Cat Lady Summer

Nineteen down, half a dozen to go. But who can tell?

“Yes, there was a Cat Zero and yes the man, a former tenant, brought it on property as a gift to his girlfriend who didn’t want it and yes he may have set her free in the yard and maybe another cat came over the fence to hang out but everything after that was like fog rolling down a hillside. What can you do but watch? We don’t feed them or anything, except the woman living in the garage does so maybe that’s on her.”

Zelda appeared in the spring, a spindly black feline residing in the bamboo along the back fence, sneaking into the kitchen to loot unguarded kibble, belly scraping the ground.

We already have four cats.  Additionally, Mrs. UpintheValley has for years fed a feral tribe off the front porch, veterans of the cat colony crisis of 2013, when she trapped, neutered and released 46 neighborhood ferals.

It took a decade for Darwin and Nature to reduce their numbers to a lone snuffling, arthritic, gooey-eyed survivor, who waits quietly in the evening for leftovers.

Things were back to what passes for normal around here, and suddenly this interloper, this furry child of Biafra had entered the garden.

Then Zelda disappeared for awhile. When she returned, the belly was gone, and praise Jesus, no kittens. I toasted the coyote, the raccoon, the neighborhood eating machine which intervened on our behalf. Thank you blessed nature, for your dispassionate cruelties.

One morning a few weeks later, four adorable kittens are cavorting on the back patio, mocking us. They had been living in the pocket of space between the back fence and the neighbors back fence. Ha!

Did I mention Zelda is less than six months old?

Two houses away, we have our own little slice of Appalachia in Van Nuys, a compound of trailers, junked cars and shanties owned by a mentally challenged man who rents spaces to a revolving cast of marginal characters, high functioning druggies, and from whence it must be said, we have heard the late night yowls of estrus.

Two dozen un-neutered cats back there, Mrs. U discovered. Four of them pregnant. Which would put us on the brink of leaving the fourth tier of the flow chart, which is to say Cat Crisis II: This Time It’s Math!

So she set to work, starting with the low hanging fruit, the kittens, who will walk right into a carrier and go to sleep if you leave some treats.


Things have changed since 2013, and not for the better.  She put out an SOS on a feline trappers website only to be told: “I personally do not take in kittens any more, and the rescue I work with is stuffed full and has to turn away 20-30 requests like this every day. And that’s just the beginning of the bad news. There literally is not a single good option for them. Vet appointments are impossible to come by, spay/neuter clinics are booked out 2-3 months or more ahead. Three or more years ago, this situation could have been solvable. Now it’s not.”  

As advertised, it took months to get traps and appointments. This summer has been a long slog of evenings walking over to West Virginia, setting/checking the traps and mornings driving to FixNation under the indifferent gaze of the feckless people who set so much chaos into motion.

White people, raised in California, living rent free in someone else’s house. This detail shouldn’t bother me, but I can’t get past it. Their indifferent selfishness feels metaphoric.

When Mrs. U brought in two pregnant felines at the clinic at one time, there was high-fiving all around.

The last pregnant cat remained elusive, and rather clever about traps. As the days ticked by, her belly spreading like a pig in a python, drama built. A veteran trapper was recruited from Silver Lake. She got the job done with a net.

We whisked her, bones and belly, to FixNation with her litter just about poking from her nether regions, on the last open appointment Mrs. U could get. The grace of small victories.

A cat does not have the ability to alter its thinking.  It eats, and poops, and licks its paws and makes little cats. What does it say about us we are overrun with easily resolvable problems of our own creation?  Who will rescue us from our own disordered belief?

It is magical thinking to believe we can maintain an equitable nation without a border and maintain cities without law enforcement. Yet here we are, coasting on assumptions of the world pre-2020. Arrangements which always worked before will therefore continue to work even though the structural underpinnings they rely on have been removed.

Spoiler alert: No one is coming.  No blue-ribboned panel of government experts is going to descend to set the world right. We have only ourselves.

This morning little Zelda hangs out by the kitchen door, mewling, waiting for Mrs. U to break her resolve not to feed.  It’s a test of wills. I know who is going to win this one.


King Ziggy moves slowly because he doesn’t have to move for anyone.  He watches and waits, fat and pleased with himself.

In related news, the most commercially successful artist at the Brewery Art Show yesterday may have been Pudge the Cat.

Pudge’s “work.” He sits inside of empty delivery boxes and nibbles them into “sculpture.”   His parents bring the carcasses to the gallery and affix price tags. No joke. They sold this box from West Elm for $1500. Allegedly.

His “leavings”, which they also sell.  Allegedly.  When I saw this I assumed it was all a put on, until two cat ladies entered the studio, greatly excited, and asked very furtively if Pudge was “up”.  He was napping, they were told, and left disappointed.

Ziggy’s work:  ridding the yard of vermin, and bringing the remains into the house as tribute.  We pay him in kibble. In Van Nuys, we call this the chain of nature.

What if we framed his kills in little plexiglass containers? Put them under spotlights atop plinths?   Titled it Rosemary’s Kitty: Cat Work and Intersectionality, (Re) Imagined.  Could we pay the mortgage?  Isn’t that the dream of talentless hacks across the city?

