Cat Redux

And so it ends.

The cat came down.  

I had no idea that posting an ad on Craigslist would evolve over the course of one day into news reporters doing live stand-ups in front of my tree.  Though, on second thought, I guess that's a little like saying "I had no idea the gun would actually go off."  

I suppose I was expecting a squirt gun and not a canon.

The night after the Post's visit, I stayed up until five in the morning completing work that I had neglected earlier during the neighborhood tree climbing championship.  In my mind I had imagined that the piece the Post put online would get the word to a benevolent bucket truck owner.  They'd roll by in the early afternoon and the cat would come down with little fanfare.  

In reality my doorbell started ringing at eight in the morning, three short hours after I went to bed.  By 8:30, the ringing had become incessant, enough that the idea of privacy or sleeping in seemed like a foregone conclusion.  Through the window in my front door I could see a woman dressed all in white, sunglasses, bright red lipstick with a shiny Prada bag tucked in the crook of her arm.  She's in my yard, pacing around the tree.  

I'm not sure how other people operate, but when I'm tired, I kind of do a little warm-up gymnastics in my head, something like the Haka dance the New Zealand rugby players do to psyche up for their games.  [step 1] Act like you're awake.  [step 2] Act like you're attentive.  [step 3] Act like anything but how you feel.  [step 4] Don't talk too much because you're bound to say something dumb.  Clap twice, turn on your right foot, gyrate, repeat.

The woman in my yard introduces herself as Julia Morgan and tells me that she's bringing a bucket truck to get the cat down.  I thank her for being so thoughtful, take her across the street, point to where the cat is slumped quietly over one of the tallest branches, and tell her that I need a little coffee.  

As I reach my front doorstep, the first news van pulls onto the block.  Sinking feeling.  So much for the squirt gun.

My telephone has nine new messages on it, all since I stepped out into my yard.  I pour a mason jar full of coffee, unheated.  Add ice  Then cream.  The phone rings again.  The number is out-of-state which, lately, has meant work.  I quickly retrace the steps of my mental dance and click Talk.  "Hello, this is Matt."  

It's Noah Rabinowitz.  "You'll never guess where I'm at," he says.  

Oh god.  This calls for something more than a yes or a no.  Mental summersaults while I try to recall the last place Noah interned. Virginia.  D.C.  New Hampshire.  That list seems to grow every few months, and rightfully so.  He's a talented photographer.  "I'm on Newton Street," he continues.  

Newton Street is my street.  Colorado.  

The moment passes kind of like that scene where Luke finds out that Leah is his sister, something so overwhelming to my sleep-deprived mind that the best explanation I can summon is that some east coast paper has found this cat story so compelling that they've airlifted Noah --no doubt in the same black helicopters that fly the secret missions over Idaho --all the way to Colorado.  I expect to see his parachute at any moment.

Before I can explain my wild speculations about the real purpose of his secret mission to Colorado, he fills in the gaps.  He's the Denver Post's new intern.  Which, as nice as that is for him, sure put the lid on the story I had cooked up to explain his sudden presence on my block.  No black helicopters.  No secret missions from the east coast.  He's coming to join the progressively growing circus that is forming on my lawn.  

By the time it is all done, my voicemail has filled several times over; my email inbox is stuffed to overflowing and the steady stream of men with their bucket trucks stop by every few hours for the next three days.  The Xcel Energy trucks come out on their lunch break.  Davey's Tree Service.  Matt's Tree Service.  Names that I don't even remember, small groups of hefty men plodding the walk to my front door, ringing the bell and politely asking if the cat has come down safely.  One of the local television stations returns long after the cat is down to do a live stand-up in front of the tree.  Helen Richardson, the photographer from the Post, is interviewed at the top of the hour on one of the local radio stations.

She explains to me over the telephone later that day the same thing she expressed on the radio: people are interested in this story because it is accessible.  It is something that they feel is within their powers to impact with a positive force.  Hence the overwhelming response to such a trivial event.

This, however, is precisely the razor's edge that ultimately begs the follow-up question: would the support have been the same were it a human and not a cat?  The division between man and beast usually being drawn with a line where man is somehow more responsible for his own predicament in a way that an animal cannot be.  It's the nature vs. nurture dichotomy at its core.  Cat is nature.  Man is nurture.  

At least that's how it appears on first blush, but the dots are a little more connectable than they seem.  

It turns out that in Denver alone, there's an estimated 150,000 feral cats.  Enough to fill each seat in Mile High Stadium with a cat three times over.  The difference between the dozens of feral cats that live on the colder side of the six inch wall that separates my two house cats from their outdoor counterparts is best illustrated in terms of life expectancy.  Depending on what figures you consult, the average feral cat can hope for somewhere between three and six years; my indoor cats may make it to 30 --a number that seems to bend the nature line heavily towards nurture pole.

And feel free to stop reading if the comparison goes too far, but the dangers for a street cat are things that are completely unheard of across the threshold of my doorway. Malnutrition, feline HIV, feline leukemia, violence, cars, infection, exposure --all symptoms of an environment where the population exceeds the resources required for sustenance.  It is a cat-eat-cat world and the greatest dividing line between the cats that die at three years and the fat ones that live into their twenties being, largely, a function of access to essentials.  It is, then, more so a question of where a cat is born than anything else.

The analogy, of course, doesn't stop here.  

Oh, television.
Julia Morgan and cat.
My neighbor, Red, listening to the live tree update from inside the news van.
Live standup, part II.  You can't make this stuff up.