Monday, May 30, 2011

Jake & Elwood: Not Like Other Cats

I could have titled this "A Tale of Two Kitties," but that wouldn't have been edgy enough for this pair.

Jake and Elwood came in a box. Literally. A guy came by the office one day with a box of kittens he wanted to give away.
I didn't want a cat. I liked cats, but I was a single newspaper reporter working odd hours, and I figured I didn't need to be responsible for another life at that time.
"That's OK," the cat-man said. "Here, why don't you hold one for a minute?"
So I took two of them home with me that night. (Like that's never happened to you before...quit laughing.)
To me, the most important decision to make with these kittens was in the naming. They must have cool names. In fact, I have made that a priority with regard to all subsequent pets. I think cats respect you more if you give them a cool name.
The previous weekend, I had watched the Blues Brothers movie (again), and so, after briefly considering the names Sam and Dave, I dubbed the kittens Jake and Elwood.
I understood that it was also important to take them to the vet, for shots and whatnot, so we made that trip two days later.
"Son," the vet began, as he held Jake and peered at his underside, "these are girl-cats, not boy-cats."
Oh. I hadn't looked at their junk before I named them.
"You want to change their names?"
"No, I think I'll leave 'em Jake and Elwood. A name change might confuse them."
And so the adventures of Jake and Elwood began.
Jake F. (Female) Katt
Strong-willed. Charismatic. Innovative. They ran out of superlatives for Jake. He was the brains of the two-cat team. (You'll notice that I refer to Jake and Elwood as male throughout. Sue me.)
Jake was the alpha-cat, and while he made sure Elwood knew his place, he was fiercely protective of his brother.
I used to keep a small squirt bottle handy, and I would squirt the cats if they were doing something gross or evil.
One day that squirt bottle disappeared, and I never found it. Pretty sure Jake laughed about this behind my back.
Jake later served two terms in the Oklahoma Legislature, earning accolades for his common sense approach to government. He abandoned a bid for Governor when he found out that cats were not allowed in the Governor's mansion.
Blessed with the heart of a champion, Jake was let down by sub-standard kidneys. He died at age 7.
Elwood A. (Also-female) Katt
I knew Elwood was special the first night I brought him home. Elwood stood in the corner of my living room and meowed at the wall for about an hour before turning around and noticing the rest of the room. He'd been in that box a long time, I guess.
There are many stories like this about Elwood. The time he got lost under the bed. The time he got lost in the bathroom. The (many) times he couldn't find the litterbox. The time he caught a mouse but didn't know what to do with it (the mouse escaped, laughing hysterically).
Elwood followed Jake everywhere, no matter what the scheme. They ate a credit card I left on the counter. They chewed through the ground wire on my stereo turntable (yes, this is an old story).
I used to wake up in the middle of the night to find the two cats sitting on the bed, side by side, staring at me. Try to go back to sleep after that...

Blessed with none of the superlatives bestowed on Jake, Elwood nevertheless had good kidneys. He lived to be 10, and found his true purpose in life when William was born.

Postscript: In my constant search for front-page "art" for the El Reno Daily Tribune, I took the above black-and-white photos of Jake and Elwood. They both appeared on the front page of separate editions. This angered the publisher enough that she banned future use of staff members' pets as "art."

Next time: The Case of the Missing Lips

Friday, May 27, 2011

Iggy the Wonder Llama

This is my old friend Iggy the Wonder Llama. I took his picture back in the 1980s when I worked as a reporter/photographer for the El Reno Daily Tribune.

You may wonder about the color - or the lack thereof. Yes, boys and girls, we worked in black and white in those days. Not only that, we used real cameras that exposed images on film, which we then took back to a darkroom and processed and made into prints.

Right now you're saying to yourself, "This photograph isn't even that good."

And you're right. It's not my best work. It's a little out of focus, and the contrast could be better. But I defy you to get this close to a llama, point a camera at him, and see how you do.

Because Iggy was nasty.

You've probably heard that llamas spit. They do. They also bite, and they'll stomp you if they get a chance.

I met Iggy and his friends one summer afternoon as I cruised around El Reno looking for front page "art." That was part of each reporter's job - to take a camera (whether you knew how to use one or not) and find good pictures to put in the newspaper. We didn't have a staff photographer.

Fortunately, I took a photography class at Oklahoma State, so I at least knew which end to look through.

As I drove down a residential street that afternoon, I noticed a house with a chain-link fence and a group of rather unusual bushes in the backyard. These bushes looked like dark clumps of moss, low to the ground, each with a single, bare stalk rising from its center. I had never seen bushes like these before.

Then one of them stood up.

Ha ha! Not bushes, city boy! Ostriches!

Six ostriches in the middle of El Reno. Not something I expected to see. I made a quick u-turn in the middle of the street, and parked in front of the ostrich house.

After ringing the doorbell, I introduced myself to the owner of the house, and asked him if I could come in the backyard and take some pictures of his ostriches.

"Well, OK," the man said. "But I better go back there with you. Do you have a zoom lens?"

I did not. Not that day.

"Oh. Well, I wouldn't get too close to 'em if I was you. They might snap at you."

I'll be careful, I replied.

"OK then. I'll try to hold back the other animals while you're taking pictures."

Other animals?

I followed the man through the gate, and all six ostriches quickly go to their feet and began running around the yard. They were moving too fast for me to get a good shot.

That's when I heard a kind of grunting and hissing sound. I turned, and there was Iggy.

Click. Got him.

Figuring that I had at least one usable photograph, I relaxed and began to look around the yard.

Six ostriches.


Two peacocks.

Something was rubbing my leg. I looked down to see a brown calf rubbing his head against my leg - and smearing something dark brown across my khakis.


I asked the man why he had so many odd creatures in his yard.

"I just like 'em," he said. "And the neighbors don't mind."

Postscript: Iggy the Wonder Llama was featured on the front page of the El Reno Daily Tribune the next day. The photo hung on the darkroom wall until I moved on to my next job three years later.

Next time: What happens when you give your girl cats boy names?