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Josephine

Once upon a time, some decades ago, in the early second half of that most peculiar of centuries, the twentieth, there was an apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts, whose residents called their domicile The Boys' Club. (They may have omitted the apostophe - I have no precise information on this point.) The residents were mostly MIT grad students, there being a turnover as members happily graduated or, less happily, flunked out. The apartment had a dozen rooms, more or less, and the residents numbered five, more or less. At the time of the events of which we are writing, the residents may have been Anthony R. Lewis, Don Nelson, Michael Chessman, Peter Cohen, and John Bousman. Then again, they may have been other persons, using those identities. (My lawyer assures me that it is best to provide for plausible deniability in my accounts, whence the uncertainty about identities.)

Sometime before the events I am about to relate, the residents had acquired a kitten. They examined it to determine its gender, decided that it was male, and named it Napoleon. A year later when Napoleon had kittens they surmised that they had erred. Napoleon was given away and they tried again.

They acquired a new kitten. This time they did not want another little mistake. This kitten was carefully examined by an MIT biology student who pronounced it to be undeniably female. They named the kitten Josephine; it promptly grew up to be a 20 lb steel-gray tomcat. I do not who the biology students was. I can only suppose that he went on to found a biotech startup company and became a millionaire.

Josephine was good natured, albeit fond of practical jokes. It is just as well that he was good natured; he was the sort of cat that sharpens his claws on radiators. I taxed Tony Lewis with the truth of this and he indignantly replied that someone had been leaving claw marks in the metal and it wasn't any of them.

Speaking of claws, they used to trim his claws every so often. The method they used for doing this (probably the only safe method) was to throw a blanket over Josephine and trim everything that stuck out. It generally took several people to hold the blanket. I am told that Josephine thought that this was a great game. It may even be true.

Josephine was quite well mannered about doctoring. When he had to be given medicine they would tap him on the nose. In response he would open his mouth and stick his tongue out. They would tap him on the nose again, and he would pull his tongue back in, close his mouth, and swallow the pill. Such a well behaved cat.

Josephine played his little tricks on everyone; however Don Nelson was his favorite victim. When people were sitting on the porcelain throne he would sometimes sneak up behind them, jump up on the cover of WC, and flush the toilet.

He was also fond of taking Don's underwear and putting it in the kitty litter. This may have been a form of editorial comment.

When Don took a bath Josephine would come and perch on the rim of the tub. This was the signal that Don was to pick him up and hold him over the water so that he could bat at it with his paws. He would keep this up until his belly fur started to get wet. Then he would give Don the unmistakable signal that Don should get Josephine out of there RIGHT NOW. Don evidently always got the signal for he later sired several children. Josephine would then go lay in Don's bed and dry himself off.

Most cats dislike vacuum cleaners. Not Josephine. Josephine liked vacuum cleaners. What he liked was climbing on board and getting a ride.

Another of his pastimes was playing tank. The boys had a cardboard box with an open top and open slots for handles. They would turn it upside down over Josephine who would then march it around as though it were a tank and use the handle slots as portholes through which he would slash out at all who came too near.

Josephine's greatest triumph was the John Bousman incident. Most of the residents doted on Josephine, but not John, who detested cats. They each of them, John and Josephine, had their little tricks for annoying the other. John, for instance, was fond of playing the twelve string guitar whose shrill tones pained Josephine's ears.

John was a mountain climber of sorts; he and a group would climb Mt. Washington (an oversized New Hampshire hill with extreme weather at the top), spend the night there, and climb down the next day. I doubt that Josephine knew this, but who knows about that cat. One day (or perhaps one night) Josephine crawled into John's sleeping bag, made his way to the bottom, and thoroughly sprayed it. John did not discover this until quite some time later when he was atop Mt. Washington in freezing weather. He had no choice but to sleep with Josephine's little offering.

The war between John and Josephine ended with a Halloween party held by the Boys' club. One of the guests had brought another cat to the party for Josephine to play with. The two cats chased each other round and round. As they scampered about John got more and more aggravated.

The moment came when the cats ended up in Don's bedroom, the visitor under the bed with his back up, and Josephine in the center of the room with his belly on the floor, stock still with only his tail twitching.

No one knows what the cats would have done next because John, thoroughly tired of the cats running about, did about the stupidest thing that one could do under the circumstances. He reached down, grabbed Josephine by the belly, and picked him up. Josephine twisted around, planted his front claws in John's upper arm, curled up to bring his hind claws into play, and started ripping. John started screaming and tried to throw Josephine off. People came running to see what the matter was. Don Nelson came in and held his hands out. Josephine promptly let go, dropped into Don's hands, curled up, and started purring. After all, he wasn't mad at anybody else.

John didn't get much sympathy. As someone said to him, "John, you stuck your arm in the meatgrinder and then turned it on. What did you expect?"

John indignantly demanded, "Either that cat goes or I go." Whereupon Mike Chessman replied, "We'll help you pack tonight."

Josephine was a whole cat; evidently the males of the Boys' Club found the thought of, er, reducing him to be too personally painful. Josephine was free to come and go and so he did. It was rumored that he sired a disproportionate share of the kittens of the neighbourhood.

One evening Josephine did not return for supper. The boys worried. The next day the landlord came to the door and ominously informed them that Josephine was outside. They understood the implications of that. Being the strong males that they were, they said as one, "Suford, go see." (Suford being Tony Lewis's then fiance and later wife.) Suford went out to see. Josephine lay outside the building, half on the sidewalk and half under a hedge. How he died is unknown; there were no obvious wounds, and he had been healthy enough the day before. Rest in Peace, Josephine.

I know all of this is true because I spend a summer at the Boys' Club where I met Josephine. I wasn't there for many of the events narrated here, but I knew Josephine, and they ought to be true.


This page was last updated September 1, 2004.

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September 2004
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