We have this cat, Marvin. He is—how shall I put this— big boned. Rotund. A portly gentleman. Frequent readers may remember that my colleague uses him as an example when she teaches the word “corpulent” to her ninth grade English class. “Mrs. Sherry’s cat,” she tells them to their wonder and disbelief, “is so corpulent that from time to time he gets wedged in the cat door.” This is a slight exaggeration. He doesn’t really get wedged. He just has to struggle a little on his way through.
I assure you, this is not our preference. The fact is, Marvin works the street. He is the official Taylor Street greeting committee, and he fulfills his job diligently. Between the extremely popular deli on the corner and the Defense Language Institute up the way, we get a lot of foot traffic. Marvin has his regulars who stop to pat him and exchange a word or two on their way to and from work. They’re used to him. Then there are those passing for the first time. They’re the ones who, as Marvin waddl—uh, struts out to greet them, exclaim, “Wow! Look at that cat! That’s a big cat!”
Let me hasten to add here, before I go on with the story, that Marvin is a big cat, or a large one anyway. He’s tall and long, not only round. He has the hint of tufts on his ears, and it’s very possible there is some Maine Coon in his distant ancestry.
So anyway, he works the street. He will walk into any house with an open door, he will help himself to any pet food left unguarded. Unfortunately, our across-the-street neighbor prefers to feed her cats in her carport. That wouldn’t be my choice—I’m not fond of raccoons—but I’d have nothing to say about it if she didn’t complain to us that Marvin steals her cats’ food. Hello! Then don’t leave it out where anyone can get to it! He doesn’t go only for the easy pickin’s, though. He likes his food just as much on the paw as in the bowl. I think he’s uniquely responsible for controlling the wood rat and gopher population of our block. And he’s not selfish with his catches; he generously leaves tidbits for us on a fairly regular basis. A couple weeks ago, he made the mistake of leaving one present on the side stoop rather than at the edge of the driveway as usual. I went outside right around dusk to recycle the junk mail and spotted Cleo looking furtive with what I initially took to be a pair of socks in her mouth. She loves to nab John’s unguarded socks and bury them in the backyard for ripening. Imagine my surprise when the “Ptui!” that followed my “Drop it!” resulted in a stiff gopher corpse an inch from my bare toes.
Now, Marvin may work the street and he may have his fans near and far, but he is definitely our cat. When he’s in trouble—like the time someone decided he needed a bath—he turns to us for solace and sanctuary. When we come home from work or an outing, he runs from wherever he’s been lounging to welcome us back. Most distinctively, when we take Cleo for a neighborhood walk, Marvin likes to come along. He follows behind, forty feet or so, and narrates with rhythmic yowls. If we head right at the end of our block, he’ll continue on with us for another block or so, then sit by the stop sign, yowling plaintively until we’re out of sight. He’s always back at the house by the time we return and trots out to touch noses with Cleo. If we turn left, he will frequently accompany us the full three-and-a-half blocks to the neighborhood park, then sit and watch as Cleo tears at full speed around the lawn, his ears akimbo with a look of mild disapproval on his normally bland face.
This morning, we set out on our post-breakfast leg-stretch, planning a walk of twenty minutes or so, just to get the blood moving. Our new neighbors were out mowing their postage stamp of a yard, so we crossed the street to introduce ourselves. Marvin emerged from wherever he had been camping to join the general greeting and introductions. He sat aloof as Cleo licked hands and liberally fawned. As we said goodbye and continued down the street, I heard Penny say, “Better hurry! You’ll miss your walk.” Glancing over my shoulder, I spotted Marvin just breaking into a trot. We rounded the corner, going right, walked a block and stopped at Cleo’s usual pooping spot. “Meow! Meow! Meow!” came from behind us. Surprise! Marvin hadn’t stopped at the stop sign, but was midway through the cross-street. John went back to meet him, picked him up, carried him back to the stop sign, set him down and gave him a nudge toward home. Nice try. Marvin trotted back to us as fast as his legs could move, his tummy swaying back and forth. Okay, well, there have been times he’s followed us another half block or so. No pooping from Cleo, so we moved on. Half a block later, she changed her mind and dove for the side of the road (she’s very good about curbing herself). Marvin sat five feet away and waited patiently. He was farther than he’d ever come before, and we figured he’d turn around as soon as we were on the move again. “Don’t look at him,” John whispered. But Cleo either didn’t hear or couldn’t help herself. She kept craning her neck to see if he was still there.
He was. The next stage of our walk was a block long easement, a wooded and bushy natural area of a couple acres. Cleo loves it because it’s full of smells: raccoons, deer, dozens of bird species, the occasional skunk. Surely Marvin wouldn’t follow us through that! He was way beyond his territory and his comfort level at this point. On he came. By now, we were beginning to worry. If he decided not to follow us further, would he be safe getting back home? We’d crossed three streets as well as the easement. Yes, they weren’t busy streets, but they still could be dangerous. Okay, we figured we’d go one more block over, then a steep uphill block that ended at the main thoroughfare of our neighborhood. We couldn’t cross that with Marvin. By this time, he was no longer meowing. I hypothesized that he didn’t want to call attention to himself in the territory of other cats. By our turn-around spot, he was a half mile from home.
Our goal for the return trip was not to lose him. Back down the steep hill, turn left and a steady march up to the easement. “Come on, Marvin! Keep up!” we called encouragingly. Cleo checked back regularly. As we got to the easement, Cleo and I stopped so she could mark her usual spot as John continued on through. Marvin trotted past us. We followed. John turned around to check on us. “What’s he doing?” he asked. Marvin had stopped and as Cleo and I passed him, I looked down. His mouth was open as if he were hissing, but no sound was coming out. Thinking of the extra scent receptors cats have on their upper palates, I said, “Maybe he’s smelling something.” We walked on and Marvin followed along. Through the easement (ending in a steep uphill) and up, up, up along the next block. We were back in familiar territory, back to the place where Marvin usually stops to wait. We looked back. He was walking now, no longer trotting, and his mouth was open again. “He’s panting!” I realized. Back in the easement, he’d been stopping to catch his breath.
Think about it! Seventy-plus degrees, a portly cat in a heavy fur coat trots nearly a mile. That’s more exercise than he’s gotten in the last six months combined. It’s a miracle he didn’t have a heart attack.
Back at the house, we stood in the driveway waiting for him. He stalked up the street, ignored a pedestrian walking toward him, turned sharply at our fence, brushed by Cleo without a look, and collapsed in the shade of John’s car. He’s been there since. One large cat’s incredible journey.