Friday, February 12, 2010

Amos

I’ve spent most of my adult life pet-free.

Some of that is due to living mostly in apartments that forbid pets.  But another part is that it’s so hard to top the pets I had as a kid.  We had the greatest cat and dog ever.  To love another pet that much would almost seem like cheating. 

When I was 14, having just moved to the Toledo area over the summer, we got a Siamese kitten.  A month or two later, for my 15th birthday, I got to pick out a dog.  I selected a Golden Retriever.  The two animals accepted each other right off the bat and pretty much grew up together.  To write about them both would make an enormous post, so today I’m just going to talk about the cat.

My mom and I went to the breeder to take a look at a litter of Siamese.  These were seal-points; short hair, white chests, tawny backs, black paws, ears, mask and tail, and piercing blue eyes.

Mom surveyed the kittens, looking for The One.  “Gimme a stare, blue,” she said.

One little male sat amidst his playing siblings, cocked his head and gazed up at my mom and they locked eyes. 

That’s the one.”

He sat on my lap on ride home, huddling close.  Very composed, for a kitten.

That night at bedtime, I took him with me.  I stuck him under the covers, where he spent the night against my chest, and most every night thereafter.  We had a tight bond from that first ride home, which never ever broke.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a Siamese before, but they don’t meow like normal cats.  They have an entire vocabulary from long polysyllabic yowls, to chortles and trills, to conversational little “waaah’s”.

This one used them all, from day one.  We’d never had a cat with so much to say.  In fact, he reminded us of a kid from the neighborhood we’d just left; a motor mouthed bundle of energy named Stamos, who we creatively called, “Amos Stamos.”

I don’t know if it was me that suggested we call the kitten Amos, but as soon as the name was put into play, everyone knew it was perfect.  And thus did this little loudmouthed ball of fun become our Amos.

He was a fun little kitten who would do things like fall asleep face-down in his supper dish, and then wake up and cry because he was still hungry.  His ears were so big for his little head… like radar dishes.  Every sudden noise, like the water turning on in the kitchen, he’d shoot 3 feet in the air.  Sometimes he’d get a wild hair and decide that we 2-legged people had gone far too long without being attacked.  He’d hide under the couch and as we’d walk by, 2 little black paws would shoot out from underneath to swat our ankles.

Amos went through the clumsy kitten stage fairly quickly.  He went from looking like a little black-faced white rat to a lithe, elegant Siamese that you so often see made into figurines. 
He’s about 13 in this shot, from my apartment in Cleveland.  He used to love to sit on the sofa back and look out the window, sniffing the breeze.  I had to keep telling him, “that’s not roadkill out there, it’s just Cleveland.”

Right from the outset, Amos always had to be where ever the action was.  Always on someone’s lap… usually the one in the room that liked cats the least.  Two of my best buddies hated cats… all cats… except this one.  Same with my Grandpa (the Storyteller).  He’d come to visit and Amos would immediately hop into his lap.

Grandpa would go “Get the hell out of here!” and push him off.  A few minutes later, Amos would jump up again and get brushed off again.  Later that day, I remember looking at Grandpa, with Amos in his lap, and Grandpa was actually petting him.  He saw me looking, looked down and said, “What the hell am I doing?  Get outta here!” and brushed him off again.

But after that, Amos got to stay.  He just wore Grandpa down.  I can see why one can’t help but pet him… his fur was always silky soft and smooth. 
This is Amos, New Years Eve of 1984, horning in on my buddies and I.  Like I said, he always had to be in the middle of everything.

The real thing with Amos is that he had character.  It was like you could have a conversation with him and he’d answer in the appropriate tone.

I remember one winter, after he’d done something wrong… I don’t remember what, maybe knocked something down, and at dinner, my dad yelled, “That cat better watch out or he’s gonna end up out in the snow!

Right at that moment, from clear upstairs, we heard Amos go, “Yoooooooooooowwwwwwwwllllllllllll”, like he knew he was getting in trouble.  He had such great timing like that.  It just broke up the whole table and the tension as well.

He was the easiest cat in the world to take care of.  All he ever ate were dry Friskies.  You just kept his bowl filled and he’d nibble all day.  He never tried to cage food from the table… you couldn’t even feed him fish… he just didn’t want it.  But he had one weakness, we eventually found.

My parents brought me home some left over king crab legs from a dinner out.  Hot damn, one of my favorite things.  As I sat in a living room chair, salivating at the prospect of noshing on these goodies, here comes Amos bolting into the room.  He hops up on my lap and proceeds to intercept the crab lump out of my fingers, en route to my mouth.

I was like, “Dude, are you kidding me?  You like crab?”  I really didn’t want to share.  But he sat there on my lap, purring, chortling, and trilling like it was the best thing his little feline self had ever tasted.  Who knew that behind his simple Friskies, he had such expensive tastes.

In later years, that became his birthday present.  Mom would buy a little tin of lump crabmeat and feed it to him, sitting on the kitchen floor.

