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The second-story man

Without further ado, for Cat-Blogging Friday:  Here he is, the senior member of the CrazyStable Feline Triumvirate: Raffles! a.k.a. Handsome, Tuxedo Guy, and Raffie-Boy.

raffiesml.jpgHis 'working title' was Gonzo, because of the wacky stunt whereby he entered the Stable and our lives: via the porch roof, where we noticed him loafing for an entire day. To Spouse's horror (after foolishly pointing out the cat that was "back on the roof" by evening--and had in fact been stuck there since morning), I opened the window and invited him in--wherein the poor fellow, still in his tux after a long night of ill-advised revelry, hopped over on three legs! He must've climbed still higher on the Ent and then fallen. Around and around he circled our legs, purring in a fine vibrato-rich baritone, and basically doing the Roger Rabbit ohthankyouthankyouthankyouTHANKYOU! thing. He was about two years old, and his neck fur bore the imprint of an outgrown collar; otherwise, we hadn't a clue where he came from. A good bet is that the Cat-Dropping Spaceship passed overhead and noticed the big yellow letters, "SUCKERS," stencilled in cat-visible-only ink on top of our house.

Spouse declared that we would not, NOT, be adding him to the 4 cats we had at the time (about1993). But a friend was in the market for a friend of the four- (or three-working-)legged variety:  our beloved Merian Kirchner, a writer who lived in Park Slope and had recently lost her husband.

BabyKMerian.jpgMerian, a fragile-looking sprite (shown here holding our Child), was the daughter of Maud Hart Lovelace, who authored the famous Betsy-Tacy books; the books were based on Maud's bedtime stories for Merian when she was a girl.  Merian came to meet "Gonzo" in his quarantine area, kneeling down with her circle skirt spread out around her;  he limped over and settled on the skirt peacefully. I warned her that we weren't sure yet whether the leg would heal (it did); she said simply and happily, "Oh, he'll do just fine."

Upon hearing of his porch-roof entrance, Merian--a huge fan of mysteries--named him after Raffles, a gentleman burglar and "second-story man." They had a good few years together in her spacious brownstone apartment on Berkeley Street,  Raffles bounding up and down the long hallway to accompany her from room to room. The poor guy has bad nerves, a sort of Tourette's-like  problem with impulse control, and would occasionally "lose it" and bite her (and then mope dejectedly when she would scold him); Merian never held it against him, though, insisting, "He is a kind cat."  Since Merian was both a superb judge of character and a person with a lapidary ability to both see and bring out the best in every creature, this is a credible assessment.

A child of the Bohemian Greenwich Village of the Fifties, Merian was a smoker, and quit too late to dodge the  bullet of emphysema. As her health faltered, Raffles spent longer and more frequent sabbaticals at "camp" back in CrazyStable, where the other cat guys knew and tolerated him (except for the late Gordon, an alpha male who harassed him). Things came apart; first she had to give up her apartment, and came to live with us for awhile, a delightful houseguest even camped on our couch with an oxygen tank. Then came the crash and  an endless, inexplicable year clinging to life in a nursing home on a ventilator, unable to speak--the one thing she'd always dreaded. Merian bore that last year with the same odd, steely denial that she used to cope with her entire decline, scribbling her half of our conversations on stacks of legal pads.  At each visit, I would tell her how much we wanted her "home," because the Crazy Stable was the closest thing to a home she had left; she made it quite clear that the aseptic room at St. Elizabeth's would never be home. And I would always tell her some little story about Raffles, and she would profess interest and delight in her boy's doings, and we would have a little ghost-life in which to dwell happily for awhile.

Raffles, and a whole lot of memories of convivial wine-happy dinners and garrulous car-pool rides to our long-ago jobs in New Jersey, are my connections to Merian now. Like an idiot, I tell this cat about his "mama Merian" to have the pleasure of saying her name. He hardly ever bites anymore, and now, as senior cat, he is only occasionally baited into a wrestling match with his younger pals. He's suddenly begun to look old--maybe as old as 15 --although he still chirps and hustles, tail curved upright and ears swiveling, in his same dapper style.  He sleeps for hours up here on the third floor, in a quiet corner on his sheepskin.  He is a kind cat.

Posted on Friday, October 28, 2005 at 02:12PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Brenda - As a fellow Victorian Flatbush homeowner, I am enjoying your blog. But I can't figure out which Caton Park home is yours.... Only clue I can find is original blue shingle, which does narrow things down north of Church. Is it the house on Marlborough near the Parade Grounds?

November 11, 2005 at 08:21AM | Unregistered CommenterErin
I'm delighted you're enjoying the blog. I'd like the actual location of the house to remain a bit murky--perhaps someday inspiring walking tours by the curious and speculative, a la "The DaVinci Code." Suffice it to say that you're in the right ballpark (or soccer field)...
November 11, 2005 at 05:08PM | Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn

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