For various obscure reasons, the Czarina named the little tuxedo cat that showed up at her front door “Tramplemaine,” after the character in the stage play Noises Off. He insinuated himself into her life the way he did with everyone else: he just popped in as if he held the deed to the place, and looked at everyone else as the hired help. He knew his place, and his place was to make sure that everyone and everything ran smoothly. If it didn’t, everyone involved had to answer to him.
The first time I met him was at the end of 1998, when the Czarina and her ex-husband needed a catsitter while they were at an out-of-town show. The two of us had been good friends long before we ever got involved, and I figured that this wouldn’t be a problem. Come in, scratch ears for a few minutes, put down fresh food, and leave. Little did I know that he’d want conversation, too. Everyone, and I mean everyone, talks about how their cats are unique, and that they all understand what their humans are saying. I know perfectly well that most of that understanding is really picking up verbal, pitch, and positional cues, so I was surprised to discover that he really did want to talk. He wasn’t very good at responses, but that was more an issue of anatomy than education. Even then, he gave a good shot: once, when he was caught sharpening his claws on the couch, the Czarina yelled at him “What the hell are you doing?”, and he clearly enunciated “Idunno.” In that regard, he was already more eloquent than most teenagers I know.
When the two of us started seeing each other, Tramplemaine set the ground rules for my dating her. There was the time he got on the top shelf of a very tall bookcase and knocked books on my head, just to watch how I reacted. Most nights, he slept on the Czarina’s head to watch over her, and would try to wash her hair in her sleep if she was having nightmares. More often, he was the one having nightmares, and I learned this by awakening to being kicked in the face by an unconscious cat.
It didn’t stop there. Tramplemaine understood early that I was a sucker for cats, and he learned rapidly that he could flop on my side of the bed and pretend complete obliviousness that I might want to sleep there as well. This usually continued with my looking him dead in the eye and telling him “You know, animals sleep on the floor.” He’d just look back and mang a bit, to tell me “I know. Better get a blanket and pillow, because it’s cold down there.” He’d ultimately move to the Czarina’s pillow, but would retaliate by walking on my head when he’d get up in the middle of the night. Between that and Leiber, our other cat, sleeping on my ankles all night, I knew my place in the household, and that was “official cat feet warmer.”
Just about everyone who met Tramplemaine had a story to relate about him, but one of the best ones was when we threw a New Year’s Eve party shortly after our first anniversary. De and Tom, two old friends, had come out for their first real gathering since becoming new parents, and De tried to pick up Tramplemaine to move him from a chair. She nearly threw her back out picking him up and exclaimed “Who knew such a small cat would be so heavy?” Tom immediately responded “That’s because black is very slimming.” Tramplemaine understood the compliment, and was his best friend for the entire night.
In truth, Tramplemaine played everyone as the help, with the exception of Leiber. Leiber is a sweet cat, but he’s so dumb that he trips on the carpet pattern when he gets up in the morning. Tramplemaine had great fun with a stepbrother who could and would walk into windowpanes without realizing what was wrong. Worse, Leiber continued to sound like a kitten well into adulthood, so his idea of a mighty battle cry was a squeaky “MEEEEEEEEEP!” The first few times the two of them would play together, I heard the squeaks and thought he’d been locked in a closet somewhere. Then I’d hear Tramplemaine’s lusty yowls and realize the truth. After a while, we started referring to it as “The Ming and Mang Show”. Neither of them had any interest in going outside, under any circumstances, but they had no problems with fighting for a prime window spot to watch birds and squirrels, so we were often awakened by Ming and Mang practice bouts at dawn on a Sunday morning.
That was another thing about Tramplemaine. Most cats don’t mind nicknames, and many really don’t notice the difference between nicknames and given names so long as they’re stated in the same tone. With Tramplemaine, a nickname was horribly undignified, and we both realized it. Leiber, on the other hand, gleefully answered to “Shit For Brains”, and Tramplemaine got quite a bit of humor out of whatever new jape we could use to get Leiber to come for dinner. (As mentioned a while back, Leiber was named after the author Fritz Leiber. If I’d known he was going to be that dumb when he was a kitten, I would have named him “Niven”.)
Not that things were always perfect. When the Czarina first let him in, she assumed he was an older cat because of his attitude, and was surprised to discover at his first vet visit that he was probably no more than six months old. Considering the dangers of her old neighborhood, she’s convinced that she saved his life, and I don’t doubt it. Shortly before we got married, she got word from the vet that Tramplemaine was also testing positive for an incurable form of Bartonella, which meant regular antibiotics and steroids for the rest of his life. The vet noted that most cats with this form of bartonellosis usually live a year or so, and the Czarina was understandably busted up about this. This cat was the only good that came from her previous marriage, and to have him taken away that soon was just an added cruelty. Who could have foretold that he’d beat everyone’s estimates for nearly a decade?
Another one of the issues he had came up when the two of us started doing shows together. The first time we came home from a bad show, we walked in to find Tramplemaine hiding under the couch. Apparently, her ex would demonstrate his displeasure at a bad show by throwing whatever he could get his hands on, and Tramplemaine simply learned to duck and cover. It took five years, but he finally accepted that no matter how bad the show, I wasn’t going to act the same way, and he’d greet us at the door like a sympathetic neighborhood bartender instead of finding a good fallout shelter.
For most of his life, Tramplemaine continued to run the house as he saw fit, but the years started to take notches out of him. The bartonellosis gave him ulcerated gums that would clear up temporarily with a new regimen of antibiotics, but about a month ago, he started attempting to eat dry food and then spitting it on the floor. It wasn’t out of disgust, but out of pain. We took a look at him, and found a new lump on the side of his right jaw. An emergency vet’s visit told us the worst: Tramplemaine had a tumor on his jaw, and based on prior experience with the vet, these tumors in cats were incurable. Their spread and growth could sometimes be stopped with chemotherapy, but how do you explain to a nearly 15-yer-old cat as to why he’s this miserable? Even if the chemo didn’t kill him, this wasn’t a guarantee that other tumors wouldn’t pop up right after the treatment, so the vet was quietly relieved when we decided that extreme measures wouldn’t make a difference and all we could do was make him comfortable.
That was about three weeks ago. Last week, he had us particularly spooked by his refusal to eat wet food, and the Czarina just cuddled him for a bit and asked “Are you ready to go, little man?” For about three days, he sauntered around as of telling us “Boy, did I play YOU!”, but he started sliding again. Barring an absolute miracle, which seems to be awfully lacking in this house, Tramplemaine might live through the weekend. In the meantime, so long as he isn’t in pain, we’re going to make him as comfortable as we can, and then we’re probably going to take him for his last vet trip on Monday. At this point, it’s the only thing we can do for him, and since I wasn’t able to be there for my previous cats when they died a decade ago, I’m making a point to be there for him at the end.
In a roundabout way, this is all to explain that if nobody hears from either of us for the next few days, that’s why. Some people may say “it’s just a cat,” but Tramplemaine is a cat that’s been an essential part of my life for one-third of it. He deserves as respectful a sendoff as I can give him.