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A farewell to Bubba

August 31, 1998

Tim RowlandI couldn't remember putting groceries away ever being so easy.

I could leave the door open in between trips to the car. I could put bags on the floor without fear of a Cruise Missile diving into the plastic and emerging at double speed with a powder white face full of flour. Nor did I have to chase plastic bags through the house as they noisily crackled from room to room, propelled by a terrified animal devoid of the first clue how to extract himself.

No one ate the lettuce, no one crushed the pasta, no one batted the sponges under the fridge.

It was all pretty glum.

Bubba had a way of turning something as routine as unloading groceries into an event that would make the 1965 Watts riots look like a senior citizen craft fair.

Some sick part of me enjoyed this, and I was actually saddened to think of the day when he would become old and tired and act like a plain-old-cat cat, lying for hours in the sun or in a lap with only the infrequent catnip-induced spasm.

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But then one day he did start acting like a plain old cat. He moped around, sleeping most of the day and refusing to eat. He was a shadow of himself, a black and white photograph of a black and white cat once so demonic that those two seemed the most vibrant, explosive colors on earth. I even bought a black and white checked bedspread so he'd match (an exercise indicative less of my decorating skills than of my disdain for the daily vacuuming of bedspreads).

Bubba, a talker and a dancer, did his best to keep up. He'd yap at me in a weak voice and slowly lift first his left paw and then his right in his unique feline two-step. But there was no recovery. Bubba died a week later of a liver tumor - died stoically, rather reflectively I thought, as if contemplating whether it had been wise to use up 15 years worth of energy in slightly less than three.

The cat never was one to think about things until after he did them. Two thirds of the way to the ground from the top of the refrigerator his eyes might betray a flicker of recognition that a safer course might have availed itself had he looked, although by then of course it was too late to void the contract.

But even if the results were less than positive, he never showed regret, so I suppose he was content that he whooped it up while he could and left this world like JFK - forever young.

Cats do to one's intellect what a strong-fingered pastry chef does to dough, kneading and mushing it beyond all recognizable structure, form and logic. What else would inspire a relatively balanced individual to compare an animal with a United States president? (Stop that, I know what you're thinking.)

Yet Bubba, as all cats, I imagine, transcended convention in a furry sort of way. He would see a meticulously frosted chocolate devil's-food cake balanced delicately in a windowsill above a basket full of freshly laundered pastel towels and say "Why not?"

While he was around I was comforted knowing that at worst I was only the second-weirdest life form on the planet. And he comforted me by showing that eccentricity and dignity are not mutually exclusive. Bless him, he had fun.

The evening before he got sick Bubba, for no discernible reason, streaked up behind me, launched himself off the patio and did a mid-air 180-degree spin. He landed facing me, his eyes a mix of confusion, embarrassment and defiance. He didn't know why he'd done it, but he did it, so there. He stretched, flicked his ears back and trotted off.

A week later he was drifting off for the last time on the stainless steel table. I gave him one last scratch on the ears before my wonderful vet (the cat's, I mean) covered him gently with a towel.

Half a minute after he should have been gone, Bubba gave one last, tremendous lurch. The final exclamation point of a dying clown. Poor boy.

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