Posted by: wrmcnutt | April 27, 2009

Black Fire

If you’re a pet person, or you’re married to one, animals come and go through your life, and most of them don’t really make much of an impression.  I mean, sure, you love your cats (and dogs) but when you’ve had over a dozen, the personality traits start to overlap, and you refer to them less by name, and more by “the animals” or “the cats.”

But some of them stand out, no matter how many come before them or after.  About twenty or so years ago, my girfriend (now my wife) had a cat that had a litter of one.  Like all her kittens, he was born in a laundry basket, and would be declared “ready to leave home” as soon as he could climb out of the basket and eat solid food.  When I first met him, he was standing on his hind legs with his front paws over the edge of the laundry basket, saying “Raaaaaaawwwwrrrrrrrrr!”  He was ready to get out of that basket.  He was black as jet, with only his lemon yellow eyes a a mouthful of gleaming white fangs visible in the dim light of the laundry room.  His name was obvious:   Black Fire.

Black Fire just had a strong personality in general.  One quirk I remember was that if you got into a dominance staring-contest with him, he would slowly rotate his head and shoulder until he was staring at you upside down.  The most unusual aspect of Black Fire, though, was his appreciation for non-standard cuisine. 

Black Fire was my companion back in my bachelor days, and young men living alone often have simple approached do modern dining.  One evening I decided to prepare a fairly standard repast:   niblet corn and frozen burritos with salsa.  (Mmmmmm . . . . I miss having a twenty year old digestive tract.  But I digress.)

So – step one:   open can of corn.  Step two:  put corn in pot.  Step three: extract microwave burritos from freezers and . . .

Ok – cat owners know this sound. It’s kind of hard to describe.  It sounds kind of like the cross between a rimshot and someone dropping a thickly padded bag of bricks onto a velvet table.  It’s the unmistakeable sound of a cat jumping up onto a Formica counter.

I whipped my head around, and there was Black Fire, sitting on the counter next to the (cold) stove, and sniffing the niblet corn.  I was unconcerned.  After all, cats are carnivores, right?  He was just curious.  It’s not like it was tuna salad, salmon, or even chili.  I turned back to the freezer.

As soon as I turned my back, I heard another sound that all cat owner know:  nom – nom – nom – nom – nom.  It’s the sound of a cat indulging itself in utterly unrestrained gluttony, scarfing down food as fast as it can. I spun back around, and sure enough, there was Black Fire:  up to his ears in my niblet corn, chowing down like it was a bucket of beluga.

“Cat!  What are you doing? You’re a carnivore!,” sez I.

“Nom – nom – nom – nom!”  Replied the cat.

“C’mon, you’ve got the wrong kind of teeth in your head!”

“Nom – nom – nom-nom!” he reiterated.

There was a swift and unceremonious removal from the counter and a punting from the kitchen.  I didn’t realize it at the time but thereafter, corn was his muse.  Indeed, it was his driving inspiration.  I didn’t truly realize the depth of his passion until after he “wandered west,” as all cats eventually do.

Now, as a young bachelor, I got no more entertainment out of taking out the garbage than any other young man.  And I had a practical turn of mind.  If I put a full size trash can in my kitchen, I can wheel the whole works out for trash collection, and not have to carry it out on a daily basis.  (Men make these decisions when there are no women around.) It was sturdy and about four and a half feet tall.

In those days, I bought my frozen burritos and other stables at Sam’s Wholesale Club, and emporium that specialized in cheap, mass produced food stored and sold in mass quantities.  In amongst the frozen Jalapeno Poppers and burritos that I somehow survived, the occasional bag o’ frozen corn-on-the-cob would somehow make it to the apartment.  And get buried at the back of the freezer, under burritos and frozen deep-fried mozerella sticks. And get freezer burnt.  And then get thrown away without thought.

When we moved out of the apartment, my roommate and I lifted up our red velvet couch – hey, my bachelor digs were class all the way – and carried it out the door.  Behind the couch we found a shredded plastic freezer bag and eight corncobs, each carefully denuded of their kernels.  Black  Fire had raided the trash can, and man-handled (or cat-handed) a bag that was almost as heavy as he was out of the can, across the kitchen, across the living room, and crammed it behind the couch.  There, using fang and claw more designed to properly address squirrel and rabbit, he then carefully picked off each kernel of corn in all it’s starchy goodness.

