|Man Without Qualities|
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Two days ago, on a clear, hot Labor Day afternoon in Los Angeles, a little innocent life winked out somewhere near my home.
Lars was just a long-haired ginger tabby cat who showed up one day with a similarly colored short-haired litter mate we named "Nemo." They made themselves at home. We fed them and they tended the small vermin that otherwise pestered the property: rats, ground squirrels, moles, the usual. After Nemo disappeared some months ago, we also provided affection to Lars. He hadn't required or requested human affection while he had Nemo - they were each others' best companions. They remained half-wild, living in the yard and tolerating the humans on their turf only because we provided the food. We joked that they considered us the "big cats." But after Lars lost his brother he became steadily more affectionate and familiar and, eventually, a friend.
On Sunday the family enjoyed dinner on the patio. The evening was unusually hot and dry - like a real desert. Maybe it was an evening more like Los Angeles used to have often, before humans changed the area so much with development and gardens and foreign waters. A family of raccoons showed up to filch food from Lars' bowl. There must have been about seven of the cheeky, elegant creatures. We watched each other - humans and masked critters - while they made off with their goodies.
But there is a neighbor who does not like the raccoons - who descend on us from Griffith Park, just a few blocks away. He says they eat his back yard goldfish - lovely, flickering orange darts through a green pool. Years ago, within a year of our purchase of the house, this neighbor - a horrible, ugly little man bearing the name of "Gould" - actually telephoned me to request that I contribute financially to his killing the raccoons. Of course, that is illegal as well as offensive - and I told him that. He rejected all suggestions that he employ shocker fences or nylon underwater nets or any number of other devices that would protect his Piscean treasures. I know he poisoned the raccoons - although he denies it. Within days of his unsuccessful request for my subsidy, the then-current raccoons vanished - and so did my then-current cat, a gray tabby we had acquired with the property, a kind of genius loci. Within days a skunk appeared on the back stairs, staggering and disoriented, and died. Shortly thereafter we discovered a mother opossum in the yard, dead, with ten or twelve tiny kittens still clinging to her nipples. Animal control explained there was no helping them - and took the kittens away to be put down. Eventually the carnage abated. Nemo and Lars materialized some months later.
The two brothers occupied the premises for ten years. I forgot about the gray tabby and the raccoons and the poison. Then, some months ago, I noticed a raccoon on the property. It vanished over the Gould fence and I thought nothing of it. Shortly after that, Nemo disappeared.
On Monday morning my five-year-old son came in from the back yard with the urgent message that Lars was meowing weakly on the patio and that I should come right away. Lars was clearly very sick. Worse, his face distinctly indicated that he knew it - and that it was very, very bad. He wanted love. I sat on the patio for some time, stroking his fur. He put the side of his face on my hand. Eventually, I got up to go to my home office to locate an animal hospital opened on Labor Day. By the time I had found one, Lars had walked away. I haven't seen him since.
I'm sure I never will.
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