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May 15, 2006

Return of Captain Jeff of the Sky Rat Patrol

Back in 1991, I totally lucked out (after a lot of work) and ended up with an inexpensive apartment with a terrace. When I moved in (the night in January when U.S. forces invaded Iraq and Kuwait, as it happens), there was a building two doors down that had been more or less abandoned. I think some old codger still lived in there, mad and dreadfully ill, but the building's primary residents were about twenty pigeons who had over the years built up quite a mound of guano on a number of the boarded-over windowsills at the back of the building.

Not satisfied with the improvements they had made to their own homestead, they would often come over to my terrace and march around on the three-and-a-half foot high wall that surrounds my terrace and leave their disgusting crap wherever and whenever they felt like it.

That Spring, however, they had quite a surprise coming.

I had just the one cat then, the Pudster, and with the advent of Spring I built a little door for him in one of the windows so he could come and go onto the terrace at will. The carnage began.

The first time he caught and killed a pigeon (hereinafter referred to as "sky rats"), I was grossed out, but then as the body count climbed, I began to see the beauty of nature's grand design. The more sky rats he killed, the less crap I ended up with on my terrace.

Captain Jeff, on R&R

Time passed, and the Pudster was joined by a little friend, Jeff, a kitten I acquired from a friend. Jeff thought Pudster was a riot. He loved pouncing on him. The Pudster hated Jeff's guts, but tolerated his presence -- I think more for my sake than for anything else.

But even though they never got along, they did manage to find a way to cooperate on the catching and killing of sky rats. Mostly the Pudster did the stalking and capturing, and Jeffrey managed the actual killing. With relish, I might add. There was something so Hannibal Lecter about that boy...

Soon, all of the incredibly stupid sky rats had been disappeared, and apparently the smarter ones (assuming, arguendo, such a thing as a smart sky rat) got enough of a clue to stop landing on my terrace. For some time, the boys kept the terrace admirably crap-free. They patrolled the boundaries of our living space with ruthless care.

But then one day the grim kitty reaper came for the old Pudster. He'd had a good long life, and had been as sweet as sugar in your coffee (unless you were a sky rat), but his time finally came as it does for all of us and even now, remembering him, I realize I still miss him sorely.

Jeffrey soldiered on alone, but most of the sky rats had moved on by then so every Spring the kill-rate hovered around zero.

More months and years passed and eventually time and diabetes began to slow Jeff down. The sky rats, seeing their chance, began to venture briefly onto the terrace, taking the occasional crap, then slipping away more or less unmolested by the increasingly aged and ailing Jeff. This Spring they are increasingly emboldened. Mounds of crap abound.

And then a couple of nights ago...

I got home late, about 1:00 a.m., and the first thing I saw as I entered the apartment and flipped on the hall light was a thin carpet of gray pin-feathers... a sight I had not seen in quite some time.

I found the corpse in the middle of the living room carpet -- headless, "dumped by the side of the road". In fact, I never did find the head. I'm hoping Jeff disposed of it properly, otherwise I'm going to get a nasty surprise someday soon...

Jeff was very funny. Well, you know, funny in a serial murderer kind of way. He kept glancing up at me as he paced the apartment, looking a little uncertain about my response, but not wanting me to think he wasn't a Tough Guy or anything, so he kept mixing a little patented George W. Bush strut into his pacing.

Thank god the sky rat was well and truly dead. The worst is when you find the poor thing behind a chair, still alive and huddled under its one remaining wing. It's enough to make me pity the desperate creature, even though it is a sky rat. Naturally, under those circumstances it falls to me to finish the thing off since I can hardly wait around while Jeff finishes playing with his food.

Look, I'm sorry to all you bird-lovers out there. I am a bird-lover myself, as evidenced by my reports on Ozzie the Northern Cardinal (happily married now, raising a family and still waking up the neighborhood every morning with his piercing song). But the thing is, Jeff is getting old and suffers from a chronic disease that leaves him increasingly frail. I hate finding pin-feathers and blood smears and pigeon corpses in my apartment, but I have to admit... it felt good to see that the old boy still had it in him. It's not for me to say if catching and mutilating this bird gave him pleasure, but I find it hard to believe he didn't get some satisfaction out of being able to answer the ancient call one more time.

And, after all, the sky rats have been coming back, and the noble relationship between Man and Cat supposedly started eons ago back in Egypt when we discovered that domesticated cats could keep the joint free of all sorts of vermin. So the great circle of Man-Cat Life whirls on. All is as it should be despite my occasional gag response. We are all part of nature, even here in the middle of Manhattan.

And so welcome back (however temporarily) Captain Jeff! I raise my glass to you!

May your valiant Sky Rat Patrol take off and fly forever, venturing into the misty sky at dawn!


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A glass to Captian Jeff! Well done.

Reminds me of my dead cat Momus, who used to catch birds of such magnificent largeness that, on a number of occasions, he took out the cat flap by thrusting the semi-dead birds through into the kitchen. Hurray for bloodthirsty Real Cats.

It's delightful when an ageing cat reminds one that it's not quite so aged as one thought. The redoubtable Snufkin is not quite the cat he was, mentally, but he still manages to get the fridge door open when the duct tape weakens; it's a nuisance but I also welcome the indication that he still knows what to do!

We never did discover which cat caught and brought in a fully-grown wood pigeon – god alone knows how they got it through the cat flap – and left it in front of the oven. I still feel mildly guilty that I didn't take the hint and cook it.

But then this morning I notice his eye problems (apparently indicative of deeper systemic problems) have come storming back.

Sigh... I hate the fact that I can't just, you know, fix the little guy...

Good for ole Jeff. My own old boy, now aged 12, still revels in bringing into the house in any sort of furry or feathered animal life under a few pounds. It's not always the most pleasant thing to clean up and some times he doesn't dispatch them, which results in something I like to call Chipmunk Rodeo, but I don't begrudge him his fun because he so clearly loves life and loves being a cat and that makes me happy.

Go Jeff!!! Death to the Sky Rats!

I hope you gave the old boy an extra treat. (Hmm...a treat for a diabetic cat. A catnip mouse, maybe?)

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