Mrs. Gummersalt's Cat


Before I start, a disclaimer. I assure you that I like animals in general and get along quite well with cats in particular.

It was Tuesday afternoon, October 20th, Bobbie and our girls were up at Miraloma school playground. As a relatively new Dad, I wanted to be with family, swinging on swings, sliding down slides and who doesn’t like pawing around in a sandbox. I knew Bobbie and the girls would construct a sand castle which always ended up looking more like shopping mall. But, I couldn’t be with them.

I was studying at the kitchen table for a history final the next day on 13th century Venice. I was working full time at Safeway while trying to earn a B.A. in history. Textbooks and reference books were spread out on our kitchen table, which looked out on a miniscule back yard. Outside a four foot high white picket fence separated us from our neighbors on both the left and right. A sheer, fifty foot cliff served as a boundary from the houses high above us. A small path of concrete surrounded our small back lawn. Our yard would never be a contender for the Super Bowl or an Olympic event, unless the committee elected to award a medal for THE TWENTY FOOT HOP.

Getting into full study mode, I popped open a Schwepps ginger ale and sat at the table. Two legal pads and two well sharpened #2 pencils lay to my right. I dove into my text.

By verdict of the Doge and carried over by Doge Tiepolo in 1291, the island of Murano was declared a true and proper industrial area and soon became the capital of glass production in the world. The Doge was represented by a head of state and flanked by a popular council called Arengo, among the various privileges they were afforded was the so called "Libro d'Oro" or golden book where the–

A RAPPING on my back door scared the living sh()*&^%$ out of me. I looked up in disbelief. My next door neighbor, on the right side, (It’s important to differentiate in case the good neighbor on the left ever reads this) continued her RAP, RAP, RAPPING.

Mrs. Gummersalt was not tall. How had she scaled our four-foot, picket, backyard fence? I looked for her cliff-climbing gear. None. Maybe she was an Olympic hurdler? Perhaps a pole vaulter?

She was dressed in Confederate Soldier grey. In fact she was grey. Grey, but very angry. And apparently her anger was directed at me. She pointed to the cliff. At the top, roosted twenty houses. Jutting out from each house were decks of various shapes and designs. And on a beautiful day like this almost every deck was occupied. Many of my above the cliff neighbors were having cocktails, enjoying music and fabulous views of San Francisco and the not so fabulous view down the cliff into my back yard.

Except for two anemic forty-foot eucalyptus trees that had somehow taken root in the slick shale, no other life forms had established purchase on that rock wall. Neither tree’s branches were thick enough to bear the weight of a humming bird on the Jenny Craig diet. Yet, (call the book of Guinness Records!) near the tippy top of the tallest eucalyptus, feline claws extended into the green bark, mewed a black cat. Well almost all black. The back left paw was snowy white. Gummersalt’s cat.

Neither tree trunk had a circumference over eight inches. But somehow, someway Mrs. Gummersalt’s cat had scaled the tree on the right and now MEOWED for help on a small branch near the top.

I opened my kitchen door and Mrs. Gummersalt, bony fingers extended, pounced. “Vo vill git my cat! It’s en vour tree. On vour property. Vo are responsible.”

How could I know if the cat was on my property? No one on either side of the cliff knew how much of the cliff we owned or didn’t own.

Arms akimbo, Gummersalt challenged. “Vo vill git my cat or I vill call police. An ey vill sue vo,” she threatened.

Does your neighborhood harbor a witch? Ours did and she lived right next door. In a beige, two story house, windows in a black trim and an off white front door. Okay, maybe she wasn’t a witch, though she certainly resembled one. Admittedly a small one. She could probably zoom through the air comfortably on a medium sized whisk broom.

At least three inches shy of five feet, her skin was as pale as the core of an Oreo cookie and she had the obligatory wart hanging off the top of her left nostril. Okay, there wasn’t the obligatory wart. Though a ripe, beautiful, purple mushroomed-shaped mole took up most of her left nostril. It probably erupted from the inner edge of her nose during an adolescent growth spurt. Depending on where she stood in sunlight, it created a shadow on her left cheek. Kids on our block avoided the Gummersalt abode on Halloween. Mrs. Gummersalt was already haunting her house years before we moved onto Las Palmas Drive.

Three years earlier we’d held an open house party just as soon as Bobbie declared that our new house was ready to be opened housed. Mrs. Gummersalt ignored our neat invitation. The outside cover depicted a gingerbread-like house, with cookie lintels and powdered sugar dripping off of the eaves like icicles. Our invitation promised hors d’oeuvres, music and beverages of all kinds for all ages. Family, friends and all of our immediate neighbors got one. Though Mrs. Gummersalt elected not to attend, her very dark, India ink cat “Blaekklat,” arrived uninvited. Blaekklat crawled through the slats in our white picket fence, ventured across our small square of lawn, pawed his way up three stairs, crabbed his way through our back door and took a long, territory-establishing piss on the leg of our kitchen table. Ah, but I digress….

