I sleep in an old ranch house in the Hill Country with a shotgun under my bed and a cat on my head. The cat’s name is Lady Argyle, and she used to belong to my mother before Mom stepped on a rainbow. It is not a pleasant situation when you have a cat who insists on sleeping on your head like a hat and putting her whiskers in your left nostril all night long at intervals of about 27 minutes. I haven’t actually timed this behavioral pattern, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the intervals were precisely 27 minutes. This precarious set of affairs could have easily resulted in a hostage situation or a suicide pact, but as of this writing, neither has occurred. The two reasons are because I love Lady as much as a man is capable of loving a cat and Lady loves me as much as a cat is capable of loving a man. It is a blessing when an independent spirit like a cat loves you, and it’s a common human failing to underestimate or trivialize such a bond. On the other hand, it’s not a healthy thing to observe a man going to bed with a cat on his head like a hat. And, in the case of Lady and myself, there are observers.
The observers of this Van Gogh mental hospital scenario are four dogs, all of whom despise Lady—though not half as much as Lady despises them. The dogs sleep on the bed too, and they find it unnerving, not to say unpleasant, to be in the presence of a man who has a cat on his head. I’ve tried to discuss this with them on innumerable occasions, but it isn’t easy to state your case to four dogs who are looking at you with pity in their eyes.
Mr. Magoo is five years old and highly skilled at how to be resigned to a sorry situation. He’s a deadbeat dad, so his two sons, Brownie and Chumley, are with us as well. Brownie and Chumley were so named after my sister Marcie’s two imaginary childhood friends and fairly recently have been left in my care, as she departed for Vietnam with the International Red Cross, an assignment she correctly deduced might be harmful to the health, education, and welfare of Brownie and Chumley. The animals divide their time between my place and the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, a sanctuary for abused and stray animals. (It’s run by Nancy Parker and Tony Simons; my role is the Gandhi-like figure. For more information go to utopiarescue.com.)
If you’ve been spiritually deprived as a child and are not an animal lover, you may already be in a coma from reading this. That’s good because I don’t care a flea about people who don’t love animals. I shall continue my impassioned tale, and I shall not stop until the last dog is sleeping.
The last dog is Hank. He looks like one of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, and he doesn’t understand that the cat can and will hurt him and me and the entire Polish army if we get in her way. Lady is about eighteen years old and has lived in this house on this ranch almost all her life, and she doesn’t need to be growled at by a little dog with a death wish.
So I’ve got the cat hanging down over one side of my face like a purring stalactite with her whiskers poking into my left nostril and Hank on the other side who completely fails to grasp the mortal danger he’s placing both of us in by playfully provoking the cat. It’s 3:09 in the morning, and suddenly a deafening cacophony of barking, hissing, and shrieking erupts, with Lady taking a murderous swat at Hank directly across my fluttering eyelids and Mr. Magoo stepping heavily on my slumbering scrotum as all of the animals bolt off the bed simultaneously. This invariably signals the arrival of Dilly, my pet armadillo.
Dilly has been showing up with the punctuality of a German train in my back yard for years. I feed him cat food, dog food, bacon grease, anything. He is a shy, crepuscular, oddly Christ-like creature whose arrival brings a measure of comfort to me at the same time it causes all of the dogs to go into attack mode. It is not really necessary to describe what effect this always has on Lady.
After I’ve slipped outside and fed Dilly, I gather the animals about me like little pieces of my soul. I explain to them once again that Dilly is an old, spiritual friend of mine who is cursed with living in a state full of loud, brash Texans, and we don’t have to make things worse. Somewhere there is a planet, I tell them, inhabited principally by sentient armadillos who occasionally carve up dead humans and sell them as baskets by the roadside. Perhaps not surprisingly, the animals seem to relate to this peculiar vision. Then we all go back to bed and dream of fields full of slow-moving rabbits and mice and cowboys and Indians and imaginary childhood friends and tail fins on Cadillacs and girls in the summertime and everything else that time has taken away.