An unmixed good thing I will say about Jack Kerouac is I like the weird little passage in Visions of Gerard where the cat gets held fast by the jowls and harangued in Catholic terms (by the saintly Gerard) for eating her little mouse brethren. You mustn't harm the gentle creatures of this world, you mustn't! he cries. but she does, she does.
(“Méchante! Bad girl! Don’t you understand what you’ve done? When will you understand? We don’t disturb little animals and little things! We leave them alone! We’ll never go to heaven if we go on eating each other and destroying each other like that all the time!—without thinking, without knowing!—wake up, foolish girl!—realize what you’ve done!—Be ashamed! shame! stop wiggling your ears!”
and so on. But what that foolish hectoring child did not realize is you cannot expect a cat to stop waggling her ears unless you first stop grasping her about the jowls. And so I cannot enter into young Jack’s feeling for his brother, whom he says he regarded in this moment as one regards Christ throwing the money-changers out of the temple. Kerouac’s later avowed identification of cats with his dead brother Gerard, Gerard the Savonarolesque cat-reformer and cat-bully who set himself apart from and above the poor bedeviled and bejowled Fanny, is nothing but perverse in my opinion.
I say this all as a person with a perfectly normal relation to cats. I demonstrate this with a picture of my new cat, Theodora, inspecting the hollowed-out ostrich egg I bought her at the antique store:
Theodora dwells in the long shadow of her departed sister Eliza, whom she never knew but greatly resembles. They would have had great wars with each other. This resemblance which murders my heart is all my fault but not my design. I haven’t got such bad judgment as to do this on purpose, I only yield to bad impulses. When I made up my mind to get a new cat after not even five months of mourning I set out to get a boy cat, black and white or all black, who would do nothing but roll around and sit on me from time to time thinking large uncomplicated thoughts. I would have called him Agravain, if he hated his mother, or Increase, if he wanted to be president of Harvard, or Anguish, after King Anguish of Ireland, if he was rebellious, or Jobst, if he looked like a Jobst. We would have been fond enough of one another and he would have sat on me to while away the duller months of winter, but I would not have sat on him, because that is not best practice with cats, as much as you want to be egalitarian in all dealings and say Fair is fair and For thee as for me and all the things you do say to cats.
but instead of holding out for my placid Clarence, what happened was I went into the hot and rumbling cat rescue van that lay in wait for me in the rain two Sundays ago, placed so temptingly by the metro like a wicked clown in a storm drain. There was exactly one correct cat out of the five cats there, so I said Box this one up for me at once! the words out of my mouth before I knew what I was doing. Only once she had been folded into a cardboard box and paid for did they choose to tell me she had been spayed just three days before, and they left for me to discover on my own that what I thought was her sweet and gentle disposition was mostly the long-lasting effect of a bolus of buprenorphine. I thought she was a dainty long-legged melancholy porcelain princess but now the drugs have worn off I see she is also a monster who runs up and down the walls and won’t sit on me.
so that is Theodora, who is very thin with sharp elbows and who looks like the Eliza of nine years ago in ways that pain my heart constantly, because the Eliza of nine years ago was a waif and orphan who didn’t know me and had no memories of nine years with me. I am not some idiot who thinks she has got her Eliza back, but when I do think about having Eliza back I think of having her back just as she was the last time I saw her well. I never thought of an Eliza young again, and a stranger.
but Theodora who is not Eliza has her own peculiar personal habits and attitudes and must have her own memories. Unlike Eliza, she has black paw-pads instead of pink and a lavender-grey spotted belly under tawny fur, instead of a white one, and has got yellow eyes not green ones, and her whiskers are both black and white instead of white only, and all her noises sound like the air being let out of something such as a balloon or a spare tire. This is only a small portion of the full catalogue. She bites me when she gets exasperated, just like Eliza did, but she bites me with a difference.