This was the same cat that had an antibiotic habit.  Ol’ Black Fire was not a large cat as an adult, but being the only kitten the litter, he was born large, and not having to compete with siblings for milk, grew and developed early.  I’m not a feline behaviorist, but these advantages would, I suspect, lead to the development of alpha traits.  And Black Fire Had them.  An Escape Cat, we could not successfully keep him indoors, and, as an Alpha, that meant he got into fights.

One day as I was holding him in my lap I noticed a putrid smell.  The odor of necrotic flesh is one that’s in our genes. Even if you’ve never smelled it before, one whiff of it hitting your nose and you immediately understand what Scarlett O’Hara was smelling when she helped Dr. Meade amputate that guy’s leg in Gone With the Wind.  Phew!  So off we go to the vet clinic, and sure enough.  Black Fire had failed to duck an incoming claw swipe, and had a severe scratch that had gotten infected, healed over, and abscessed.  It had to be re-opened, drained, and then sewn up.  To prevent the infection from recurring, we were given The Pink Antibiotic.

This is yet another thing all cat owners know:  the Pink Antibiotic smells like bubblegum.  The vet talked me though how to swaddle the cat so that he couldn’t struggle (or claw my precious hide), grab him by the ear and turn his head around backwards so that he couldn’t duck the dropper, and cram the dropper to the back of this throat so that he couldn’t spit the medication out.  You’d have thought they were preparing me to amputate a limb in besieged Atlanta.

So I set all of this up, and I’ve got my dropper of medicine in my hand.  Just as I get ready to turn his head around backwards, he starts sniffing the dropper. And leaning toward it. His eyes were wide, his pupils dilated, and he ears were eagerly cocked forward.  His whiskers were stretched out and were utterly quivering with kitty anticipation. 

So I just said, “What the heck,” and stuck the dropper out.

He licked the antibiotic off of the end of the dropper without spilling any.  At all.  Then he licked the dropper clean.

From then on, dosing that cat was just a matter of shaking the bottle of antibiotic.  No matter what he was doing, he’d drop it and come running at the sound of his treat.  I’ve dosed other cats with this stuff in my day, and all of them have had to be swaddled.  Not Black Fire.  He’d stand on his hind legs to get at the dropper, and positively nurse the stuff off of the end.  I was only supposed to dose him for two weeks, but he was having so much fun that I continued the dosage until the bottle ran out.

Many pets have come and gone in my life since those days, but I still miss that cat.  I’ll bet that today I could share scotch with him.

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  1. I love this. (And I’m vastly amused by all the things I’m learning that men will do when “there are no women around.”)

  2. I would have loved to see the cat nursing the antibiotics dropper performance. That is like heaven for those of us with cats who have an utter aversion to the stuff.

    did he like real bubble gum too? or just bubble gum flavor?

  3. Gia –
    The mockery of women is the single biggest curb on male behavior that exists. Any conversation that ends with “Hold my beer and watch this,” was almost always entirely consided outside of female hearing.

    Scream –
    I’m not a big “gum” guy, so we never had it around. I suspect it was just the flavor. He had the wrong kind of teeth to eat gum. Then again, he had the wrong kind of teeth to peel corn off of cobbs, too.

  4. Gia –
    What the man says is true. This is generally the reason I am so vocal about the standing no pants/chicken wings plan when Liz is out of town. It is generally assumed that this is what I will be up to now so I am less likely to have to explain things like Sam’s Wood mk2, why we were questioned by the Lenoir City police in an alley behind a church in the middle of the night carrying water balloons, or the complications inherent in flipping a coin using gunpowder. The mockery of women would end so many of those fine adventures before they ever really got started.

    Cats and the culinary arts – Most of my cats have fallen into the “normal” category when it comes to human food with two exceptions. Most everyone who knows me has had to sit through the various permutations of Fenris and his bread fixation. In more recent years, however we have discovered that Mist not only has a passionate relation with honey nut cheerios, but she now she has become fanatical about raspberries and strawberries to the point where she will try to snatching them out of your fingers if you aren’t paying attention.

    • You flipped a coin with gunpowder? Black powder or smokless? Did you get it on film? Can we do it again?

      • Yes. Smokeless. No. Absolutely. I just need to find a large enough coin to give it another go.

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