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Goodbye, Magoo (2010-2013) — Not my pet, not my master, my friend.

Magoo, you were your own cat. Not anyone's pet; not anyone's master; but everyone's friend, big and small. Well, obviously not everyone strictly speaking, since you got into one fight too many — and I know of a few small animals who didn't appreciate your friendship, or at least not very long. You probably thought that that backyard was yours. All of North Cambridge was your backyard. The owner's dog differed. Was it the same Nemesis who almost killed you last year? Probably not. But I fancy that you decided to face your fate and challenge it once again. More likely, you were found in a fenced garden with no way out. In any case, you braved the enemy and fought it. To your ultimate demise.

I'm told you spent your early life being an outdoor cat on some College Campus of Upstate New York or New England. That's probably where you learned to be friends with everyone, surviving on food from whichever student you could seduce, as the cute and independent kitten you were. There, some students were calling you Ferris (Bueller? Bueller?), because you seemed to be more interested in having fun than in attending class. The campus was the entire world, and the entire world was yours. However, as the academic year ended, someone took you to a shelter. Maybe right on time, too, because you weren't a cute kitten anymore, and so seducing students was getting harder, all the while your target population dwindled. But you didn't like your temporary adoption family. Imprisoned in however big a house it was, you were already picking fights with whichever older cat thought the house was his and you owed him respect; I remember when you came, you still had some wounds to show you braved superior force rather than submit. The only cat you could get on with was the little Satchy, a shy little darling who would not challenge your claims of sovereignty. That's when we adopted the two of you.

You had obviously enjoyed the trip, Magoo. Unlike Satchy. And you were eager to visit your new quarters. Unlike Satchy, who found the first corner to hide in. You were always friendly, and would let us pet you. Unlike Satchy, at least for a long time, until he learned to let himself bribed with treats. At the same time, there were limits to how familiar we could get: we could caress all we wanted, but you had to remain in control. Thus, no holding you tight in my arms; carrying you more than a few seconds required scruffing. Unlike Satchy, who is the fluffiest furball I've ever got to caress, and never fought back, much less clawed anyone, though he'd run away as soon as you'd release your grip. You were always the dog-cat, when Satchy was the bunny-cat. And you kept bullying him, until that day that Satchy disappeared. Then you called after him, and mewed for his return. Once we found him hiding in the basement, you stopped acting like you had ever cared; but you also stopped bullying him as much.

You were a nice clean cat, Magoo, except when it was time to express your utmost frustration. Then, you would pee in the most inappropriate place. The first time was on me while I was lying on my bed. You soiled me more than once, and in time all the beds in the house got to know your most intimate odor. This didn't happen every day, or even every week, but it kept happening until we understood for good what you were aspiring to. Freedom. The great outsides.

At first, I was afraid you'd get lost and tried to hold you with a leash attached to a harness. Fool that I was. You probably got to know more about the neighborhood than I did, and faster than I did. You were not the kind to lose his orientation. Unlike Satchy, who when he fell through the window, stayed outside three days. But a walk on a leash was not the real thing; and we both knew it. And I resented being walked by a cat as much as you resented having to drag this human behind, unable to partake in The Hunt up the trees. You seized any opportunity to escape through the door. But you'd be back after a few hours, scratching the door. If we didn't hear you, Satchy would, and he would tip me that you were back waiting downstairs to be let back in. Eventually, we decided that going out was your thing, and that letting you outside the only way to keep you clean inside for more than a week or two. And after a few weeks, Satchy would follow your example and ask to go out, too. Before you may go out, though, we insisted on the two of you wearing a collar with your name and my phone and email coordinates; you wore your collar proudly, as the jewels of a king. Satchy did everything to remove his, the tag of a slave.

You were clean enough, but the litterbox was never a place for you to bury your feces. The garden was. (Or the bathroom rug, though as you found out after repeated tests, it was a poor ersatz.) Whose gardens you were honoring with your personal production, I'm not sure. Maybe that's how you antagonized that neighbor's dog? Or were you chasing some small animal? Did you confront it chivalrously at the rescue of Satchy? In any case, the place for action was outside. Many a time, you followed me to the limits of North Cambridge as I was cycling to work. You also followed me to the subway station. One day while I was traveling, I received phone calls about you visiting an office building on the other side of Alewife. I was not worried. You knew your way. And you knew how to make friends. I was often getting phone calls about you. People on the street would tell me about you. All the neighbors must have known you. Unlike Satchy, who was always hiding from people.

