'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Friday, February 06, 2004 ]

So, off I head to the East Coast for my vacation.

In my wake I leave a UE Rental Reject review for the god-awful "Cheerleader Ninjas," and the preview for Lil Pervs, which opens next week.

Last night, I call my mom to touch bases before the trip.

She says, “I have some bad news.”

I have a feeling I know what she’s going to say before she says it.

I ask her what the bad news is.

"Vito," she tells me.

Our cat. The one given to us way back when I still lived with her. A Maine coon cat we decided to name Vito "The Cat" Manelli.

I thought he should have a mob-type name because of the circumstances of him being with us. My mom's friend had more cats than her landlord allowed, and one day she surprised us with him. "Your life will be so much richer when you have an animal in it."

Under her breath, my mom said to me, "That cat's gotta go."

"He was in pain," my mom says. "He seemed to be getting better, and then he just wasn't." I can tell she's crying.

Vito spent the first night with us hiding behind a speaker and crying all night. We were told he was chosen to be the one who lived with us because he had "the most personality."

This, I have always suspected, translates directly into "The other cats hated him."

"He's not happy here," my mom said, "He's gotta find someplace else."

Often, I would have friends over. I would come back from the kitchen to find everyone under the dining room table, trying to coax Vito out.

Finally, one day, my friend Seth came over and shouted with surprise, "Ah! He's out!" He pointed at Vito, who was just lying on the floor out in the open, lounging.

"Oh, yeah," I said, "I guess he's not afraid of us any more." I hadn't even noticed that he had accepted us.

"I still find myself looking for him," my mom says, and that does it. I start bawling like a baby. "The house seems so empty," she says.

I ask her when this happened.

"Three weeks ago."

Three weeks?

I guess I haven't called in a while.

"I only start to get upset when I talk about it," she says.

Vito, like a lot of pets in single-pet households, thought he was a human. Or, at least, he didn't seem to know he was a cat.

He would watch TV, sitting on his butt like a single guy watching the game with a beer in his hand. He would get actively interested at times. He would see an elephant on the screen and suddenly take interest, as if to ask: Is that what I am?

When a special on wolves came on the Learning Channel, Vito would cock his head back, as if he wanted to howl. But he would yawn instead.

While watching the scene in "Godfather II" where Bruno Kirby is showing Robert DeNiro how to rob a house, and saying, "Hey, Vito! Vito! C'mere!" Vito would quickly run up to the set, desperately trying to give Bruno Kirby some help.

When he was a kitten, Vito would eat spaghetti like a person. He would find the end of a strand, and then slurp it down. At family functions, my mom would make him a plate and he would sit at the table.

I ask my mom how old Vito was.

"Eleven," she tells me.

I ask if that's old, and she tells me no. "He was sick," she adds.

Vito, in addition to the cancer he eventually died from, also had this condition where his urine would crystallize in his urethra, causing him intense pain whenever he had to pee. Frequently he would pee on someplace where he knew we would sit, so we could see that there was blood in his urine.

Eventually, we got him a special food that broke up the crystals, and Vito got better.

Vito also had asthma, and as it turns out, was allergic to his own dander. No wonder he was so cranky all the time.

When I came to visit last year, Vito was getting these growths on his back that had to be operated on. This was not the first time, I was told. Vito spent most of my vacation in bandages.

"I haven't got his ashes, yet," my mom tells me.

I ask her what she's planning on doing with them.

"Probably put them on the piano next to his picture, and the picture of Poody."


Our first cat. A brown tabby. Died of leukemia when I was about nine. I thought that was the worst news I would ever receive until my dad told me in a hotel room that he and my mom were splitting up.

My mom named him Poody because that was the only name he even remotely responded to.

Of the two cats, Poody was the macho one.

Poody hunted. Once, when I was seven, my mom opened the door for Poody to come in, and only then did we realize that Poody had a screaming baby rabbit in his mouth, which he'd brought home as a tribute for all of us to share. Mom and I freaked, Poody was confused, and Dad ended up dealing with it.

When Poody died, my mom said that she would never get a cat again. It was too hard, she said, to care for something that long that you knew you were going to outlive.

"I wouldn't have got the ashes in the first place if I'da known they'd be so damned expensive," my mom says. "I think I only have one picture of him."

I know the picture. Vito was about two months old. Still tiny. Maine coon cats grow to be very big--the size of a medium-sized dog, really.

I told her that I might have one, but I'm not sure. I lost a lot moving out of the old place.

Vito was not an outdoor cat. He was scared of everything, and the closest he got to the outside was when we let him on the screened-in porch. He would sit there, late at night, and the other cats would come and visit him, like he was the Godfather.

I tell her that I had been really looking forward to seeing Vito again.

And by seeing, I mean "mugging."

Vito, publicly, didn't like affection. So I used to bother him by picking him up, holding him, and yelling "MUG THE CAT!!!" until he'd wriggle away.

"Must you torment him?" my mom would say.

Vito, frequently, could be a vindictive asshole. If he was upset at you, he'd let you know it. Early on, he'd taken to peeing on our spots on the couch. He'd do it so far in advance, that you often wouldn't know until you sat down.

His new name, for a time, became "Little Bastard."

Privately, when it was a one-on-one situation, however, Vito would be affectionate. If you got up late at night to get a glass of water, he'd be rolling around on the floor, purring loudly, waiting to be petted.

When Vito thought my mom was asleep, he'd crawl over and sleep next to her. My mom woke up once, saw him, and he quickly moved to the other side of the bed, pretending like it was an accident that he was sleeping that close to her.

When I left last time, Vito seemed so old and fragile to me that I had changed it to "HUG the cat."

"So, when you come here, it'll be the same place," my mom says, "just without any of the cat stuff."

I tell her I'll see her on Saturday.

Welcome back, Rob. Says New Jersey.

Goodbye, Vito. Says Rob.

posted by Rob on 11:51 AM | link



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