If you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.
– J.D. Salinger, Cather in the Rye
I’m not sure I’m buying that twice in my lifetime now a male, black cat of mine decided it no longer wanted to be and wandered off into the woods to cease living as some sort of bizarre coincidence. I see this as either a flaw in my make-up or in the general system I have found myself in. J.D. Salinger didn’t believe in randomness and I believe neither did his namesake, my late, great 12-year-old little man, Salinger. It’s been a couple of weeks now that he went missing. And this is not at all like Salinger, whose life was clockwork with a personality that was always caution-first. We never worried about him, until we did, and now he is gone. Long gone. And we will miss him. He was my boy, the one cat of the three that truly loved me. When he came in from a long day of mayhem I was his go-to. He checked in with daddy and I dug that. It is also right to point out as a matter of opening here that three of the cats that paid any kind of attention to me contracted some kind of thyroid condition that killed them before their times, Mr. Kitty, the black patriarch, Mazzy, the Queen of Vernon, and now Salinger.
A few words, this week, for Salinger, if I may. This will be the third feline eulogy that has found its way into this space over the past 21 years, which weirdly but poetically mirrors my time with my wife, Erin. We did lose a feral cat we took to naming Tom Cat last year, who after years of terrorizing our cats and eventually being the recipient of my Vegan-Super-Human-Animal-Lover wife and daughter’s considerable efforts to keep alive crawled into our basement to expire. But he did not rate this space. Salinger does. Because, unlike Mr. Kitty or Mazzy or even the mighty Gueem, I personally picked Salinger out from a bevy of shelter cats when he was the cutest little kitten — wide-eyed and frisky, a smattering of white on his chest like a priest collar, and this adorable penchant to jam his face into my chin, so I can feel his fangs on my skin. He kept following me around the place the entire time we were looking. So, I guess, in essence he picked me.
And he always, even on the last day I saw him, found a moment to walk his way onto my chest and give me that special Salinger kiss. It was cool. We kissed all the time. It was, for all intents and purposes our forbidden love, filled with inter-species, inter-racial, homosexual overtones that only we understood. His falling asleep on his back, legs akimbo, growling seductively might have added to our odd pairing, I admit, but a chin-jamming kiss by Salinger could make things all right most days. And when that wouldn’t do it he always knew the right time to curl up under my right arm to watch TV. It was one of my favorite things we did together. He would hop into bed and plop himself down in the crook of my arm and sit and watch the TV with me, occasionally looking up lovingly at me and then jam those fangs into my face, or sometimes biting my ear just a little, purring to beat the loudest band. His purring, especially at night, could rival The Who at Monterey — ear splitting but beatific. Probably should have named him Townshend.
The name? Yeah, Salinger. Just so happens when we got Salinger and his little sis, Sadie (two-for-one deal that my wife, of course, talked me into — little black cats jammed into a box together, licking each other and snuggling and biting and fighting and being a classic duo), I was on this J.D. Salinger kick. This happens every few years with me, but in 2006 it was pretty intense. My dear friend and master songwriter, scribe and painter, Dan Bern and I had plans to go up to New Hampshire and write about it. Not to bother the reclusive Salinger, but just hang around the little hamlet of Cornish and swing by his post office or where he got his coffee in the morning or where he might take his afternoon walks. You know, kind of gather in his spirit. We never made it. Naming Salinger kind of brought comfort to all that, even when the human Salinger died eight years ago those big eyes of his would look up at me and say, “Well dad, I’m still here, right?” That was nice.
It is also not coincidental that once Salinger stopped coming in from his long summer sojourns a few weeks back there appeared to both Erin and I to be something of a pep in the step of the local chipmunks. The frogs were hopping pleasantly. Birds that used to twitter and screech at the very sight of him sang songs of delight. Mice were giddy. For the Wicked Witch was indeed felled. Salinger, as much as the Vegan-Super-Human-Animal-Lovers adored and coddled him, murdered so much wildlife these past dozen years it is hard to fathom. He reached heights that would be the envy of jungle cats everywhere. He got his three-square a day, but this did not stop him from bringing in the odd mole or baby squirrel and gnawing insatiably on its mangled carcass at all hours of the night. How many times did we return from some activity to find live birds flying around the bedroom or a chipmunk frantically scurrying around the kitchen, courtesy of Salinger? He was a beast that terrorized for hundreds of yards on and around the property and deep into the woods and across the street along the lake. You could catch him at any hour of the day joyfully batting around some frightened and doomed creature. Carnage was Salinger’s game, and he was proud of it.
For years I would posit to my wife that if we were to suddenly shrink down to mouse-size the cats would eat us without hesitation. She would and still does make a veiled argument that they would recognize us and spare our hides. However, even she had to agree that there was little doubt what Salinger would do to any of us given half the chance. Whatever was left of the dozens of frogs I had to mercy kill over these past years would attest to this. He would smack us around until we died and then eat us whole, well, except for the heart and liver and whatever else that damn cat would leave for me to deal with some mornings.
But that is all in the past now. My little man is gone. My Salinger. Our Germs, German, Germie, or as my daughter, Scarlet liked to call him “Oh No!” because, well, any story about Salinger we would share would begin with an obligatory, “Oh, no!”
He was black. He was proud. He was a lover and a hunter. His meow late at night could take the paint off your walls and the coat of hair upon him was like silk.
Petting him honored my soul.
I miss him right now.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, “Midnight For Cinderella” and “Y”. “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon”
And coming in June 2018; “Accidentally Like a Martyr – The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon”