the book is simply and lovingly dedicated to his cat, Hank.
Pole Cat + Pit Kill
I was with Pablo, ex-Special Ops, USMC, at Kitty’s on Greenmount Avenue. Kitty’s was like a hug and a kiss from your mother, if your mother is the state penitentiary. Kitty’s was the snakepit: blood stains. Kitty’s was the shithole: Packaged goods. Kitty’s was cops and ex-convicts all in a row, murmuring in the afternoon about Central Booking, or guns, or knives, or new drug enforcement policies, or dead people. Kitty’s was the same cops and cons at night, screaming about card games, or dope hustles, or women.
At 6’8” and 260 pounds, Pablo surely felt cramped in there. Kitty’s, on an average evening, could appear almost impenetrable. It was a bar which required strange variations on the typical hairpin turn or tiptoe slide, between a regular patron and the take out cooler, with new patrons arriving and blocking the checkout counter as you’re navigating your way though the crowd of poor blacks and the occasional weirdo white, always a cop. Pablo drank Budweiser and barked didactic Marine corps rebop, at tiresome lengths that would temporarily dissolve any personal fondness because he was in those moments a boorish blowhard drunk, a large one you didn’t dare interrupt or contradict and certainly never hush. In Pablo’s conversational death grip, one understood that this man did not concern himself with your comfort or lack thereof. One suspected that the more visible to him your twitches and squirms, the greater his determination to impress and to educate. I’d never understand the Marine corps experience. His passion was as close as I’d ever come, and I wanted to be close, but as he shifted his weight from one leg to another, clarifying one acronym or slang term after another, and all those Marine thug platitudes, my predominant ills drifted from me, along with my vagrant “freedom”, in all its fictitiousness. I’d lost my own war; Pablo shared his by force.
Pablo: “why you be killin the man’s dog? What the fuck he do to you? That’s some evil shit, brother.”
“I told you. This little scar-faced hippie cunt, it was her dog did the actual killing. There’s three dogs, altogether. The man, he’s the other neighbor, alright? His dogs tore around the place unchained for months before this happened. His girlfriend, she’s a lawyer, this lawyer bitch cunt came to the aid of the hippie cunt in court, after she’d made claims that my animal was rabid, which meant I had to provide a tissue sample, which meant I had to go back out to this fucking field where I didn’t want to leave him in the first place and I had to dig him up with a fucking pick axe- wait, man…it’s a long story. But I can’t have any fucking dignity in this fucking life until those fucking dogs are fucking dead do ya get that?”
“I’m with ya; it’s about respect, alright? I feel that. So, it’s two dogs.”
“There’s three of them, altogether. I wouldn’t kill dogs or anything else if I didn’t have to-”
“Yeah, I know you ain’t like that. But still…you be seein’ me out front there in the morning with that old hound? That my Froggy, and we go back a way. Up on ten years, must be. And I don’t see the love lost over no nasty cat, how you be sayin, but you say he important to you, and I can get with that. And you gettin punked here, look like, so… I’ll tell ya….best way…you gotta kill a dog…best way be anti-freeze…that show up in the blood as Parvo.”
“Dog disease. Some kinda worm cause it. Parvo.”
“Well, I ain’t too worried about covering my tracks. They’re ignorant, these fuckers, but they ain’t stupid. I just want the shit to work.”
“Anti-freeze, Gene. Put it in…put it in some…beef chuck, burger meat, whatever. S’all it is. Real simple.
Okay? Show up in the blood as Parvo.”
“Anti-freeze. That’s cheap.”
“Yeah, ‘sright. At’sm nasty cold shit. Fuckin snake’s what you bein. Don’t come cryin when you kill them dogs and you feelin shameful. And man’s gotta come back on ya, you kill his dog. ”
I left Pablo there at the bar, and made my way across Greenmount to buy a case of Miller High Life, and a jug of anti-freeze.
Back at home, I found a crudely scrawled note: “GENE, YOU ARE OUT JAN 1. NO DISCUSION (sic).” I took my beer downstairs, and the anti-freeze, sat down on the bed with Sam and thought about the dogs. I thought about Harrisburg and the moving arrangements. My brother, the rugby champion, had secured an apartment for me. My father was footing the first, last, and security deposit. My favorite bartender was offering to drive the truck for me. And then there was Izabela. As all of normal society encroached then upon Christmas, in those final days of 2008, I continued hung and hooked like wet laundry, in my effortless drift toward Izabela, or rather hanging there in my slothful gazing out at this drift as it occurred, morbidly diverted, half-narcotized, trapped in this gaze which was perhaps not so unbreakable or even effortless, but with some premeditation, a passively cruel inaction on my part, opportunistic, at the very worst predatory.