“Vo git my pussy cat!” Mrs. Gummersalt demanded, snapping me out of my reverie. “I vont Blaekklat.”

I had to tackle this problem and do it quickly. My final exam the following morning was important. When Bobbie and the kids were back, studying would become a mute proposition.

I couldn’t climb the tree; too thin. If I could climb up the cliff, if I could find some place to stand, if I could shake the tree hard enough, maybe the cat would fall out, maybe the cat wouldn’t land on my face and claw out my eyes. Maybe the whole cliff wouldn’t come down on me and maybe I wouldn’t slip and break a vital appendage.

I needed help.

“Vy you don’t call the firemens?” Mrs. Gummersalt offered.

Great idea I thought. In fact it was such a terrific idea I wondered why the hell she hadn’t phoned the ‘firemens’ herself. I decided not to ask.

With two children, Bobbie had taped, tacked and clamped emergency numbers adjacent to every phone in our house. The Fire Department was #2 directly under diaper service. Bobbie knew our priorities. I dialed.

Someone answered immediately.

“Yo, Station 15. Fire fighter Illingworth, speaking.”

I spent a few minutes explaining Mrs. Gummersalt’s dilemma. Okay, okay, now Blaekklat had become my dilemma.

There was a long silence at the other end of the line and then… “Hey pal, have you ever seen cat bones in a tree?” I thought about that for a minute. I never had. In fact I’d never seen any kind of – “They always come down. Sooner or later they get hungry and always come down,” Illingworth guaranteed.

He’d asked me a question and I wished he’d given me a chance to respond. I went on at length about my neighbor, her age, her anxiety. Could he offer any solutions?

“Do you own a BB-Gun?” Asked Illingworth.

“Not what I had in mind.”

“Hold on a second.” Other than the plaintive cries from the cat, the impatient TAP, TAP, TAPPING of Gummersalt’s shoe on my back porch, an awkward silence ensued. To avoid the red glare from my neighbors’ eyes I flipped idly through my textbook.

Finally, Illingworth returned to the phone. “Yo, I got the Captain’s okay. It’s awfully quiet here and we could use a training run. Give me the address.”

I did, hung up and said in a reassuring way, “The cavalry is on the way.”

“Vat is dis alvary?” Gummersalt snapped.

Rather than explain, I apologized for a bad choice of words. I exchanged the word help for cavalry and offered her a seat at the kitchen table. She shot me a look of disdain, folded her arms and marched down the stairs, across the lawn to the bottom of the cliff and stared up to her cat. “Elp is comink lil pussy kat.”

And on cue, her cute little pussy cat let out a SCREAM of terror, so long, so loud, that more people gathered on their decks high above us.

Minutes later the cat SCREECHED again. His cry joined by the shrill blare of a SIREN from fire truck coming up the street. I tore down the stairs and threw open the front door. Crazy images of firemen wielding axes kaleidoscoped through my brain. I prayed the open door offered an invitation to the feline rescue team. A huge hook and ladder fire truck rolled to a stop directly in front of our house.

“Come on in,” I shouted.

Members of the San Francisco Fire Department had a much better idea. The ladder came out of the back of the truck and did a little jog thing and then began ascending in stops and starts across the street, above the sidewalk and over the roof of my house. A fireman hopped on the ladder and began scaling it.

Neighbors appeared in windows and poured out of doorways. A few of them followed me back through my open front door and up to the kitchen. A group of us stepped into the backyard just about the same time the tip of the ladder appeared over our roof.

Tex, at least I think his name was Tex, in any case a fireman with a baseball cap sewn with Tex Tec on it, sat on a rung of the ladder about ten feet from the top. His feet dangled in the air while he began spinning a long piece of rope with a lasso on the end. Just as I thought he might try to lasso the poor cat several things happened at once.

Another fire fighter appeared behind Tex and said, “Yo, Forkel.” I knew that voice. And now I knew that Tex was Forkel and the second fire fighter was Illingworth. The backyards on my side of the street and almost every deck on the houses above us were now crowded with people. Someone with a weird sense of humor turned up the volume on their out door speakers and the theme from Rocky almost drowned out the mournful wail of the cat.

The rescue of Blaekklat quickly became a neighborhood event. Mrs. Gummersalt cried out, “Ve comin’ kitty kat. Ve coming.”