You didn't know not to claw when caressing back, but eventually, you learned not to do it hard with full claws. You would always give your all and fight back against threats; but you'd concede defeat to superior scruffing, and would never hold any grudges. When I took you to the Vet, you were eager to get into your box and travel, and eager to get out of it and explore unafraid — the opposite of Satchy. However, you fought the doctor's needle like a devil, and it took a second, experienced and strong nurse to immobilize you so you could get vaccinated and microchipped — the opposite of Satchy. Once it was over, you just went to your box, hurt, but with no hard feelings — the opposite of Satchy. When we reached North Cambridge, I released you, and you walked by my side all the way home, even waiting outside the grocery store despite a stray dog being around. No one could scare you away. As for Satchy, he seemed jealous of your freedom, so out of fairness, I released him, too, despite knowing better. There again we didn't see him for three days. Was he angry at me, or did he just not find his way? Maybe a mix of the two. You went around with or without me, looking for him, and I suspect he must eventually have followed you home, though he still hid around the garden for a while.

You were always exploring the limits. You kept opening the cabinet doors until you found your way to the treat trove, and we had to move it to an upper cabinet out of your reach; and then you kept at it jumping on the fridge and into the upper cabinets, until you determined that the compartments didn't communicate and it was indeed out of reach. You liked to watch birds on the trees across the window; and eventually you learned to climb those trees and catch those birds. How proud you were when you brought me your first small rodents and birds! How proud I was to have to clean the blood stains from the living room floor. You seemed as sad as I to see that poor bird you once brought, still alive, but incapable of escaping you anymore; how much did you prefer it in good health and capable of opposing you resistance; you didn't want to hurt him, just play; and it wasn't fun any more once you showed your trophy. You left me to put an end to its suffering; I still don't know if that was the more humane thing to do. If you expected me to cook it for you, you must have been disappointed; but you didn't let it appear. Satchy never brought me back anything; I suspect he is incapable of hurting another animal; but I'm sure he secretly dreams about it.

When I installed those cat doors for you, it didn't take you five minutes to learn how to use them. It took Satchy five days to even try, and more to succeed, despite my shoving him through the door. You haven't used your litter box ever since. And those times you lost your collar with that magnet supposed to unlock the door? You just tried and tried again until you forced your way through. No one had told you you couldn't do it. When Satchy lost his, he must have scratched the door and waited, and felt like he had been forsaken once more, until we let him in, and he was once again tagged with a collar of shame.

You were always eager to try out new foods, when Satchy only wanted to eat the same things; more often than not, you'd eat something bad, and would vomit on the floor; then often but not always you'd eat it back later. Maybe that's what made you sick a few weeks ago. You were still not fully recovered when you confronted that dog, and I like to think that, had you been completely yourself, you could have escaped the encounter unscathed. When we chose to let you outside, we knew your life would be shortened for it, though we didn't know how tragically short that would be; but we also knew that this was the only way for you to live fully whatever life you were to have, and that you wouldn't have it any other way. Unlike Satchy who is afraid of everything and everyone, and of living his own life, yet will survive you. But long as his years may last, he might still not live as much as you did. Anyway, you were Satchy's only friend. And he will miss you even more than I will. Now he survives you, and since I don't think he's going to be happy in that house without you, I'll come take him to my apartment, and I'll make him a New Yorker. A sorry New Yorker who always stays home and never goes downtown.

When we were preparing the house for the arrival of Véra, you knew something was going on, but didn't know what. I admit we were also a bit worried how you would react to Véra's arrival. The day we brought her in, you jumped in her bed, and rubbed your head against her. She was to be your friend and your protégée. When she was too young to know how to caress and knew only how to hit, you once or twice did claw back, but only to make her stop, and never with ill intent, bitterness or revenge; rather you would next time expose to her less fragile parts of your body. "Shah", or in French "chat", the word for cat, (maybe also "ça", that) is the first word Véra has been consistently speaking, and you're surviving in her memory. You were not my pet, you were not my master. I was not your pet, I was not your master. You were my friend, I was your friend. You were part of the family. And yet when we moved to New York City, we left you behind, to be cared for by airbnb visitors and house helpers. I knew that you would never want to become an indoor cat again; and Manhattan was no place for an outdoor cat. The times that I came back, you were always friendly to me, though we could both feel that some warmth had dissipated since I had gone away; and you told me, without resentment. Life was just not the same in the empty house with transient visitors. Meanwhile, Satchy would run away from me again. I didn't suspect that these were the last hours we'd spend together. I was planning to find you a new home after I heard of your falling sick. But I didn't try hard enough. And I failed you, my friend. Big time.

