It’s always been held that cats have nine lives, but a friend of mine, affectionately known as the Cat, must be close to running out. Just how much longer he’ll be around is beginning to worry me.
He’s been the Cat since well before we both retired, and almost no one calls him by his real name—if they even remember it. The reasons for the nickname are long-forgotten, although he claims to remember.
“Just look at how I move,” he says. “I’ve got the grace and power of a big cat.”
Sometimes he stumbles as he says this.
I was telling some new friends recently about my old pal, a guy who lurches through life’s little lessons, always landing on his feet. At least, that’s how he sees it. He’s always boasting of how he demonstrates the feline reflexes and agility that only the truly-gifted athletes have.
Such claims are usually accompanied by a sheepish grin, following, for example, a frantic scramble to retrieve the food he has just spilled off his plate at the buffet table.
My friends were fascinated by my tales of the Cat’s adventures, if somewhat disbelieving. They asked if he were still alive, and enquired about the escapades he’s endured. I obliged them by relating a few—all true, as sure as I’m sitting here now.
After deciding to spend winters in the south with his long-suffering wife, he began to participate again in many of the athletic endeavours he had previously given up. With wanton disregard for the years that have passed, he threw himself recklessly into everything.
For example, there was the time a group of us were playing in an oldtimers’ slow-pitch tournament. We were there, more for a good time than to win. Hence, the Cat was batting fourth in our lineup, rather than last.
When he stepped up for his first turn at the plate, he swung so hard at the pitch lobbed by him that we thought he’d screw himself into the dirt. But, the Cat wasn’t phased.
“What—a—ripple!” he declared admiringly, unwinding himself awkwardly from the bat. “Did ya see the power behind that swing? Panther-power, just like a cat!” He struck out on the next two pitches, but with a mighty swing both times.
Later in the game, however, the Cat did make it to first base—after being hit by a pitch he couldn’t twist away from. On his way down the line, he attempted to imitate the pigeon-toed run immortalized by Babe Ruth, but with mixed results. It looked fine until he tripped on an untied shoelace and fell.
“I was gonna try out my home-run trot,” he explained later, “except I remembered I don’t have one. But, I hope you guys noticed how gracefully I slid into first base when y’all thought I had tripped. Every move is planned!”
Following our final game of the day, we adjourned to the community pool for a swim, a few drinks, and a cook-out. The Cat was thirsty, but he didn’t stay that way for long. By the time we got around to eating, he had definitely been over-served.
Sitting fully erect on an aluminum lawn chair, the fold-up kind, he was holding a plateful of food in his hands. With glazed eyes and a fixed smile, he stared straight ahead, lips moving wordlessly. Then, ever so slowly, he toppled sideways, out of his overturning chair, and on to the grass. Incredibly, he never tipped his plate! Didn’t spill a morsel!
“I wish I’d been there to see that,” the Cat said later. “I’m sure I handled it gracefully, just like a cat!”
His full day ended with a swim in the pool, something else he doesn’t really remember. He was walking back and forth across the shallow end, bent over with his face in the water, wearing a face-mask and snorkel. The Cat likes to take great risks like that.
Inevitably, he stepped into the area where the pool-floor slopes down to the deep end. He sank like a stone. When he bobbed back to the surface, still face down, he drew a huge, shuddering breath through the snorkel tube.
That marked the onset of a great thrashing and splashing, punctuated by whooping and coughing, and wild flapping of arms. The tube, of course, had filled up with water.
It took six of us to get the Cat out of the pool, still clutching the mask and snorkel when we deposited him on the grass. After a few moments of laboured breathing, he grinned up at the crowd staring down at him.
“Notice how I managed to grab the snorkel before it sank?” he sputtered. “Just like a cat-fish!”
On another occasion, when we all went roller-skating (some of us wearing inline skates), the Cat sailed onto the floor with great abandon. He managed to remain upright as long as he was moving forward, but turning was another matter entirely. Over the first few minutes, he became intimately acquainted with every corner of the skating arena.
His tour de force happened when he was resting for a few minutes, leaning on a railing that separated the main floor from the rest area. Suddenly, the roller skates on both feet shot forward from under him, plunging him straight down. His underarms and chin caught on the rail, and he hung there for a moment, legs outstretched, before dropping to the floor.
When he recovered enough to speak, he croaked, “Did ya see how I caught myself there, before I hit the floor? Like a cat!”
Unbelievably, these were only some of the escapades from which he’s emerged relatively unscathed. Several years ago, he went river-rafting with his son and a few other lunatics. One of their favourite activities as they went careening through the white-water rapids, was to fill the bailing-buckets and toss water at each other.
As it was told to me, the Cat forgot to hold on to the bucket on one toss, and it hit another rafter squarely on the shoulder, toppling him out of the raft. The Cat was quick, though. With blinding speed, he lunged for his unfortunate victim, missed him by the slimmest of margins, and followed him over the side.
After much floundering and flailing, punctuated by surges of pure panic, the other rafters managed to pluck the two of them from the river. The Cat was jubilant.
“Notice how I went right in after him?” he crowed. “There was no time to lose! Poor guy coulda drowned! Instant response, no hesitation, quick as a cat!”
My favourite of his adventures, however, happened up north, on a winter weekend several years back. A group of us had gathered at a friend’s farm to boot about on his snowmobiles.
I’m not sure the Cat had driven a snowmobile before, but he approached his designated machine with even more confidence than he usually shows. Leaping aboard, perhaps assuming it had a neutral gear, he gunned the throttle. The machine shot forward, the Cat’s head snapped back, and his helmet dropped down over his eyes. Clawing at it to push it up, he realized he was headed directly for a parked car.
With his famed, cat-like reflexes, he yanked the handlebars hard to the right, missing the car by a whisker. As he pulled, however, he fully depressed the throttle under his thumb, and that was his undoing.
Recalling it later, our host said, “He turned away from the car, alright, but then accelerated straight into a tree! I never saw anything like it!”
The tree put a stop to the brief, wild ride. The Cat kept moving after the snowmobile stopped, of course, smashing into the cowling and windshield. Bruises on his chest and a couple of muscle strains were the lasting effects of his thirty-foot expedition.
“Guess I’ve bought a snowmobile,” he observed ruefully, surveying the wreckage later. He lapsed into rueful silence for awhile, but then brightened considerably.
“Did you guys see how fast I reacted when everybody thought I was gonna hit my car? I turned that sucker in the nick of time, cool as a big cat! Every move is planned.”
The Cat’s friends, and they are many, figure he has maybe two of his nine lives left, if that. We all hope they’re charmed.
Like them, I love the Cat. But, given his predilection for tempting fate, I make a point of never standing too close to him.