As I said before, he usually slept with me.  I always liked him up high, by my chest, but he always preferred to be around the knees.  I really should have just left him there, too.  One summer, I had the AC unit on, so covers were necessary.  I was sleeping shirtless and Amos was stretched out alongside me.  Then he did what most cats do… he streeeeeetched out his legs, with claws extended, which then raked me right down my bare chest.

I really hate to wake up screaming.  Scared the hell out of the cat too. 

Luckily that didn’t happen often.  Mostly, he had a way of going where he was needed.  Mom used to have terrible back pain.  Amos always seemed to know it too, because Mom would lay on the couch and Amos would go lay right up against the spot on her back that hurt.  He just knew.
Smelling the night air in Cleveland.

The year our family transitioned out of our old farmhouse in Toledo was trying.  Dad had to go out to Baltimore by himself… Mom and the rest of us stayed behind until the house sold.  I was already out of college and on my own, my brother was away at college and my sister was also out on her own.  During that time away, my dad developed an allergy to cats.  So when Mom moved out to Baltimore, she had to leave Amos with us.

In the following years, we all got turns with Amos.  He went to my sister first, then my brother.  I forget the reasons why now, but in 1989, my brother and mom brought him out to Cleveland to live with me.  They got to my apartment while I was at work.  I hadn’t seen Amos for probably 3-4 years, and wondered if he’d remember me. 

As I put the key in the door, I heard a “ka-thunk” from inside.  I opened the door and there was Amos, sitting in front of the door waiting for me.  Mom was asleep on the couch… that must have been the sound of Amos jumping down.  I picked him up to my chest and he put his forepaws on both my shoulders, looked at me and nuzzled my chin.

He remembered me all right.
I absolutely loved having him to come home to, always with the big greeting.  He never gave me a moment’s trouble, like trying to bolt out the door.  Mostly he was content to sit in the window and survey the parking lot.  He was getting older by then and had developed arthritis in his forepaws.  He’d lick them so often he actually licked the fur away, the poor thing.

So one day I decided to take him to the vet.  (I worked retail and my days off were few and far between.)  I didn’t have any kind of cat-carrier, so I just put him in the car with me.  Oh, he hated that.  He yowled the whole time in the car.

I was so proud of him though, when we got to the vet.  In a waiting room, surrounded by other pets of varying degrees of rambunctiousness, he sat very quietly on my lap, while I filled out the paperwork.  I didn’t even have to hold him; he just sat there unrestrained.  The nurse came over and said, “This must be Amos.”

Amos looked up and went, “rowr,” like he was saying, “yes, nice to meet you.”  Like I said, the timing on this guy…

We went back to the examining room and put him on the steel table.  He did not like that either.  He sat on the very edge of the table, pressing up against me hard.  The vet said, “He knows who his friend is, doesn’t he?

Amos let the vet do whatever he needed to.  He made two noises… one little mewl when he got his temperature taken, like, “Aw Bluz, why’d you let him put that thing in my aaaass?”  And he made one little strained squeak when he got his cortisone shot.  But that was it.  Best of all, it worked.  His paws felt better, he stopped licking them and the fur grew back in no time.

In 1990, I had to move to Albany NY, very quickly.  I was given a day and a half to go there and find a place to live.  The best I could find (for the money I’d be making out there) was a 1-bedroom apartment that didn’t allow pets.  In fact, they had it in the lease that they could confiscate the animal if it was found on the premises.  So I had to live there with Amos secretly for several months, until I could send him back to my brother.

But we had a great time there up until then.  My grocery store there had this bin of frozen shrimp that you could buy by the pound… I know that’s not new now, but I’d never seen that before.  So that would be my Thursday “Be Kind to Bluz Day,” that entailed shrimp cocktail, a fresh jug of wine and a night of Seinfeld and Must See TV.

I’d be cooking up the shrimp and Amos would just go nuts.  He’d chirp and chirp… “Brrrt!  Brrrt!”  I’d try to quiet him down, for fear of someone hearing, but nothing would work until I could get the shrimp out of the pot and into the freezer to chill.

Then I’d prepare my plate and take it out to the living room to eat.  I’d get a drink coaster and tear up a shrimp for his Siamese Majesty.  He’s snarf one down and then quietly chirp for another.  I’d tear up another and that would usually satisfy him.  Then he’d just sit beside me while I ate.  That was our routine.  He was fine, once he got his little taste.  Soon after that, he started asking for bits of steak.  Go figure… I’d cut up a tiny bit for him on the coaster, he’d eat it, and that would be that.  He didn’t want much, just a little taste.  I really think he just wanted to participate.

I got him off to my brother without incident, where he grew to be a creaky old man.  My sister-in-law took him to get a portrait done, and oh, he did NOT want to cooperate.  Wouldn’t look at the camera for anything.  Then finally, he shot one look, like, “OK?  Is that enough?  Can I go now?
I love that picture, how he has his tail curled around him just so.  He’d do that whenever he felt like being regal (which was most of the time.)

