By Ace Backwords
WILD FERAL KITTIES
(Dec. 4, 2008)
My life is so weird. Every morning I wake up at my homeless camp-sight in the Berkeley hills, and these 3 wild, feral kitty cats are sitting there staring at me from 10 feet away on the other side of the creek. Sometimes they sit there for hours, an hour before sunrise, staring at me, vibing me, putting out the subliminal message: "WAKE UP AND FEED US, YOU LAZY BUM!" You know how cats are. Sometimes I think those little bastards are hypnotizing me. It's a weird way to wake up in the morning.
The 3 cats were born in the hills. Part of a tribe of black-and-white feral cats that’s been living in the hills for years. The mother got run over by a car about a half a year ago. And the kitties have been fending for themselves ever since.
I started feeding them about 5 months ago. They had been sneaking into my camp-sight after I left and eating the bread I left for the bluejays and squirrels. I wasn't even aware of them for a couple months, stealthy critters they are. Occasionally I would spot one, and I just assumed it was a neighborhood house cat scrounging around in the woods. But a friend of mine who camps nearby told me that they were homeless just like us.
Then one day I scored about 40 packets of cat food that they were giving out as free samples on the Ave. So every morning I would leave one of the packets on a little piece of cardboard. And every evening when I came back, the cat food would be gone. Then I noticed they started eating the cardboard. So I figured out they were pretty hungry. So I started leaving more food and water every morning.
At first they would sit at the top of the hill about 50 yards away from me and wait for me to leave before they came down to eat. But gradually they began to trust me more, and they dared to eat while I laid there in my sleeping bag. But if I so much as breathed too loud, they would go running back up the hill and sit up there for awhile before they got the courage to come back down. Nowadays, like I said, they sit there 10 feet away from me. And when I jump over to the other side of the creek to fill up their food dishes, they sit there 3 feet behind me, anxiously waiting and sometimes making these weird guttural noises in their throats. And they always sit there in the same order, their pecking order I guess, lined up in a row like the Three Stooges.
I love all 3 kitties for different reasons. One is mostly black with some white. He's the lead cat and I call him King Cat. I love him because he's the smartest, the most resourceful, the bravest. He's probably the only one that would've survived without me. He's like a lion that roams the hills with the swagger of the king of the beast. The second cat is mostly white with some black. I call her Blondie, because she's like a blonde in the ghetto. That white hair really stands out in the woods. I love her because she's absolutely adorable, the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. She's got this white china-doll face with beseeching, frightened eyes, and black up on top like the coolest punk hair-do. What can I say, I've always been a sucker for feminine beauty, and that cat is such a haughty bitch. The third cat is all black, so I call him Joe Panther, because he's sleek like a panther. I used to call him simply Panther, but that cat is such a bumbling dunce that I added the Joe to make it less dignified. I love him because he's the smallest, the runt of the litter, the most like a helpless baby. He's like a black silhouette or a shadow, I rarely see his features. Just a moving ink blot.
When I first started feeding them they were about 9 months old, and you could still see the kitten in them. They reminded me of lost boys. Three little Peter Pans roaming around in the magic woods. They were scrawny and half-starved at first. I've heard that millions of feral cats starve to death in America every year, and I believe it. I don't know what they were eating before I started feeding them. Bugs and little lizards? Who knows. But they've really filled out nicely, especially after all the left-over Thanksgiving turkey I fed them over the last week. They have beautiful, shiny coats. They also remind me of little street people the way they fend for themselves in the woods. And, just like me, whenever they hear a sound from off in the distance, they freeze and stare off in the direction of the sound until they've ascertained whether the sound is threatening or non-threatening.
After months of feeding them, they've finally, and grudgingly, put me in the category of non-threatening. And, like all haughty cats, they accept me as The Guy Who Feeds Them. Sometimes I'll catch King Cat staring at me like he's studying me, trying to figure me out, like he's thinking: "This guy, this lump in the sleeping bag, wakes up every morning, walks to the bushes to take a leak, and then he takes out this magical bag that’s filled with metal cans and containers from which he magically produces this endless supply of the most delicious meats and cat food in the known universe. How does he DO that?"
I wouldn't think of trying to touch them. I've read that cats that don't get human touch when they are kittens never warm to the human touch. And these are definitely wild animals. I'm the only human being they've ever had a relationship with. So that'll probably skewer their understanding of human beings forever (I'm hardly representative of the species). Like me, they probably wouldn't survive for a week in captivity, in civilized society. They were born wild, born to roam free.
As far as I can tell, once they've filled their stomachs to their satisfaction they spend the rest of the day goofing off, playing, sleeping, and romping around in the woods. They love to hunt the birds and the squirrels. One morning, a squirrel wasn't watching and King Cat pounced on him, jumped right on his back with his claws out-stretched. That squirrel got away to the safety of the tree, just barely. There used to be a lot of squirrels in my neck of the woods, but I haven't seen any for the last two months. Those cats have claimed the territory for themselves. I also don't see the flocks of wild turkeys that used to roam around in the hills. The cats probably scared them off, too. And good riddance. I hated those damn wild turkeys. They looked like greasy, skid-row vultures. Its no wonder they call them turkeys.
So anyways, this morning, after feeding my cats (3 cans of cat food and 4 ground-scored turkey and cheese sandwiches and a big piece of cornbread, which, oddly, they love more than the meat) I packed up my sleeping bag and trekked back down to Telegraph, to civilization, so-called. I stopped in at Hate Camp in People's Park for while, and chatted for a bit with Hate Man, a legendary Berkeley street person (long story).
"Tell me anything's been happening lately, Hate Man," I said.
"Yeah," said Hate Man. "Last night Jeepers got stabbed in the face."
"Bummer," I said. Jeepers is a tall, skinny Eurasian guy who's part of the homeless regulars that hang out in the park. "Who stabbed him?"
"That short, stocky African-American guy that hangs out at the bottom of the park. He accused Jeepers of stealing his stuff, so he tried to stab Jeepers in the face with a steak knife. Jeepers fended off most of the blows by holding his arms up in front of his face, but his arms got cut up pretty bad. They found the steak knife in the gutter this morning."
"Fuck. Is Jeepers okay?"
"He got out of the hospital about an hour ago. His arms are all bandaged up, but otherwise he looked okay. He told the cops he didn't want to press charges."
"Oh well," I said. "Anything else happening?"
"Nah, its been pretty quiet this morning."
Hate Man and I sat there for awhile smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit. I guess what disturbed me the most wasn't the stabbing, but how casual my reaction was to it. After awhile you just get numb to it. It's like a constant drum-beat on the street scene. And after awhile, stuff like that is nothing more than dull static on your radio.
I walked down Telegraph for a bit, and ground-scored a big to-go container full of chicken teriyaki. Breakfast for my kitties. Oh boy. Life goes on. As disgusting as that concept can sometimes be.###