Rest in Peace, Moe Chavez, 1997-2014.
My first cat was a black one named Maxwell. Fat and long-haired, he napped flat on his back, sunning his wide tummy. After that I remember a huge litter of orange tabbies, an army of kittens. In college there was a gray and white tabby who would wake me up in the morning with a kiss on the nose and a petite black manx named Bunny. After moving to Austin from San Marcos in 1974 there was a silver manx named Roxy and a tabby/manx named Bogey, and I think I’m skipping a few. A black and white kitten named Kiki got me through some hard times as a grief-stricken musician in a glam blues band called Jelly Roll, after which I met Lois, my future wife, and she acquired a grey kitten named Greyson. The Skunks fired off 1978 with Lois and I and we adopted Marlowe, the stout grey tabby, who took me in as an apprentice hardboiled detective writer. When Kiki and Marlowe drove us to LA in 1987, we stopped off in Fredericksburg to see my dying grandmother, Katy Duecker, and because of concerns over Kiki’s nerves we dosed her with tranquilizers which had the unforeseen effect of inspiring her to pace in circles over our laps and the seats all the way to El Paso, smearing the windows with a thin coating of mucous, like a wandering drunk. Arriving on the outskirts of LA the cats became exceedingly curious at the scenery, their faces glued to the windows, noses working overtime. We had lied to the landlords, saying we “only have one little bitty kitten,” because the apartments strictly forbade pets.
When we went out to LA the month previous (I was rehearsing with Kathy Valentine’s new band while Lois shopped for apartments) Lois had caught the landlord painting and drinking wine and in a liberal state of mind and he relented to just one pet. However after moving in, both cats insisted on going out on the balcony overlooking the pool, and Marlowe was always inching around the corner to the unit next door, home of a former Ziegfield Follies dancer, one of the white-haired forgotten divas you find only in LA. And always when we went down to the swimming pool, our new kitten, Willie, would climb up the screen of the balcony door and expose himself, spread-eagled and mewing, which was not very discreet at a place with a big “NO PETS ALLOWED” sign facing out on Kling Street, there in Valley Village, right off Laurel Canyon.
LA was paradise for living and dreaming and writing, but family and other matters called us back to Texas in 1994. I had just had the first of several neck surgeries, doctors having missed the cancer cells that were forming a colony on my right tonsil, unseen, and the Northridge earthquake, 6.7 on the Richter scale, rocked us out of bed at 4 AM. Neighbors streamed downstairs where the swimming pool was roiling with tidal waves like a fat man in the tub, and after helping Donya the diva down the stairs she exclaimed “What about Fluffy???” I ran upstairs to get her obese, hugely furry white cat. Donya also had a white ’65 Mustang she let us drive for a year or so. Whenever she went in the hospital, Donya gave me one of those rambling, ten page long instructions of how to feed and care for Fluffy.
Back in Austin we acquired Kiki #2, a fluffy orange tabby. She was Dashiell’s cat and he was four years old and he insisted that Kiki #2 was a girl, which became confusing during visits to the vet on account of Kiki’s male genitalia. Eventually we became convinced that Dashiell was correct. Sam the tabby came along and became Lois’s best friend, although best friends don’t usually follow you wherever you go, sleep at your side, wait at the door crying a full hour before your car pulls into the garage.
Moe is another story entirely. One day in 2004 we came home and noticed a black cat sitting on the rock wall in back, watching us. He kept appearing on the wall and by the end of summer was around quite a bit. He had a collar with a light blue bow on the back that was quite fetching. Around October I was petting him a lot. He would stand there and talk to me and rub my leg. One hell of a purr, too. He had a runny nose. We put out inquiries and learned that his keepers were David and Julia Lundstedt, who lived up the hill a block away. They were up in Ohio helping register voters in hopes that John Kerry would help save the country from the neo-cons and their puppet from Midland, George W. Bush. Valiant effort, tragic story. The Lundstedts also rescued cats and dogs. As it turned out, Moe, who was then going by an alias of Mose (a folk artist whose last name has slipped my mind), had come to the Lundstedt house in Travis Heights after his running mate died. The family Moe was living with previously told the Lundstedts that he had come to them after leaving another family. So the Lundstedts, who were technically at least the third parents of Moe, told us that if he seemed to prefer us, it was OK with them if we adopted him.
Moe had some sort of chronic allergy that caused sneezing and a runny nose. Our vet, Deborah Besch, tried many things but in the end, nothing was a cure. Some drugs seemed to help a little, but he kept sneezing for another ten years. Despite this burden Moe was a trooper. The first night we let him in the house he came to bed and rested his cheek on my neck and stayed there. Every night after that he would climb on my chest, his purr penetrating my rib cage.
Even during his last days he has not lost his purr. He was born in 1999 and he made it to age 17, which is pretty remarkable. During his outside days, he was the tough cat of the neighborhood, making the rounds via the rock walk and the back trails, going next door to the old Taylor Gaines house and bossing around the half Siamese cats there, going up the hill and driving the Lundstedts’ giant dogs crazy. Once inside he became a lap cat and Kiki #2’s sleeping pal. They stuck together like a couple of fur balls. He stopped eating over a week ago. To say we’re going to miss him, just as we, Lois and I and Sam, miss all the above cats, is a monumental understatement. This weekend we’re saying good-by, but like all good spirits, we know he’ll always be with us. This is painful but as long as you can feel pain and love you know your heart is still beating and you are in the world. I’m grateful that my world has always had cats in it.