This was my first full-time pet cat, a species I discovered I was too ignorant to parent. For example, when I brought this one to the vet’s office the next day, I gave the staff the name “Marjorie.” The tech took one look at some important kitten real estate and opined that in her professional opinion, whatever this animal’s name was, it was not, and would never be, Marjorie. That was when he became Barnaby.
Though he was likely the product of a hurry-up romance between a grimy feline guttersnipe and a scuzzy tomcat, Barnaby grew up gorgeous, with a luxuriant onyx coat and a little white Trotsky soul patch, which fit him perfectly. Temperamentally, he began as a dissident, then became a committed revolutionary. From the start, this cat’s face was expressive enough so you always kind of knew what he was thinking, and what he was thinking was usually some variant of “Oh yeah? This means war.” From the start, it was evident Barnaby maintained a running internal narrative of his life. It featured a central hero, a character of courage and cunning and constant epic achievements such as dispatching a mouse or, equally epically in his mind, hopping into a box or peeing where he is supposed to. One Thanksgiving, when Barnaby scrounged a raw turkey neck from the garbage, he strutted around the house with it: “I have assassinated a turkey neck!” Just last week, he dispatched a horsefly; I was around for the hunt but not the kill, but I’m sure it involved a cackling, muhahaha moment. Unearned hubris can be obnoxious and petty — witness our president, America’s Chief Petty Officer — or it can be utterly hilarious for its preposterous innocence and transparency. Witness Barnaby.
Barnaby’s first obvious attempt at suicide came when he jumped out a second-floor window, apparently without having mapped out a further escape plan. He plummeted 11 feet onto a rain barrel. He was panicked by his new straits (beneath the braggadocio, he was gifted, from the start, with a potentially lifesaving cowardice), so instead of instantly running under the wheels of a moving car, he hid under the rain barrel as best he could, which meant his butt protruded, making him relatively easy to find.
Barnaby has always charged for his presence — exacting a price for the privilege of your living with The Great Himself. When he developed a food intolerance that made him urinate blood, the cure became a prescription diet that was every bit as expensive as deli belly lox with capers and cream cheese, twice a day. When Barnaby discovered he did not like his new scratching post, he took it out on the arms of a fine leather living-room chair, becoming a frantic feline cheese grater, leaving the arms looking like the spiky side of Velcro. His most recent trick resulted in my coining a phrase: “to rat into,” which describes what he did, when hungry, to big bags of the dog’s food.
If, like me, you deeply love a cat like Barnaby, part of what you love, I think, is his soul, the soul of an absurd, self-satisfied, magnificent, ambitious, pernicious little recidivist stinker. It’s likely what pushed him to thievery of that non-safe dog food, which may be what burst open his bladder suddenly, two days before I am writing this. He died almost without warning, after just one day at the vet. He did it his way, of course, the Barnaby way. He held out through a desperate, last-ditch complex surgery. The bill was $7,500. After I paid it, drowning in guilt over the expenditure on a cat, I cut a huge check to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Response Fund.
You won this round, Barnaby.
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