Shattered Wig #28

Shattered Wig #28
Coming In November!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Letters From Pappy In Chengdu - Episode 2: On Catness & "The Prime Directive"

The drumbeats of Pappy are working! The Shattered Wig switchboard has been lighting up non-stop since we posted the tale of Pappy's torturous kidney stone. Youngsters with bad mullets are holding their sides pretending immense pain so that they too can be as groovy and enigmatic as our weary world traveler Monsieur Paps. Judging by the responses it is indeed time to unleash a new book of Mark's on Shattered Wig. But for now, at least a new missive. This one on the essence of "catness" and "The Prime Directive".

Roop -- A letter to Cassius describing my I don't know what experience with the essence of cat-ness...

Dear Cassius –

If you ever wake up in the middle of the night from a dream in which your Uncle Mark is lying under a car looking up into the engine and holding onto a white string, don’t worry. It has already happened and I was not hit by the car – it was something else entirely, as you will see – and no lasting harm came to me. All the unfortunate aftermath was taken by my black cat and even he is okay now. Chip always says, “No good deed goes unpunished” and he’s completely right. I have a story to prove it yet again.
So you remember our black cat, who looks a little like Mojo only more beat up and slightly crazier. He’s a street cat really and there’s no reason to believe he’ll ever be “domesticated.” He comes up to our apartment for food and to keep warm when it’s really rainy, but when the girl cats are in heat, he’s outside for days at a time, howling and raping and having such fun, but he’s not quite as strong as the other males around here and, last time, he came back completely beaten to a pulp. We put him on our couch and tried to tend his wounds and he slept for about 14 hours. He was in such bad shape that I watched him fall off the couch – he rolled over and dropped like a rock, THUD – something I’ve never seen a cat do before. I thought they were always supposed to land on their feet.

Of course, Maureen and I decided we had to take him to the vet. In America, this is a perfectly straightforward proposition, but here in Chengdu, there’s always some complex angle to it. After a couple of days and the help of my student, Mike, we borrowed a carrying cage from the vet and were ready to transport the wounded hero. Now this was not one of those plastic cat-carriers you see in the States, but more like a big, square bird-cage of thin wire bars. I think, because the cat had a couple of days’ rest, he had had time to recover. So when we put him in the cage, he growled a lot, studied it and when we had gotten the cage on the back of Mike’s motorcycle, he pried the wall of the cage open with his paws and – ZOOM! – off he went.

Two days later, we found him again. I had greatly strengthened the cage with pliers and lots of wire. I was thinking of Papa at the time because I was just like him, cussing and swearing at the pliers, the wire and especially the cat. It must’ve been funny to watch, though Maureen was certainly diplomatic. We’ve been together long enough for her to know she should avoid me when I’m doing anything with tools. So, after lots of cat screaming and scratching, we got him into the cage again, this time double-reinforced with bungee cords, and walked him out to the street to catch a taxi.

Now, our apartment complex has a gate with a guard shack at the front, like almost every apartment complex in China. If you’ve been living in America it’s a little scary at first, just because you’ve heard China is a Communist country and you might think the guards are there to keep you in and spied on and all that, but, believe me, that’s not even close to the truth of the matter. They’re not even any good at keeping people out. My bike was stolen, my neighbor’s bike was stolen and another neighbor had his lock broken by someone who was trying to steal his bike. As far as I can tell, the guards are working because they know somebody and they’re all ex-military. It is just a make-work program to keep ex-soldiers happy. For example, our guards are usually asleep or playing with the local kids. In fact, I think they make a little extra money as baby sitters. They’ll often be surrounded by ten or fifteen kids, playing badminton or scrawling on the walkway with chalk. Or, they might be drunk. A couple of times they have called me over and given me shots of moonshine. Yow, it’s strong. I’ve even been over to one of the guards’ house and given snake wine and lots of hot pot. But intimidating they’re not.

