The Magic of Black – Part I

TJax up closeoday’s post has nothing to do with drugs, celiac disease, gluten, or my health.  It’s about a special creature both revered and reviled, especially this time of year: the black cat, the familiar of witches, plus the maker of mischief, bad luck, and all manner of ne’er do well.

I’m taking up for the black cat today because I know there are people out there who think it’s funny or even necessary to torture, abuse, or otherwise harm these majestic creatures. Such horrors are so common, many animal shelters won’t allow anyone to adopt a black cat (or even black dogs) during the month of October for fear the adopter has something other than a forever happy home in store for the ebony set.

This infuriates me. Sickens me. Horrifies me. Ever since I can remember I’ve heard stories about kids who tied cans or firecrackers to a black cats’ tails and watched in glee as the panicked cats try to escape the noise. I can’t even describe the other stories I’ve heard or read in the news because they are too sick and too vile to deserve any attention here. Even as I write this, I find tears coursing down my cheeks and a sickening fury churning in my gut.

It’s personal. I have a black furchild named Jax and if someone so much as looks cross-eyed at him I’m after them. If anyone looks cross-eyed at any black cat, I’m after them.

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, my family was chosen by a beautiful black cat to be his people, his home. He showed up one day in early fall and wouldn’t leave. We’d race home after school every day to see if he was waiting for us and of course, he was waiting for us. We fed him canned tuna and left over meatloaf. No cat’s walking away from that fancy feast!

My mother loved to tell the story of how Ricky became our cat. It was on a cold night in late October or early November and I refused to come into the house unless the cat could come, too. I staged a protest on our back porch steps and I meant business. I said I would freeze to death before I’d go in sans cat. I argued that he could freeze to death and dad would have to shovel his rigid body from behind the bushes in the morning and did he really want to take his chances that DiTulio’s finest,  all Teamsters (of course), wouldn’t dump it back on the front lawn (or worse, bring it to the front door with a nicely veiled threat) once they saw it tumble out of the trash can into the garbage truck on garbage pickup day? It’s hard to argue when Teamsters get thrown in the mix.

Anyone who knows cats knows that once you open the door, the cat considers himself home. We opened the back door and the cat took a full  minute to cross the threshold: it looked like he was deliberating and testing the doorway for booby traps but maybe he was savoring the moment, drawing it out for future reminiscing “the time I found myself home.”

He didn’t act as if he felt at home at first. He had to investigate the house on the high-low: head high and neck craned to sniff the air and then suddenly he’d crouched low, almost slinking along on his belly,  only to stretch up high again when something smelled interesting, and then he suddenly recoiled to the floor again, inching forward on tentative feet. He was allowed only to investigate what we called the porch: an addition to the tiny Cape Cod off the galley kitchen. It was the playroom, with tall windows stretching side-by-side along the three outside walls. Dad insisted on not allowing the cat into the rest of the house because he only was staying the one night.

We made a nice bed with blankets and the laundry basket. Ricky settled into it after a plate of tuna, purring while he “cleaned” himself with a tuna-coated tongue.

By the end of the week the cat had a name — Ricky — and free range of the house. Ricky lived with us nearly eight years. The vet guessed he was about five or six when he adopted us, which meant he died of diabetes at the perfect age of thirteen, or maybe he was fourteen. He was a big beautiful cat who loved to curl up in a mound of clothes fresh from the dryer. His half-lidded look of bliss seemed to say, “Thanks for using the blanket warmer this time.” He enjoyed jumping onto the dinner table in the middle of a meal with guests, seeming to inquire if everything was to their liking and would they like a dusting of cat fur with their pork chops?

Ricky, like most cats, believed the world was his oyster bed. Every porch was his snooze spot and the  middle of the street was the perfect place to scratch his back because the asphalt was nice and bumpy. If you happened to be driving down the street, you either had to honk the horn at him–and even that just elicited an indignant stare, and maybe, just maybe, he’d take his sweet time getting out of the street–or else try to go around him. No one dared to cross the black cat, so maybe the superstition served a useful purpose after all.

As self-proclaimed front porch don, Ricky once freaked out the local Avon lady by parking himself across her front doormat and refusing to budge when she tried to get into her house. My mother answered our front door when the Avon lady banged on it. We listened as she ranted about the cat putting a curse on her house and we’d better get that horrid beast off her porch and be prepared to pay for an exorcism if she heard so much as a single chain rattling in the house over the next several months.

My sister and I dutifully went to her house and hauled Ricky off the porch. He was quite annoyed about being disturbed from a particularly delicious cat nap in a lovely patch of sun. As soon as we got him home he stalked off and sulked under the bed. We never got a bill for an exorcism, though my other sister offered to go over with the Ouija board and hold a seance. Offer declined.

In New Jersey, at least in the seventies and eighties, the night before Halloween was called Mischief Night or Wreck Up Night. Everyone knew to bring in their pumpkins or else risk finding it smashed in the middle of the street in the morning. We also knew to keep all the lights on, inside and outside, to make it harder for mischief makers to egg the house or TP it. People also knew to squeeze all their cars onto the driveway because those parked on the street could get scrawled with epithets in soap or shaving cream. It was tough in Jersey but we only lost one pumpkin and got egged maybe twice.

We put Ricky on limited outside access the week of Halloween and on house arrest from midday October 30th through the morning of November 1st. It just was too dangerous for him. He sulked. He whined. He threw all the jars out of the spice rack in the kitchen. He raced up and down the basement stairs howling deep, gutteral meows of protest. When trick or treaters started arriving, he was put in the porch playroom with the door closed so he could watch all the birds and squirrels he wanted from the safety of the back of the couch. Of course, he took the opportunity to shred the heck out of the slip cover. Nevertheless, he stayed inside and he stayed alive.

I now have another black furchild named Jax. That’s his beautiful face at the beginning of this post. My next post will be all about him, so stay tuned.

It amazes me that the same people who covet little black dresses for every social occasion and drool over the latest black Mercedes coupe despise black cats, black dogs, and even black people. For too many people, black is bad when it breathes and wants to befriend you. I don’t get it. Black is beautiful. Black is courage and power and majesty and classiness. Black cats are not evil. They are warm, loving creatures who were blessed by God with black fur.

We all should be so lucky.