But as I say, I was not, could not be, entirely certain of my motives or of the nature of my decision making, or of my own heart, as Izabela enjoyed doing all of the work: showing me around in the bars, buying and preparing meals, openly demanding to be wantonly sodomized. I left welts and bruises upon her chubby frame from neck to ankle, unable to consider it rape. Anything short of striking Izabela directly with a closed fist seemed to excite her sexually. She reveled in the public flaunting of our cartoonish affair; I would find myself in her car pondering it all, and as winter light sparkled through her semi-afro (a frazzled and befouled garden of auburn Eastern European hair, like so much chaparral), so too would shine inside me the notion of the two of us, as a legitimate and respectable young couple (if necessarily outside of Baltimore, where her jealous ex-suitors and my illegitimate offspring were omnipresent). I would insist upon the inherent superficial benefits of constant physical attention from a frisky young girl provided that I could assume of myself a certain responsible distance, and never come to seek or desire the worshipful kind of love (for me, the only love acceptable as “pure”) which she could not genuinely inspire nor I (as my recent past so gruesomely demonstrated) sustain. If so enabled and so inclined, with a compromised love by no means beautiful, but not unpleasant, maybe I could return to the business of writing, and of existing in the world as a complete being, moving about with purpose and awareness, making a last-ditch bid on health and on humanity.
Izabela busied herself with school, where she attended “poetry workshops” and took a psychology class. For some time, she’d been employed as a social worker, assisting autistic, retarded, or otherwise disadvantaged persons with the carrying out of their daily chores. She would call me on her cellphone during these excursions, from a shopping center, or grocery store. Her “individual” (this was the only acceptable term for them) would sometimes be audible in the background, gibbering excitedly: a disruptive shriek of some unknowable ecstasy would explode from the lungs of the subnormal man, thus interrupting Izabela’s own mundane sing-song narrative or strenuously affectionate interrogation of my own day’s events (which I would always fabricate, very much in vain).
Her individual’s helpless unleashing of mucous-rich flailing and lashing about in retail stores did not embarrass Izabela in the slightest. Quite the contrary, she would become euphoric, barely able to contain her joy at the man’s involuntary self-immolation. Her voice on the phone was an unwaveringly petulant and self-conscious expression of a supreme self-fulfillment; which was in fact a lie, generated and driven by an inestimable and all-too-palpable viciousness, which a discerning and reasonably cognizant lover could experience only as something potentially Satanic. Izabela’s voice had a quality of insidious insincerity, and when she called me during an errand with an individual (each of whom she’d bestowed with an overtly disparaging moniker: “farter”, “diaper freak”, “boon boy”, and so on), the juxtaposition of her unnaturally exuberant social performance with the individual’s primal high notes would stir in me a vague fascination, as a writer (for material), as a student of human folly (for cheap thrills), or as a helpless victim (for signposts, as would be given over the phone to a potential rescuer).
“HI bay-beeeeeeeee! Oh my god, Farter just cleared out the checkout line at Safeway! You should see the looks I’m getting because of this fucking retard! Oh my god, Gene, it’s horrible! Oh bay-beeeeeeeee, I’m getting all of my Christmas shopping done today with Farter! Please, I want you to come with me tomorrow for Christmas Eve!”
“With your family? Oh, I don’t know, Bela.”
“Oh pleeeeeeese, baby! They’ll LOVE YOU! No, you have to wait until I’m off the phone! Remember what we just talked about at Burger King? Farter is fucking with my iPod, and he’s got snot on his fingers.
Oh BAY-BEEEEEE! I’m coming over after work! I want you to fuck me in my tight little asshole, fuck it really rough and make me come like that!”
“Can’t you get in trouble for talking like that in front of Fart-, I mean, your individual?”
“Anthony, do you want Gene to fuck my asshole?”
“Fuck fuck fuck,” said Anthony.
“See?,” said Izabela.
I didn’t see at all, but I shuddered and sighed affectionately. I said goodbye and hung up. I began to dismantle what was left of my basement room setup and carry the file cabinets full of my writing, published and unpublished both, all of it, up the withered pine staircase and out of the crude stone and cinderblock cellar. Sam escaped deftly between my feet as I grappled with a five foot, 200 pound metal behemoth fit only for a scrap yard somewhere. By the time I noticed the massive bobcat in a blur of his ultra-fine, long yellow hair, he’d zeroed in on Alyosha, my spun-out housemate’s male tabby. The beast had been slightly neglected by everyone, I believed, and he was as a result markedly withdrawn and timid in nature, so it must have been a peak negative experience for the diminutive fellow when Sam took him like a snow plow at top speed, and set upon him with such terrific violence that my heart skipped a beat, realizing then that each of Sam’s paws were the size of Alyosha’s head, and that Sam’s arms were throttling the small cat’s torso. He was raising the entirety of Alyosha’s small frame up and into the front door with a hateful and sickening point-of-impact “WHUMP”, and I heard the air explode from his Alyosha’s lungs. By this time, Sam’s claws and teeth were deeply entrenched in cat-hide, and the majesty of him, all three feet of top predator demon-fire (with another foot of epically plumed tail) worked away, his eyes having flushed in an instant from sick-piss yellow to a hard obsidian, barely seeing at all. Gore spattered, and surrounded by enough loose fur to stuff a parka, and maybe a few teddy bears, Sam retreated from the spent and bloodied tabby only with a hard kick from one of my size 13 motorcycle boots.
“YOU. Little. Mother. FUCKER!”
Before the scene was finally over, I too would be lacerated from fingertip to wrist, and I would have him beside me on my mattress there in that dank cellar, our heads together, staring each other down, me fairly awestruck by the prolonged street cruelty and violence which had molded Sam, his fear and his hate. It was dawning on me, piecemeal style, that I would have to learn to be patient with Sam, and that I must do everything in my power to love this great and terrible specimen whom I pitied with great sadness and the knowledge of multiple sicknesses that were bigger than the sum of me and all I knew.
|author and cat
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