An itinerant cat periodically raided our garbage cans back when I was a teen in Dayton, Ohio. It made a good living. Evidence: its padded belly nearly dragged on the ground. He sauntered slowly from yard to yard, the self-satisfied master of his realm.
We gave him good sport whenever we heard a crash in the garage and found him rummaging in a tipped over can for discarded meat trimmings, potato skins, and chicken bones. We ran him off, and, if he dared to return to the scene of the crime, sprayed him with squirt guns to disabuse him of his cherished belief that anything within his range was his to eat.
My brother, a born sprinter with a competitive edge, once engaged Fat Ass in a race. The cat sat across the street with his weight resting on his haunches and belly. He groomed himself nonchalantly as if nothing in the world could touch him, and Tony decided to shake up the kitty’s presumptions. Brother slowly approached, and Fat Ass stopped licking its paw. Tony crouched in a half stoop and suddenly bolted forward. The cat paused a beat incredulous that he had become the pursued, and finally lumbered into a sloppy lurching gait as my brother rapidly bore down on him. Tony got within three feet before disaster struck. Fat Ass juked to the left, and Tony swerved to follow. The course correction made him lose his footing on a wet patch, and he wiped out. The cat smugly studied Tony as he lay on his side. Brother eventually sat up to examine his torn jeans and bleeding knee, picked himself off the ground and limped home. (I tactfully did not ask Tony what he planned to do if he’d caught the cat.)
One winter morning I kept hearing whining and crying outside. Stray toddler? The noise came from the garage, but I saw nothing and no one when I stepped out into the cold. The crier called out more loudly as I poked around among the tools, the shelves stacked with old newspapers, and the pile of lumber my Dad had haphazardly stacked in the middle. I lifted up a board to shift the pile, peered into the shadows underneath and saw Fat Ass. He had somehow wedged himself between the boards and couldn’t get out. I pushed a sheet of plywood off to the right and lifted a few two by fours to free him. But the cat just stared at me. Perhaps he mistook me for Tony and mistrusted my intentions.
The garage was below zero, and I felt my toes and fingers turning numb as I waited for the cat to accept my offer. Finally, I turned my back to it and lifted the two by fours higher. I saw a blur pass through my legs and was about to drop my load when Fat Ass suddenly made a U-turn and darted back under the pile. He wedged himself in a tight crevice and began to mew sadly at me. Perhaps he had come down with a case of agoraphobia and preferred a cramped prison to freedom. Perhaps the whole situation was a con. Maybe he thought we would adopt him if he acted pathetic (or witless?) enough.
I considered the possibility of leaving the cat trapped in a jumble of lumber until it froze to death. I didn’t want to catch pneumonia trying to convince it to accept the only assistance I was willing to give. But I knew that it would rot in place, and that someone (probably me) would get drafted to clean up the mess when spring arrived and the remains thawed.
I blew on my hands and stamped my feet. I cursed the cat, shook the boards, lifted and turned my back once more. Fat Ass shot between my legs and kept going out into the yard. I retreated inside, put on three sweaters and sat by a heat vent.
A family across the street adopted Fat Ass the next spring, and his girth filled out until he resembled a stubby sausage. He still considered himself a feline at large, and sometimes stalked prey. One day I saw him hunkered down as he crawled toward a large gray rabbit. The bunny nibbled on clover with its back to the cat and seemed unaware that danger lurked nearby. Fat Ass paused, lifted a paw and took another step closer. The bunny’s left ear twitched, but it kept munching. Fat Ass delicately lifted another paw and inched forward. Bunny’s right and left ears twitched, and he sat upright and thoughtfully chewed. Fat Ass made his move, and the rabbit zigzagged and plunged through a shallow hole under a chain link fence to exit to safety on the other side. Fat Ass, outmaneuvered and unable to force himself through the gap, pawed on a link and meowed. Bunny sat a few feet away, clipped off a clover bud, and blandly ignored his former pursuer. The rabbit’s contempt was palpable.