Anyway, the reason I mention the guards is that, as Maureen and I were leaving with a screaming clawing cat in a cage, they kept trying to give me ice cream. They had about thirty ice creams on a stick and all the kids already had had enough. It was like they didn’t notice this cat going completely insane, peeing all over the walkway and howling in a cage. But I brushed them off and hailed a cab and finally got the cat in the trunk of the cab while Maureen was politely declining many, many offers of every kind of ice cream. I think I should have stayed home with the ice cream.

By the way, the guards call me “Mah-kuh.”

We got to the corner nearest the vet, which is on First Ring Road, a very busy street. Chengdu has three big “ring roads,” which, as you can guess, circle the city. We were a ridiculous sight carrying the caged screaming cat from the corner to the vet and, luckily, we ran into two of my students, Ivan and Candy – I know, the kids choose the most ridiculous English names sometimes, I’ve even had a Pudding and now I have a Pore. Ivan and Candy were bringing their puppy back from the vet after having the poor little thing “fixed.” I tell you, there’s nothing more heart-breaking than a drugged-up, ball-less puppy being carried in a purse. But they came back to the vet with us to help us translate our needs to the vet and I’m sure the poor kids have regretted it ever since.

So I told the vet that the cat was very crazy and very strong, even though he still had two rather impressive wounds on his neck and side. The vet reassured me that he knew exactly what to do, not to worry. Basically, let the professional handle this from here on out, Mr. Foreigner. I warned him! He began by tying long, flat cloth strings to the cat’s legs, which went smoothly enough. But as he removed the cat from the cage, the cat screamed like a banshee, clawed the Vet’s sleeves to cabbage and went dashing away down First Ring Road.

It’s hard to describe how many people are in a Chinese city. I’m really used to it now, but an American or Canadian city just doesn’t compare. Think New York rush hour almost all the time.

So, out the door ran the cat, followed by Mark, followed by the vet. The cat took a hard left about twenty yards from the office, scrambling into a little rabbit-warren neighborhood. This is the way Chinese cities are. They have big main roads, but just off these roads, the neighborhoods are like mazes of tiny alleys and apartments. The vet and I actually didn’t do too badly at first, because the cat slowed down to check out the long, white strings tied to his legs. But as we got closer, he sprinted off madly and we were running full throttle, taking corners really fast and the vet fell down more than once. I knew I had to catch the little monster or I’d never be able to live with myself. I mean, the cat didn’t understand I had his well-being at heart. He was just a traumatized thing trying to get back to his home, but I knew he would never find it again if we didn’t catch him. You see, there are people called “cat fishermen” here in China who catch stray cats to sell in Guangdong province to restaurants. Yup, cat restaurants. So I was running like I’d never run before.

Luckily, the cat had those bright, white strings tied to his feet still. I saw him kind of sauntering along near a gathering of very old people. But then he saw me. He dashed under a table of old ladies who were playing mah-jongg. They started screaming. Then I came running by and they started screaming, “Lao Wai! Lao Wai!” That means “foreigner,” but a more accurate translation is “foreign devil,” literally “old foreigner.” So now we had the attention of the whole neighborhood.

I saw the cat head for a new, green compact car. He had gotten under the car, but a shred of string was sticking out, so I lunged and grabbed the end of the string. The cat screamed again and climbed up into the engine of the car. So there’s the image: I was lying under the car, holding onto a string, waiting for help from the vet, with a crowd of very startled Chinese folks peering down at me.

After ten minutes or so, the crowd got bored of the foreigner-under-the-car routine and wandered off. The vet had stuck his head down, saying something in Chinese and disappeared. Finally, Maureen, Ivan and Candy found me and the vet returned with even more string, which we tied to the string I was holding and then tied again to a tree, so if the cat decided to come out we could still catch him. Maureen and Ivan went off looking for the owner of the car and I sat down with Candy and the doped-up, castrated puppy.

