Auto Draft

Before I tell you the story about what I overheard from lurking behind my neighbor’s fence today, I have to give you the Millet Update. (Thanks, Carol, for identifying this mysterious growth on our back patio as millet. Sad thing is, I lived in a West African country for two years where millet was the food staple and I realize that I never bothered to take a look at it. Um, truth is, I never tasted it, either. I must have lived on tea biscuits from the Ivory Coast those two years because that’s the only visceral food memory I have about those two years. Oh, and the fried grasshoppers.) So that’s the millet in the backyard (see above).  Cool, huh?

Here’s the latest look at our cash crop:

So I was walking around the Heights this afternoon, debating whether or not I should knock on a distant neighbor’s door to give them some news that I think would interest them. When I arrive at their house I don’t see a car in the driveway, and the shades are drawn, and I think, “Whew. No one’s home.”

But then I hear voices from the behind the huge wall of hedge that screens their backyard from the prying eyes of passers-by on Plympton Street, so I creep close. And I see the teen age boy I’ve spoken to on one previous occasion, two years ago, when I knocked on the door of their house and that boy answered and I asked him if they owned the white cat that was sleeping on their porch. He told me yeah, that was the family’s cat; he was an outdoor cat, didn’t come in the house at all. And I said Well, he’s been coming over to my house a lot and I’ve been feeding him and keeping him inside on cold nights…just in case you ever wonder where your cat is, that is. The kid did not look at me like I was a crazy cat napping Cat Lady and he smiled and said Oh, well, thanks. So I’ve always thought rather highly of that kid.

You see, one of the things about being my age is that you hardly ever — never, in fact — have any overlap with teenage boys. Nothing about my life, nothing at all, has any point of contact with teenage boys: we live in two different universes, me and those droopy panted, rap-music slouching, video-game mumbling, overgrown lumps of beamish boyhood. I’m not complaining, good lord, no. I’m just saying.

So when I speak to a teenage boy and he doesn’t come off like a drooling dim witted sack of underachieving entitlement, I am impressed. And this was the teenage boy whose voice I’d heard behind the hedge, and to whom I was eavesdropping on this afternoon. I saw him sitting at a patio table with a guitar in his hands, and he was talking with another boy his age and this is what I heard him say (in a tone of voice I can only describe as indignant):

The Arctic Monkeys are to The Beatles as KFC is to chicken!

Well, I was impressed all over again. (Should I have told you before hand that The Arctic Monkeys are the most hyped English rock band of the 21st century? That they are indie artists who were the biggest internet sensation of the new millennium? And that they aren’t nearly as famous in America as they are in the UK? So that mentioning them shows a level of music connoisseurship that I did not know existed on Long Island?) You have to like a kid who finds his contemporary rock musicians inferior to the Beatles.

So I decided not to tell him that his cat had died.

Dear sweet Whitey Boy had shown up at my house in late May looking very thin and old. (I called him Whitey Boy because I have this very sophisticated system of naming stray cats. For instance, I have one called Blackie: he’s black. And I have one called Old Stripey because he’s stripey, and kind of old. And I have one called New Stripey because he’s stripey and he came after Old Stripey. And I have one called Bib Stripey because he’s stripey and has a white bib of fur under his chin. Etc.)

I hadn’t seen Whitey Boy in two years, and I was shocked by the change in his appearance, even for an old cat. But he must have come back to us because he was feeling his age, and we’ve been caring for him like the honored guest that he was, and yesterday at breakfast he was disoriented and unsteady on his feet so I took him to my vet who diagnosed a tumor that had reached critical mass. So we very gently guided him across The Rainbow Bridge.

I knew, when Whitey Boy showed up after all these years, that he was picking me, asking me to take the responsibility of making his last Summer as easy on him as I could, and I knew that he was asking me to make the last call for him. So I knew I’d be making this decision one day, same as I know I’ll be making that decision for all my lovely creatures, but that one day comes all too soon, all the time.

Maybe I’ll mosey back over to Plympton Street tomorrow, at dinner time, and try to find the parents at home.


Whitey Boy, it was an honor to know you.

6 comments to Stuff Happens in the Suburbs

  • maryann

    wow. you rock in so many ways. thank you for such love for these beautiful creatures. it’s an honor to know *you* as well.

  • Oh how sad. Poor Whitey Boy. He was lucky to have you to help him at the end.

  • G2


    The old cat sleeps
    in the newly arrived sun. One more spring
    has come his way
    dropping a solar bath
    on failing kidneys, old cat bones.
    I check for the rise and fall of breath.

    Once he stalked hares
    across the yard, tracked down
    chicken hearts with split-lentil eyes.
    Fearless, disinterested, a poseur, a demideity.
    He and the dog are strangers still
    after years of eating side by side.

    I remember times of wailing
    into my couch, alone
    and utterly baffled by life,
    when suddenly a cat
    would be sitting on my head.

    Last week I pulled him snarling
    from under a chair in Dr. Bacon’s office,
    held him while she examined his dull coat,
    felt his ribs. Pressed where it hurt.
    Eight pounds of fur and bone and mad as hell
    but “He’s certainly less anxious in your lap,”
    she murmured, astonishing me.
    I had no idea. Old cat, old friend,
    have I reached some place inside,
    added to your life
    as you have to mine?

    by Marjorie Kowalski Cole, from Inside, Outside, Morningside. © Ester Republic Press, 2009.

  • Oh so sad, your story and the poem, above. Sad but nice. I wish you lived near me so you could help all my 6 cats over the rainbow bridge. I’m dreading it. They’re all 10- 13 years old.(I’m not sure how old the strays are.) Two of the older ones are ailing. The ones I’ve had the longest, though seem surprisingly healthy.
    Your neighbors are so lucky. That was so nice of you.
    R.I.P. Whitey Boy.

  • “So when I speak to a teenage boy and he doesn’t come off like a drooling dim witted sack of underachieving entitlement, I am impressed.”
    Thank you.

  • Deb

    We too use the technical naming system. A bobtail lives at our house. After serious consideration she was dubbed Bobby.

    RIP Whitey Boy. Glad there was a kind heart out there for you.

You must be logged in to post a comment.