In 1994 I moved from one side of the Fan District to the other. Zeke, my cat, came with me.
However, Zeke apparently didn’t like moving, so he ran away as soon as I let him go outside. Once he’d been gone a week I began to accept he was probably gone for good. As he’d always been a free spirit -- he was still holding -- I figured he probably got lost, or found a better home, in the pursuit his agenda.
Then again, I wondered if he might have found his way back to his old haunts, however it is animals manage to know their way across totally unfamiliar turf back to what they consider to be their true home. So, I went back -- about 20 blocks away -- and looked for him, and called out for him for at least a month, every few days. Finally, I gave up.
After all, Zeke wasn’t a cat I’d ever wanted in the first place. The girlfriend who’d moved out from our shared flat a year before my own move had insisted we needed a cat, so she got him as a kitten. Then, when she flew the coop, she left both of us for greener pastures in the suburbs.
About 10 weeks after the cat disappeared, in a conversation with my daughter, I admitted I missed him more than I thought I would. She offered a suggestion: "Make one last attempt to find him -- why don’t you make some handbills and put them up in your old neighborhood? What can it hurt?"
The handbill thing goes way back with me, but that‘s another story. Anyway, I promised her I’d do it. So, mostly as a lark, I drew a quick black and white sketch of Zeke, in a herring bone jacket, below a Lost Cat headline, wrote out a description of how he actually looked, and added my phone number. A couple of days after I had stapled several of them up on the utility poles within three blocks of my old pad, in each direction, I got a phone call from a former neighbor.
From having seen SLANT regularly, she recognized the cartoon drawing as one of mine and she also remembered the cat, too, which she told me she thought she might have seen earlier that day, under her porch.
So, I drove straight over and sure enough it was Zeke under the porch. But he looked different. He was skinny as hell and all beat up. He had a nasty gash in his head, and his front claws were worn down to the numbs. Plus, he was sick.
When I took him to the veterinarian I was told the cat was half-dead from an infection. Anyway, when Zeke left the vet's he was full of antibiotics and some of his natural urge to wander into trouble had been removed. Ever the stoic, Zeke never told me what happened to him during his absence.
Well, I was so delighted to have him back that I used the same pose of the cat in a coat from the handbill -- this time with color -- to create a new piece of art to celebrate Zeke's return, which I later used on a 1996 SLANT calendar.
Another effort to allay the loss was to write about it. Click here to read a short story I wrote about a cat dying. It's called "Maybe Rosebud."