On a Friday in 1997, while working in San Francisco, I took a lunch hour stroll near the Embarcadero Center. Just inside the exterior lobby of one of the buildings, the San Francisco SPCA had set up a mobile cat seduction station, stacked wire cages showcasing adoptable cats, to lure the unsuspecting and susceptible cat lover.
I wasn’t planning to adopt a cat, but I was susceptible. In the period of eighteen months, I’d lost three cats to illness. As I strolled past, I glanced up, then stared, astonished. In the upper left cage was a gray and white tuxedo cat, a Doppelganger for another gray and white tuxedo cat – my Spats who’d died the previous year.
I walked over to the cages. The cats inside were identified by numbers only. I wrote down the number of the cat in the top left cage.
On Saturday I called the SPCA to find out if the gray and white cat had been adopted. He hadn’t. On Sunday I headed to the city for a book signing at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. I stopped at the SPCA first. The gray and white cat wasn’t there. He was out in the field, at another location in another mobile cat seduction station. The staff assured me that he’d be available for me to look at after my book signing. Back I went to the SPCA later that afternoon. Home I went, with that gray and white tuxedo cat.
The folks at the SPCA weren’t sure how old he was, but he was full grown. His name was Dexter and it suited him. He was so happy to have a home instead of the cage that he walked around my condo meowing and burbling.
Dexter could be quite vocal, especially before launching into mischief. One of his favorite nighttime activities, after I had gone to bed, was to announce his intentions, then knock over the ficus. When I headed to the living room to right the plant, while Dexter looked on, pleased with himself. I could swear he was grinning.
At one point he developed a perplexing habit, also announce beforehand with meows. He’d run from the living room down the hall and fling himself at the wall, landing a couple of feet above. As he slid down the wall, claws out, the sound was like fingernails on a blackboard.
I couldn’t keep cut flowers in the house. Dexter thought they were salad.
One year I bought an artificial Christmas tree at an after-holiday sale. I put it together in my living room to see how it looked. Dexter immediately climbed the tree and draped himself over several branches midway up the tree. Now I know that tree is sturdy enough to hold a 15-pound tomcat. I have the pictures to prove it.
When I adopted Daisy, my tiny imperious kitten (no longer tiny, but still imperious), Dexter took on the role of older brother, snuggling with the new kitty, washing her and letting her wash him. When Abraham, a black and white tuxedo cat, joined our ranks, the two boy cats would sleep and play together. But Dexter was definitely the alpha male, boss cat of the house.
Several years ago he got a hematoma in his right ear. After the fluid was drawn out, the ear was crooked. It gave him a rakish look, like a pirate.
It’s an essential truth that we will outlive our critters. Inevitably, Dexter got old and frail. He stopped flinging himself at the wall. Last year he did not climb the Christmas tree. He spent most of his time sleeping on the bed, eating very little.
In August 2011, Dexter died. We had 14 years together and I cherish his memory. I miss him. Every now and then, I see him out of the corner of my eye. I know that his mischievous spirit has gone on to live in a kitten, somewhere.
And this Christmas, that kitten will climb the tree.