Wednesday, April 23, 2008


©Ken Harris, 2008

El Monte, Los Angeles County, 1958. We had a new home so we acquired a new kitten, a grey kitten with four white feet that resembled moccasins. We were too lazy to say “moccasins,” so we named him Mocs. He and our new dog Skoshi immediately became fast friends. They played a special game, “Ambush.” As Skoshi ran around the persimmon-colored Volkswagen, yelping loudly at nothing at all, Mocs lurked behind the right rear wheel. Then as Skoshi whizzed by, Mocs would pounce on the dog’s hind leg while Skoshi ran off happily yelping, dragging the kitten with him. This scene repeated itself over and over.

Skoshi had long hair that knotted and tangled easily. Except for the left hind leg where the hair was long, silky, and untangled, combed by the family cat.

As is the case with most kittens, Mocs was a jangle of nerves. Once Joanne’s sister and her husband, Audrey and Tom Kampe, visited us bringing with them their teacup sized black dog, Frederick Minimus. Frederick just knew he was a predator. It was deep within his DNA. As soon as he saw Mocs, who was much larger than he, he ran up behind him and yapped as loudly as he could. Mocs immediately leaped high into a nearby persimmon tree. Then he sat in a fork of the tree, front paws on one side and rear paws on the other, and looked at the happy, dancing dog in utter self-disgust. “I ran from that?”

As an only cat, there was no one to teach Mocs to hunt. He showed little natural ability. One morning he took an interest in a flock of doves grazing on our front lawn. He hid himself behind a saxaphragia plant Joanne had just planted a few weeks before. The plant was still small, the kitten large; large enough to be plainly visible behind the saxaphragia, at any rate. He bulged out on all sides.

As the doves grazed and moved ever closer to the lurking cat, you could see Mocs trying to resolve some monumental questions. Which bird? When? Now? Which foot do I start with? What do I do if I catch one? It’s not easy being a cat. You’ve got to have a keen eye, balance, and a sense of timing. You’ve got to have a plan. The doves eventually tired of waiting to be eaten and wandered off leaving the poor kitten to wonder if he would ever get it right

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rope Racer and the Kittens

Rope Racer and the Kittens
Copyright: Ken Harris, 2008

Auburn, California, mid-1960s: When our daughter, Patricia, was still in grade school, she fell in the playground and sustained a greenstick fractures of the left leg. In a cast, immobile and hurting a little bit, she was unhappy. To make her feel better Joanne brought home a kitten.

The kitten was a congenital hysteric. The least untoward noise sent her nervous system into spontaneous disassembly. She tried to run through a glass door once because somebody sneezed.

She was hyperactive, like most kittens. Our son, Eric, christened her Rope Racer after they had played “Let’s-Maul-the-Dangling-Jump Rope” for half an hour.

Rope Racer grew to a fearful, fugitive feline, afraid of anything that moved, or might have moved in the past or might move in the future. If you tried to put her on your lap, she took immediate evasive action. I didn’t have to be clawed too many times in delicate places to recognize a bad idea.

If she found my company distasteful, she didn’t have any trouble with tomcats because she turned up pregnant one day. Oddly enough, impending parenthood seemed to settle her nerves a little. She no longer caromed off the walls simply because I set a coffee cup down too hard. She no longer hid under the refrigerator like a furry chuckawalla simply because the kids ran into the house announcing to the entire county that they were home from school.

We held a family conference to determine where Rope Racer would best have her kittens. I built her a nest out of a cardboard box stuffed with freshly laundered rags and put it behind the hot water heater in the garage. It was the darkest, warmest place around, much better than outdoors because it was still winter. I thought it was the ideal place for a cat to have her kittens.

Rope Racer did not agree.

I arose early on weekday mornings so I could change the sprinklers in the pasture and do other little chores before putting on a suit and driving 50 miles to my job as an insurance company junior executive.

Once ready for work I cranked up the Datsun, backed out of the garage, and began to carefully negotiate the steep gravel driveway leading away from our house. On the way down I heard a “me-EW, me-EW” coming from a distressed kitten. Several other voices soon joined in a chorus of complaint. At the foot of the hill I stopped to investigate. Suspicion confirmed. Rope Racer had chosen to set up her nursery under the front passenger seat of the car.

She had conferred upon a waiting world seven fat little kittens with distended bellies and eyes squeezed shut. Rope Racer oozed pride and didn’t even have a screaming fit at the idea of being so close to a human being.

And here’s where I demonstrated my mettle and displayed my true colors. I drove back to the garage, opened the door to the house and called out to Joanne, who was putting on her hose and heels getting ready for a day of teaching high school biology, “Honey, I’m taking your truck today. You take my car.”

I started to get into the truck, but I just couldn’t be that rotten. I opened the door to the house again and called out, “You’d better check under the front seat before you leave.” Then I got out of there in a hurry.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hunting the Wild Mustache

Originally written between 1978 and 1980
Rewritten in Tucson, Arizona, November, 2007

Hunting the Wild Mustache

When I was courting Joanne it was my custom to finish my janitorial duties at UC Riverside’s library around 2:00 a.m. and immediately drive over to her home in El Monte so we could spend weekends together. At first I tried to sleep in the car until the family woke up. That was not very comfortable so I tried making a place for myself on the stack of hay bales in the barn. But very soon I was discovered by Joanne’s father, Sid, who liked to get up at 4:00 in the morning. He invited me in for a morning cup of coffee and the family set up a bed for me in Joanne’s brother’s room.

Her brother, Fritz, at that time sported a huge R.A.F. style mustache, luxuriant, bushy, with the tips waxed into rings.

One Saturday morning I woke to the pressure of little cat feet on my face. The family had taken in a new calico kitten and she was exploring her new, personal domain. She sat on my chest for a few moments and then looked across the room to where Fritz slept peacefully. As he exhaled the air from his nostrils blew through his mustache, ruffling the hair, creating strange, little rippling movements. The motion, accompanied by light snores fascinated the kitten. She had never seen anything like it.

She didn’t know what kind of small creature might be sitting there under Fritz’s nose, but she felt she would be doing him a favor if she killed it and ate it. Slowly she began to stalk the mustache. Off my bed and onto Fritz’s she leaped. Quietly. Softly. Over his knees she crept, onto his belly, his chest, pausing frequently to study the situation. Closer and closer she crept until finally, just as Fritz blissfully rippled his mustache again, the kitten sprang!

She landed on the mustache in approved fashion, mouth and claws open. Her claws and teeth were razor sharp, kitten like, and she produced a monumental effect. Fritz sprang into the air with a scream and batted the kitten from his face. She landed like a colorful little rubber ball, bounced off the door and out of the room. She was as surprised by the results of her attack as Fritz.

I laughed unsympathetically. I saw the humor because I didn’t have a mustache. Neither did Fritz after he shaved that morning.