meaning, he never backs down from a fight. Probably always wins, too.”
Scratchy made full use of his nine (plus) lives, having endured anomalies like losing an entire top fang, getting a chunk of his ear Mike Tyson’d off during a territorial cat fight, and surviving a bullet shot to the head from an elderly backyard neighbor — a man who didn’t like cats and seemed unreasonably angry all the time.
To save money (and spare the unpleasantness of shoehorning a cat into a carrier in which he did not want to go), Matt would occasionally need to perform a sort of makeshift “surgery” —just for minor stuff — say, lancing a boil. Though the cat would briefly hiss and spit, afterwards, he’d purr and snuggle up with my husband. Eventually, it got to where he’d come looking for my husband at the first sign of an issue. (They had a “trust thing going,” Scratchy said.)
A true country cat, Scratchy spent his first seven years among a motley crew of strays and inbred feral cats we somehow ending up feeding every day. It was there, in the rural outdoors, where Scratchy honed his hunting and fighting skills. He liked claiming he was self-taught, but that was unequivocally false. Scratchy learned everything he knew from our older and wiser cat, Otto Kringelein.
After four more litters of genetically disadvantaged feral cats in rapid succession, existing in various states of evolution (one with three legs, another with crossed eyes, and so on), we realized that basically, we had many parts that altogether totaled one whole cat. It was around that time when my husband yelled “ENOUGH,” and we moved to the city.
In the new house, we decided to keep Scratchy locked indoors for a while, assuming he’d otherwise get lost or hit by a car. But we needn’t have worried. After three nights spent clinging to Matt’s chest, wide-eyed — looking exactly like you’d expect one to look after stepping off a carnival ride while also being drunk — Scratchy cautiously ventured down and disappeared under our bed.
Weeks later when he emerged from under the dust ruffle, like a butterfly from its cocoon, Scratchy emerged a new cat: equal parts swagger and sadist. Though he’d primarily been a seasoned sofa lounger who kept to himself, he now found refuge resting in and on boxes, refusing to leave. Not just any boxes, but boxes that we might need to use. Preferably hot ones—like pizza delivery—and once he sat, no one was getting any pizza.
It became well-known around these parts that he ran the neighborhood. All dogs — even the two rottweilers next door— cowered in his presence. Cars on the road stopped for him to cross. Scratchy relished the street cred and celeb status he maintained across several neighborhoods and throughout the vast gutter systems beneath our city.
Having an affinity for upper halves of rodent, rabbit, and reptile, Scratchy was ever thoughtful to drag lower carcass remains through the dog door, heralding his arrival with a bellowing “m-br-br-ow” — punctuated with a period rather than question mark — a sound he reserved for such gifting occasions.
I’d often find him on the kitchen counter licking unguarded sticks of butter. Once, to my surprise, I caught him mid-feast savoring an entire bacon egg & cheese biscuit. How he managed to remove it from the bag and carefully unwrap it remains a mystery to this day. But for the receipt and bag, there was nothing left in its wake to prove there had ever existed a biscuit at all.
Scratchy tried blaming the dog for that one, too. But the crumbs peppering his whiskers told me everything I needed to know.
I guess he did have some redeeming qualities, though. Scratchy relished nothing more than life’s simple pleasures: basking in patchy sunlight on the warm pavement, covertly defecating in the woods; staring menacingly at us from his perch above, whenever we’d try to enjoy fall evenings on the back deck.
Towards the end of his life Scratchy seemed to morph once again, changing into a more distinguished, Humphrey Bogart type — the one you’d maybe see sitting at the bar, alone and somber, drinking his scotch neat, and smoking his cigar in a no-smoking zone. Rebellious and content. And you know, I believe that’s the image we’ll carry with us forever.
Come to think of it… he was one cool cat.
Scratchy died from a combination of old age and surgical complications, but he passed peacefully in Matt’s loving arms, with the assistance of an emergency vet over a holiday weekend.
A fixed bachelor, Scratchy leaves behind no direct descendants that we know of. However, I’m beginning to realize he leaves behind something else: a distinct hole in the lives of our family, and his many human friends — whether they knew him well, or simply knew of him.
I suppose after all, Scratchy was the cat legends are made of. He was an asshole, but he was a legendary asshole.
Rest easy, Scratch. You’re missed, little fella.
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