But then my sister-in-law topped it when she took this one. 
He was 16 or 17 here, sitting on the straight-backed chair like he owned the place, with that “What are you looking at?” expression.  He was still arthritic and probably couldn’t straighten out his forepaws like he used to when he sat up straight. 

Then it was December of 1993 and I was at my desk at work when my brother called.  Amos had been suffering in the last month.  He could barely walk now without leaning over.  When I’d visited a couple years prior, I could see how it hurt him every time he’d jump down from a chair or the bed.  He’d seize up for a second, then walk very gingerly away, holding his head high.  Ed told me the vet said Amos’s kidneys were failing.  There wasn’t much they could do.  He had a vet appointment at 6 that evening to have him put to sleep.  He just called because he knew I’d want to know.

I went home that night and poured myself a stiff drink.  I sat down in my recliner and pulled out my photo album and looked at the pictures you see above.  As 6:00 came and went, I toasted the memory of the finest cat I had ever known.

My wife came home shortly after, saw me and wanted to know what was wrong.  All I could do was point at the pictures and shake my head.  I couldn’t speak but she understood.

I just thank God that it was my brother that went through it in person and not me.  I’d have been a horrible mess.  I’m eternally grateful that he was strong enough to do right by the old boy and see him out peacefully.  Amos was 17 years old and left a long list of friends and family behind.  He had a good life and was always surrounded by people that loved him. 

He’s buried in my brother’s back yard, in a little velvet-lined box that his father-in-law made.  Whenever I’m back there, I always cast a long look over to the rosebush he rests beneath.  I was so lucky to have known such a fine fur fellow.  He’s one that broke the mold.  I don’t know how another will ever measure up.

15 comments:

  1. Oh, dear God. Thanks to you and Amos, I'm about to start my morning with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

    Great post, dude. You did Amos right.

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  2. AMOS FUR PERSON SINGULAR He is the best feline friend one could have and I miss him everyday. Thank you, dear Bluzdude, for this eloquent memorial, a fitting tribute to your Fur Brother.
    Can you hear his approving chortle? "Brrr.rrt. Raawr" Better than crabmeat.

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  3. BG:
    Sorry... I didn't intend to write a weeper. But when you're talking about old pets, the ending is always the same.

    Mary Ann:
    Hardest part of the post was figuring out how to type his various meows...

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  4. bluz, that was just beautiful. I remember him the very same way. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Thanks Annie.
    You've done pretty good for yourself, as far as cats go. Your Fletcher is pretty close in coolness as old Amos.

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  6. beautiful.
    i would have loved to have met him.

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  7. Thanks Erin. And he would have loved to meet you too.

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  8. Ah, bluz, what a great post. You have such a good heart. It shows in people who love their pets. I often wanted a cat, but like your Dad, I am allergic to the. I had a Maltese for 23 years. Her kidneys failed and she has to be put down. The Vet cried, his two assistants cried and I was beside myself with grief. Rich buried her in our backyard. He built a coffin for her, painted it white and put he name on it. The he put her in her comfy bed inside the coffin and laid bricks in the ground above that spell out her name. Sasha. He planted flowers and cares for her space like the good person he is. I still find it difficult to "visit" there, but I love him for his kind spirit. There will never be another Sasha.

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  9. good post. i recently sat with my daughter and showered her a photoalbum of nothing but pictures of my childhood dog. had her from the time i was like 5-6 until 20-21. i miss that ragamuffin.

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  10. Cher:
    Thanks. That was a tough one to write, at least the end.

    I'm glad you had a chance like I did, with your Sasha. A good pet really brands itself onto your heart, does it not?

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  11. Fan:
    Yes, the pictures mean so much, don't they? I can look at those pictures and immediately feel the warmth I always associated with the missed pet.

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  12. Amos was a very intelligent person. one memory I had before getting allergic to him was when I was sleeping with one foot outside of the covers. Amos, very young bit my big toe and my reflex action sent him sailing out of the bed. I certainly did not want to hurt him, BUT he never bit my toe again. Yes a smart cat. I do miss him and He will always be a member of our family. dad

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  13. Dad:
    Yeah, he did learn pretty quickly, didn't he? Much faster than my friends did, when we warned them not to mess with him.

    Remember how, if you puffed air in and out in front of his face, he'd go bonkers? I'd tell them, "don't do that... it pisses him off..."

    They didn't listen. Then we'd hear the following:

    "Puff puff puff... Ow! God dammit! Bump bidump bidump..."

    Which translated to said buddy blowing in Amos's face, Amos swatting him about 15 times upside the head in about a half second, then sprinting up the stairs.

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  14. That's the way I felt about my first cat, Pussty - like no other cat could ever be good enough. but it turned out that we had a couple more choose us and they are both awesome in different ways.

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  15. We had a nice orange tabby back when I was married. He was a good boy... was very good at fetching, something Amos would never lower himself to do. But he never quite measured up.

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