Forkel tossed the rope. The crowd let out a cheer, then sighed collectively when the lasso missed its target; the top of the eucalyptus tree. Again he tossed. Again the crowd sighed with disappointment as he missed. Forkel patiently recoiled the rope. A Super Bowl atmosphere filled the kingdom. Cheers and roars of acclaim, on his third try Forkel lassoed the tree. The crowd went wild. He jiggled the rope several times. The noose dropped several feet down the tree almost reaching Blaekklat. Fireman Forkel began to pull. The tree started to bend. The cat screeched, but inched closer to Forkel’s out stretched hand. The tree bent. The cat purred. Forkel yelled for more ladder. Behind him Illingworth relayed the message. Almost instantly the ladder CLACKED a few more feet up the cliff.

The people on the decks above cheered and someone initiated a wave that went from home to home, deck to deck. The theme from Rocky grew in intensity. My group on the underside of the cliff shouted approval.

Forkel reeled in more of the rope. The tree bowed. Blaekklat inched closer and closer. The tree bowed further. The crowd went wild. The cat was almost in reach. Forkel one-handed the rope back to Illingworth. Oops! I don’t know if it was a lack of communication or coordination, but Illingworth never really got a good hold on the rope. In fact, he never touched it.

With both hands, Forkel reached out for the cat.

The eucalyptus stripling, bowed and taunt from the tension on the line, sprung back like a catapult to and past its original position. The cat couldn’t hold on. Blaekklat flew. Claws distended, his tail serving as a rudder. We were all witnesses to a miniature version of a Cape Kennedy launching. The cat’s cry echoed between the houses as he gathered altitude. One white paw flashed in and out of the sunlight. There was a collective gasp from the on-lookers from the yards and decks below as the cat flew ever higher.

On the decks above, necks craned as they watched Blaekklat fly over their heads, over their roofs and disappear into space.

Bobbie and the kids returned from Miraloma Playground as the hook and ladder lumbered back down our street. She took one look around the crowd and commotion, then one look at me. “I don’t even want to know.”

But before we finish with cats for a while; someone else started this and I added a few comments and again a disclaimer: I assure you that I like animals in general and get along quite well with cats in particular.

THE ONLY WAY TO GIVE YOUR CAT A PILL

1. Pick up your cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm. (Switch arms if your are left handed.) Be firm because many types, okay almost every type of feline does not like this position. In fact, if the mind of a cat could be read, they hate this position. Now place your left forefinger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth, gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat unwillingly opens its mouth, drop the football sized pill in its mouth. Allow your cat to close its mouth and gently swallow.

2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from under your sofa. Cradle cat lovingly in left arm and repeat process.

3. Retrieve cat from the top of the refrigerator, and dispose of soggy pill.

4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm, holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.

5. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe. Call spouse from garden.

6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.

7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail, get another pill from foil wrap. Use illegal flame-thrower to open foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines and favorite crystal golf trophy and set to one side for gluing later.

8. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw.

9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans, drink one good shot of bourbon to take taste away. Apply Band-Aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.

10 . Retrieve cat from neighbor's shed. Get another pill. Pour a second bourbon. Place cat in cupboard, and close door on to neck, to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.

11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Fetch bottle of bourbon. Pour shot, drink. Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whiskey compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw shredded t-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom. Skip last. Find an old t-shirt – preferably one with already a lot of holes.

12. Call fire department to retrieve the damn cat from telephone pole wire. Apologize to neighbor who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid sprinting cat. Take last pill from foil wrap.

13. Tie the little bastard's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table, find heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of filet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour 2 pints of water down throat to wash pill down.

14. Consume remainder of bourbon. Get spouse to drive you to the emergency room, sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.

15 . Arrange for SPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any turtles –hopefully, from the “Slowskie” family gene pool.

  • Stray cats will not be fed.

  • Stray cats will not be fed anything except dry cat food moistened with a little milk.

  • Stray cats will not be fed anything except dry cat food moistened with warm milk, yummy treats and leftover fish scraps.

  • Stray cats will not be petted, played with or picked up and cuddled unnecessarily.

  • Stray cats that are petted, played with, picked up and cuddled will absolutely not be given a name.

  • Stray cats with or without a name will not be allowed inside the house at any time.

  • Stray cats allowed inside will not be permitted to jump up on or sharpen their claws on the furniture.

  • Stray cats will be permitted on furniture but must sharpen claws on new $114.99 sisal rope scratching post with three perches.

  • Stray cats will sleep outside.

  • Stray cats will sleep in the garage.

  • Stray cats will sleep in the house, but not in our bed.

  • Stray cats will sleep in our bed, but not under the covers.

  • Stray cats will not play on the desk.

  • Stray cats will not play on the desk near the computer.

  • Stray cats are forbidden to walk on the computer keyboard on the desk when the human is using it.

  • Stray cats will not QAWSDFXCRFTGHBJUIM,L.;//

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