Thursday, April 3, 2014


[in San Francisco] ... after a night of perfect sleep in an old skid row hotel room I go to see Monsanto at his City Lights bookstore and he's smiling and glad to see me, says "We were coming out to see you next weekend you should have waited," but there's something else in his expression --- When we're alone he says "Your mother wrote and said that your cat is dead."
Ordinarily the death of a cat means little to most men, a lot to fewer men, but to me, and that cat, it was exactly and no lie and sincerely like the death of my little brother --- I loved Tyke with all my heart, he was my baby who as a kitten just slept in the palm of my hand with his little head hanging down, or just purring, for hours, just as long as I held him that way, walking or sitting --- He was like a floppy fur wrap around my wrist, I just twist him round my wrist, or drape him, and he just purred and purred and even when he got big I still held him that way, I could even hold this big cat in both hands with my arms outstretched right over my head and he'd just purr, he had complete confidence in me --- and when I left new York to come to my retreat in the woods I'd carefully kissed him and instructed him to wait for me, "attends pour mue kitiginoo" ---

Jack Kerouac, Big Sur ((1962)

On March 3rd (a month ago) it was a year since my own cat Bob died. The next day I left for New Zealand, and the day after we picked up a camper van and left Christchurch in pouring rain (the most torrential they'd pretty well ever had). After about two hours we pulled off the road just before the town of Geraldine for a rest, and  found a kitten. Or he found us. He came towards us in a determined fashion, meowing.

He was about 8 to 10 weeks old, black with a white bow-tie and very friendly. The place was deserted with no houses about and he was obviously abandoned. I insisted we take him with us. He was damp from rain, and sat quietly on my lap and shivered while I tried to warm him with my body heat. We picked up some pouches of kitten food in Geraldine and were on our way.

There was a cat-shaped hole in me which he filled exactly. In my adult years I have never had a kitten - all my cats came to me as adults, strays of course. I always thought that kittens were a bit too unformed and uninteresting.

But this little guy had such character, determined and practical, so sensible for a cat so young; there was no chance of him running away. Whenever we stopped (at safe cat-friendly places), he'd go off exploring, but came back when called. Or he followed us like a dog. And when we were ready to set off on the road again, I'd say, "Come on mister! We're going!' And he'd jump in the door and settle down to travel.

Well, not always. He often wanted to sit on the driver's lap, which annoyed Underground Man no end.
But if I tried to keep him still on my lap, he'd fight me. My hands were covered with scratches. I learned that I had to let him be where he wanted to be. Sometimes that was standing up on the edge of the driver's seat with front paws on the side window sill, looking out at the world rushing by. (A dangerous way to drive, I know.) Sometimes it was staggering up through the moving van and jumping up to look through the windows at the side. Thankfully he was sometimes so exhausted he'd fall asleep draped over my lap, me with one hand lightly on him so he'd know I wasn't restraining him.

What to do with a cat found in a country other than your own? Underground Man favoured dropping him off at a vet's; we discussed the possibility of there being a cat shelter in one of the bigger towns. But by the time we came to Oamaru, one such possible town, I was so attached to him I could not bear to try and off-load him. He travelled with us for three days and two nights, sleeping at the end of the bed in the van.

I had a secret hope. We were heading slowly for my sister-in-law's place. And her much-loved cat Kevin had died at the end of last year. We had talked on the phone at christmas about what a gap that leaves in your life. But would she be ready for another cat just yet?

The closer we got to her place, the more I saw how presumptuous it was to turn up with a kitten. And by the time we pulled up at her studio gallery in the small town of Lawrence, I was feeling positively guilty. She saw how strange I was at once, till I blurted out my secret, telling her that I didn't expect her to take him; she might be able to find a home for him with someone she knows, or if not, take him to a shelter in Dunedin next time she goes there.

But she and her partner fell in love with him almost at once, as I had.  What to call him? They once had a cat named Cassady, after Jack Kerouac's companion Neal Cassady in On The Road, Mark's favourite book (And just about mine as well, though I think I prefer Big Sur).

So I suggested the name Jack. After all, he hitched a ride with us, and was a great little traveller. I so enjoyed being on the road with him.

So now there is a cat named Jack living in rural Otago, New Zealand. He's found a home for life.

Jack is a month older now, and growing quickly.

And he still likes looking out of windows, only not moving ones