Robb and I were living near Johns Hopkins University in the summer of 1992. We had neighbors a few houses down who were students and (as far as I could tell) small time drug dealers. They had a number of cats which they allowed to roam the streets, a very risky activity in downtown Baltimore. I was constantly marching over to their house, with a squirming pussy cat or two under my arm, and delivering lectures on responsible pet ownership. "No, it is not all right to let your cats wander all over Charles Village." "No, dry corn flakes is not an proper diet for your cats."
Eventually, these kids moved out, leaving their cats to fend for themselves. Of the three cats they abandoned, I managed to track down a scrawny little white girl. I never knew what became of her handsome brother with the odd-colored eyes or the ginger tabby kitten. Even though Robb already owned two highly respectable cats, I just had to adopt this street cat. Niobe was a malnourished mess. I took her to the vet for a look-over, and asked the vet if she thought that Niobe might be pregnant. I thought her belly was awfully taut, but the vet thought otherwise. Being too poor to spring for the kitty sonogram, I listened to the vet's diagnosis of "not pregnant."
And then, a week to the day later, I got a frantic call from Robb. I remember his exact words. "Niobe has eaten and then regurgitated an entire rat!" What? Sure enough, that little bag of bones had just given birth to two kittens on our living room couch. Niobe knew exactly what she was doing. She somehow understood that only one of the two kittens was going to survive, and she picked up the little tuxedo boy and moved him into my sweater drawer. Robb and I did our best, but we only managed to keep the runty girl kitten alive for three days.
Oddly, there was never a question that we would keep Niobe and her son, thus doubling the size of our kitty menagerie. From the start, this little boy was a Lot of Cat. He was a huge eater. The first thing he ever ate that didn't come from his momma was a tortilla chip that he stole off our dining room table. He was a tiny kitten at the time, and the chip was almost as tall as he was, but he somehow managed to run, holding one corner of the chip triangle in his mouth. He was also crazy about peas, and we got far too much amusement out of tossing peas off the dinner table, and watching him race after and devour them.
He spent huge amounts of energy trying to become the Dominant Cat, despite the fact that his tiny mom always ruled the roost. He was quite a fighter, much to the dismay of Robb's Old Lady Cats. Eventually, they took up residence on the furniture, which he was either too chubby or lazy to jump on. Visitors probably thought it strange that we regularly had a cat snoozing on top of our fridge. They probably also shook their head at the ongoing Punch and Judy Show between Mister Firdusi and his mom. He seemed to delight in trying to bonk Niobe on the head, but all she had to do was give him The Look, and he would back down.
I had always been of the opinion that you shouldn't name your cats, but rather, you should wait until they name themselves. Mister Firdusi was such an oddball of a kitten (he seemed unaware of the fact that his hind legs and face were part of the same body, and spent hour kicking himself in the head, and then angrily chomping on his hind feet). One of us was reading the plays of Oscar Kokoschka, and stumbled across a character called Herr Firdusi, who was described as "a giant revolving head with arms and legs carrying a pig's bladder on a string." Clearly, our cats was an Absurdist or Dadaist, and thus he gained a name. (We never learned what his first name was. We were on very formal terms with Mister Firdusi.)
Mister Firdusi was a big boy, but he was not a vocal cat. He purred, and he hissed, but we lived with him for for several years before we heard him meow. One night, we heard a tiny, distant, squeaky, plaintive "weeeeeee-you" coming from somewhere. We thought there was a kitten outside our apartment. After looking around, we realized that our big burly tomcat had gotten locked out of our apartment, and was bawling his eyes out in the hallway. Firdusi liked to act like the toughest thing on four legs, so we found it hilarious that he had such a sissified voice.
We used to tease Mister Firdusi for being a Sullen Teenager, because while he desperately wanted our love, he insisted on acting all cool and standoffish. He and I both utilized the seduction technique that I dubbed the "Skulk and Glare." Remarkably, this normally unsuccessful method worked wonders on Robb. More often than not, Mister Firdusi slept nestled in Robb's arms. I'm not normally one to kiss-and-tell but every single morning when I left for work, Mister Firdusi was curled up on Robb's pillow like some kind of demented fur hat. He was a total cuddle-bunny.
Mister Firdusi was in apparently in perfect health when he literally dropped dead yesterday. I was working a later schedule than normal, and happened to be at home, when I heard a "clunk" in the bathroom, followed by a brief, horrible moaning sound. I ran in to see what was going on, and Firdusi was laying limp on the floor. Robb tried kitty Heimlich and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was too late. I took his body to the vet, who examined him and speculated that he must have had a stroke or blood clot in the brain.
I don't give a lot of thought to the afterlife. Occasionally, I have thought that it would be nice for everyone to get the afterlife that they would most appreciate. So, if Mister Firdusi is anywhere, I imagine him in some kind of Kitty Valhalla, where he spends the day pounding on his closest friends and relations, and then feasting and cuddling with them all night.
Yeah, he was a Lot of Cat, that Mister Firdusi.