This whole adventure began around 2:30 in the afternoon. Mike showed up later on his motorbike. Maureen and Ivan came back, after having consulted another nearly useless guard, only with the bad news that the owner of the car wasn’t going to get home from work until 7:30 in the evening. So I had time to think.

I don’t know if you ever really paid any attention to Star Trek, but in that show they have something called The Prime Directive, which means that, in the 23rd Century, Earth people were so advanced that, if they came into contact with any less-advanced alien civilizations, the main rule was NOT to contact them, give them technology or help them in any way, for fear of basically putting a monkey-wrench into their natural development. Now, of course, many episodes of Star Trek are precisely about violating The Prime Directive. Captain Kirk was particularly bad about that. I mean, I would think having sex with green alien girls would be covered by that kind of thing. Anyway, I was thinking about how I had been relating to this poor cat the whole time.

I think it was in October that Maureen began floating the idea of letting the cat come up to the apartment. I remember cracking wise about The Prime Directive at the time, but I relented quite easily, because the cat has so much personality and is really entertaining to have around. He jumps on my chair while I’m writing and snuggles close to my ass, sometimes clawing, but always complaining loudly if I move in the slightest. He’s very bossy, very demanding, yet somehow I really grew to like him. But his main life is out in the neighborhood. He has family and friends out there, though I have no idea if that’s how he thinks of the other cats. He has enemies and a really loud and active sex life, if that’s what you want to call the unappealing (to me) cat mating season. And even after his truly serious injuries, he was recovering quickly and, as the vet pointed out, he could still run like a motherfucker – pardon my translation from Chinese to the French.

And what had I accomplished that day? I had terrorized the cat in the name of caring for him. I had traumatized him in the most thorough way and almost gotten him lost away from his home and comfort zone. And now he was stuck in the engine of a car, where I was afraid he might die and be dead already, for we didn’t hear a peep from him for the longest time and, believe me, this cat is a very loud cat. Was I like an even more retarded George Bush, liberating the cat by sending him to Abu Ghraib?

So we waited in shifts. Maureen sent the students and me off to a restaurant to get some food while she waited for the owner of the car with the loopy, snipped puppy. When we got back, Maureen and I decided that, if the cat ever made it out of this alive, we wanted the vet to drug the living Be-Jesus out of the cat, mainly because we had both read an article about how some sedatives were good fro relieving people of their memories of really horrible events. Maureen kept insisting to the kids to repeat the request to the vet until I’m sure the vet must’ve been wondering whether all pets in America were drug addicts.

Finally, the owner of the car came home and it was around 8 o’clock, getting dark. He opened the hood of the car and out jumped the cat, clawing and screaming like he had been from the beginning. Now remember, the string was tied to his leg and he had gone under the car and up through the engine with the string and now he was clawing and fighting and wrapped around the engine and the owner of the car was also screaming about how it was a new car and there were very important computer cables in the engine and God help us if that cat destroys his new car.

Maureen and I fought our way through to the cat and got him into the cage again as Ivan used a lighter to cut the string. The car started up just fine, so the owner didn’t want to sue us, or whatever horrible Chinese civil court fate would have awaited us had the cables been severed. We got the cat back to the vet and, after an examination and some expensive prescription-writing, the vet injected him with a massive dose of sedatives.

The cat kept looking at me the whole time with eyes full of hate. Even after he was sedated, he kept staring at me like I was the worst Judas who ever tainted the animal kingdom. Even after we got home and carried his limp body to the couch, he just stared with loathing. The next day, after we let him outside, he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, or Maureen. He didn’t come meowing for food for five days or so and would run when he saw us. Oy, the guilt.

He’s back now. The weather turned warm. His friend or possibly brother, a black and white cat is back and he’s in a friendlier mood to everyone, it seems. He has stayed the night a couple of times now, but still is rather jumpy and paranoid. He doesn’t like that cage when he notices it in the corner of the living room. But I don’t feel that much better about the whole affair. My little brother is right, I know that now.

So, my advice as an uncle is: Follow The Prime Directive!



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