Life didn't smile on you. A young orphan, you learned to fend off for yourself. Someone brought you to a shelter for your own good, but that's probably where you earned your Darwin Award. When I met you, you were already an evolutionary loser, the end of your proud line. But it didn't matter to you, because you were not your genes' pet. Nor their master. Just their friend. And so you didn't give a damn. Not about that. Not about anything. You were not merely a dog cat, you were a honey badger cat. You cared not at all for the things that were not yours to care for. Instead, you took everything of what life had to offer; what it didn't, ain't you got time for that. Satchy was probably younger when he earned his Darwin Award, probably at the same time and place. Whatever he experienced in his young life left him traumatized, and he's the scarediest cat I've met. Yet I'm convinced that you saw pretty scary things, too; who knows what happened to your mother and siblings, I bet it wasn't pretty for you to be left by yourself; and you narrowly escaped death last year against a raccoon or a small dog.

And so, from beyond the grave, Magoo, you remind me how life is all about attitude. You weren't dealt a great hand, but you played your cards to your fullest. You cared for what you could reach, and were always exploring your limits. You weren't worried about what was beyond your reach, but you were trying hard for what was or could be. You always gave your all in a fight, but knew to concede defeat, and never held grieves. You never caught the red dot, unlike all the other toys, made with baryons; but you gave it a run for its life; and in the end, you defeated it, by breaking that automated laser machine instead of chasing the dot it projected. And so, I dream that where you are, you can now catch the Big Red Dot, but are now well past that, instead exploring the great outsides of the Felines' Paradise. I'm sure you've met Bastet, the great Feline Goddess who reigns up there. And yet I know that you're still your own cat. Not her pet. Not her master. Her friend.

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Comments

I failed to talk about your fascination with water, but hate of being wet, how you'd quickly tour around the shower while we were in or out, how you'd lick the running water from the tap until we'd buy you a water fountain, or the difficulty of giving you an anti-bug shampoo.

I also didn't mention how you'd sit on Véra's changing pad, and would refuse to go down, so the two of you would be sharing the pad while I change her. Unless I trick you into the kitchen with the sound of the treat bag.

You were but a cat, but you had quite a character, and I miss you, Magoo.

The Cat Who Would Be King

Apparently, you had it coming, Mr Magoo. You had been repeatedly provoking the dogs in the neighborhood, and even ambushing them while their owners were walking them, only to be saved because the dogs were on a leash. But Lola wasn't on a leash that day, she was in her own fenced garden — the only outdoor space where she could roam free. And her owner, now traumatized Constance, was cooking in the kitchen. So no one saved you from the iron jaws of fierce Lola, Magoo. Constance arrived too late after hearing your last scream, and in vain beat poor Lola, with a plastic rake, as the sole reward for poor confused Lola's victorious catch of a home invader.

Magoo, you remind me of Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King. Unstoppable and fearless, until you are stopped, at a time you were wrong not to feel fear. The Kingly Office comes at that price, and you paid it in full. North Cambridge will fondly remember His Majesty Magoo, and his short but glorious reign.

Of course, you only wanted to play, and never meant the confrontation to be fatal. But many a bird or a rodent fell victim to your playful games, despite your lack of intent to kill. And so you lost at your own game. But I love you, and I miss you.

As for Satchy, I couldn't catch him, as he ran away from me, many times, and was careful not to get inside the house while I was in. On the other hand, the current occupants tell me that he would could not hurt another animal, did catch a bird in the end — and managed to do so without hurting it so much that it couldn't fly away, once released from being a trophy.

Last photos of Magoo (and some Satchy)

eyes black and white

October 2014

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