Monday, December 30, 2019

The Lives and Often Strange Deaths of My Family's Pets

    Our first pet was a shit-colored mut- he looked like an unloved Toto- we found wandering the street adjacent to ours. My sister Esther named the dog ‘Brighton’ because that was the street we found him on. 
   Brighton was very affectionate if you happened to believe trying to murder everyone you saw was an expression of love. He was the size of a throw pillow but that wouldn’t stop him from lunging at every pit bull and Rottweiler he crossed paths with. It was as if he was following that prison rule where you try and beat up the toughest person on the first day inside so that no one will fuck with you. He especially hated the mailman, which was rather hack. But he was also named after the street we found him on so he had been nurtured in a very uncreative environment. 
    The mailman would effortlessly brush him aside on the way to our mailbox.  He was probably the least intimating dog he had to deal with on his route. This lack of intimidation left the mailman especially defenseless on the day Brighton leapt up and bit him directly on the penis.
   The mailman's name was Mr. Longest because God is also a hack. 
   Mr. Longest switched routes with someone else and we gave Brighton to our cleaning lady’s family in the same manner in which the Catholic Church moves priests to different parishes (literally after typing this sentence it occurred to me that my parents were probaby lying and had Brighton put down). 
   After Brighton, we decided cats would be a safer call, as they tend to feel ambivalent about mailmen, or any other member of the human race. Also dogs require multiple walks a day, constant love and attention, while cats are glorified furniture. 
   Our first cat was named Alexander. He was an outdoor cat which is a notch above claiming a squirrel on a nearby tree as your family’s pet. He would explore the neighborhood all day long and then come inside with a dead bird or mouse which he would graciously drop in front of us. I figured he thought he had to chip in on the rent and dead animals was his specific form of currency. 
   Alex met his untimely demise one day when a car drove over him as he was darting across the street to hastily make rent for the month.
   We buried Alex in the backyard, using a big rock as a make-shift tombstone. 
   After Alex, we bought a black and white, long-haired cat named Sticky. 
   We decided to make him an indoor cat. 
   The only thing Sticky liked more than staring at us with glazed-over indifference was sleeping in the dryer.  He would curl up in that cozy, clothes-lined womb and sleep away the day in peace. This peace came to an abrupt end one night when my Grandma, not noticing Sticky in there, threw a bunch of wet clothes on him and set the dryer to permanent press.
   When my Mom opened the dryer later the lint holder was covered in fur. She knew what had transpired but she was too afraid to investigate, so she asked my Dad to come downstairs to see for himself. 
   I was in the computer room in the basement when I heard him hesitantly trod down the stairs and open the dryer door. 
   My Dad was a very stoic, guarded man, so it was especially traumatizing to hear him howling like Sean Penn in Mystic River when he finds out his daughter’s been murdered.
   We now had two tombstones in the backyard. We were only a couple more years of negligence away from having a full-fledged pet cemetery. 
   After Sticky, we got two cats this time (one as insurance). One cat was named Eeyore because he was grey and melancholic and the other was named Tigger because he was orange and suffered from manic depression. 
   My twin sister came back from a friend’s Bat Mitzvah in Pittsburgh and was furious to see we had replaced Sticky.  She grabbed his framed photograph and ran crying into her room, which was a little histrionic, as I don't even think she liked Sticky that much.  But you always appreciate someone more when they’re dead and can no longer do anything to hurt your impression of them. 
   She soon grew to love both of them, and I trembled to think what kind of tantrum she would have when we bought new cats to replace Tigger and Eeyore once they inevitably died in a couple of weeks. 
   I remember one day sleeping in a room with her at my Uncle’s house in New Orleans when she woke up and said, “I just had a dream Tigger and Eeyore died…They’re alive right?” 
   I was put in a real moral quandary. If I told her they had died, in her semi-conscious state she would believe me, and be very upset. But if I didn’t do that, I would have regretted not playing this prank my entire life. 
   So I told her they both died and she immediately started crying. 
   Like God, who has the power to take and give life, I told her I was joking and they were in fact alive.  
   She threw a pillow at me. 
   Tigger and Eeyore didn’t die anytime soon. If you do things right, a cat can live to a ripe old age. And the reason for this is you never really know when to put down a cat as a result of them not doing much to begin with. Determining whether a pet should be put down usually involves seeing if they can still do their favorite things. But a cat’s favorite things are ‘sleeping in a closet’, ‘being awake in a closet’, and ‘moving to another closet to sleep or be awake in’, and you can easily do all those things with one paw in the grave.
    As much as I love cats I am forced to admit that on their best day they are merely a dog that should have been put down two years ago. 
   Also, my Dad was determined not to have anymore blood on his hands. He spared no expense in keeping them alive through their battles with Diabetes, Hyperthyroidism, Cardiomyopathy, and other ailments that would’ve lead to their death with less loving owners. It’s cheap to buy a cat, expensive to keep them going. For example, if I had a cat right now, with the wage I make from comedy, I would have had to put them to sleep the minute they got fleas. 
   By the time Tigger and Eeyore were 18 they both had those Day-of-the-Week Pill Containers typically reserved for old people. 
   Tigger was with me through high school, and when I came back from getting kicked out of college, he slept by my side every night. He would watch me masturbate with that smug, judgmental look of his. And whenever I would take a bath, he would come in, and nudge his head on the ceramic, which was a gesture to show he wanted to be scratched on the head. 
   A dog’s affection is indiscriminate (most dogs you could kick in the face and they’d still come back to lick you) and this makes their affection have less value. But Tigger was only warm to a couple of people. For years, I thought every cat was equally as anti-social, and then I spent some time with other friend’s cats, and realized Tigger was just an asshole. 
   But he was my asshole. 
   He reserved most his hate for the veterinarian. Every time he was taken in, he would fight it like a prisoner being dragged to the ‘hole’ in Shawshank. He would scratch, he would bite, he would claw, he would howl. 
   I worked one summer at that Veterinarian’s Office and I ended up peeking in his chart one day. Drawn in red marker at the top of the page was ‘MMF’. I asked the other secretary what that meant and she said, “Mean Motherfucker.”
   But as Tigger got older, a lot of his anger melted away. Clawing at people subsided into angry looks, and angry looks into mellow resignation. Sometimes he would even go into the veterinarian’s without putting up a fight, and that’s when you know his time was coming to an end. His anger and his energy were intertwined, and they both faded together. 
   I remember the day before I left to New York, I walked outside with Tigger and watched him walk around in the grass. It was like watching a prisoner being taken outside after years of solitary confinement. I filmed his frail body struggle through the weeds. All his viciousness had gone.
   And then I moved to New York.
   A week later I got a call that he had to be put down. 
   Apparently when the Veterinarian tried to inject Tigger he scratched the shit out him. 
   I smiled. 
   A mean motherfucker till the end.