The Suburban Forest

Not tree-d, but windowed. Just out of view below, two feral cats waited for his grip to loosen.   He made it safely back to the tree by jumping past them when their attention flagged. Now he’s greedily eating all my oranges and feeling invincible.  Maybe if I didn’t live with a crazy cat lady, the ferals would be a little hungrier and we’d have a few more oranges on our tree.

Lost! Black Kitten!


No matter how bad/annoying/bloating/unhappy your Thanksgiving was, alternatively, you could be living on pavement under a tarp in the shadow of Living Spaces.  The locus of your holiday concern could involve getting the cat back.

How many people live under that tarp?  How many kittens?  What happened at 6 PM, when someone’s back was turned?  We called the number, but it was disconnected.

There was a shirtless man waist high in the tarps this afternoon. He told me someone did find the kitten,  across the street at the gas station, then took her home to his apartment.  When he saw the signs, he told the squatters he would bring her back.  When he got home from work, the cat had escaped again and was roaming his apartment complex at Valerio and Lennox..

The Tarp Man is going to put up some new signs, near where the cat was last seen.

“God be with you,” I told him.

“God is always with me,”  he replied.

He wore a ring on his wedding finger.

Now let’s all enjoy our third piece of leftover pie.

Exit, Cat People

A leftover, one of many
The leftovers

After twelve years, the Cat Lady and her creepy husband have fled the block…leaving behind an untold number of disoriented and emaciated felines, waiting for a dinner that is not coming.

Their persistent wailings have summoned catered meals from Mrs. UpintheValley, who is more than a bit fretful as what to do about them.

I had practical suggestions, starting with letting nature take its course.  They already outnumber humans in Los Angeles, two to one. Darwin can be our friend, I offered.

Not a chance.

Says she: “I feel like I’m living in the Great Depression next to a soup kitchen that’s gone out of business and people are rattling tin cups against the gate.”

The cat people left a pile of ratty furniture sitting in the yard, covered in duct tape and pieces of cardboard, reeking of ammonia, and no forwarding address.

Curious what a cat house looks like on the inside? We were. Let’s take a stroll, shall we?


This is as far as Mrs. U got.  The pungency of two decades of accumulated urine and glandular emission had metastasized the air inside the closed rooms to a kind of gassy soup. One staggered through as though underwater.  I felt myself getting a bit heavy headed, like I was huffing model airplane glue and simultaneously getting the flu.


A rabbit warren of rooms, in which every trend of interior decorating of the past forty years was given an opportunity to do its thing, starting with shag carpeting.


Drop asbestos ceiling with fluorescent light fixtures.


Popcorn ceiling, black light painting, and the always practical duct tape and cardboard over the floor vent trick. How could you go wrong?

Did I mention people were living here last week?
Did I mention people were living here last week?
When in doubt, more cardboard...
When in doubt, more cardboard…

_DSC0045 (1)


Here comes Santa Claws!
Here comes Santa Claws!
Plenty more where she came from
Plenty more where she came from…

The Return of Mr. Inscrutable

Gone but not forgotten
Gone, but not forgotten

Feral cats come and feral cats go.   When they go, they stay gone.

Mr. Inscrutable joined the nightly scrum at the porch food bowl during the winter holidays and charmed his way into the bosomly embrace of Mrs. U.  But he declined, despite entreaties, to cross the threshold into the household proper.

Mocking her desire for him, he sauntered back to the Crazy Cat Lady house, and there he remained in regal indifference.

Then he disappeared altogether, like so many before him.

Months later, he’s back…and looking unwell.   Skeletal. Grimy. Missing tufts of fur.  Hoarsely moaning for food.

A plate of pate was brought to him.

The mystery of where he had gone deepened as he gobbled. If his appetite was robust, he wasn’t suffering from one of those unmentionable feline maladies which can only be named by initials.

“I think he was stuck somewhere he couldn’t get out of and was only able to wriggle free after starving for weeks.”  The where and why and how of such a scenario remained cryptic, yet it seemed as likely an explanation as any other.

He sleeps curled up in front of the door now.  He rarely leaves our porch.  He even head-butts for attention.

But he still doesn’t enter the house. It’s a cat thing.

Mr. Inscrutable

My terms are my terms.

File this under Urban Naturalism 101, otherwise known as common sense:  One Crazy Cat Lady + Two Cats + Refusal to Spay = Feral Cats.

Feral cats begat more feral cats.  That’s pretty much what they do. More feral cats means….cats everywhere. Cats under the house. Cats in the trees.  Cats exploding out of bushes when you pull into the driveway.

With cats come leavings. They are not indiscriminate, but they particularly enjoy a well-tended yard, with lots of shrubbery. At Casa Upinthevalley, the area beneath the elm tree is a favored place to do business, where they make a pretense of burying their leavings…underneath the grass.  Little claws make for ruthless roto-tillers. Soon even the most plush, abundant carpet of St. Augustine is converted to an ammonia-reeking moonscape of mulch.  Even if we could afford to re-sod….well that’s not exactly getting at the source of the problem.

For several years the cats had the upper hand on the raccoons and the owls of the neighborhood in the Darwinian war of natural selection. It was like the cat lady was dosing their feed with pheromones or something. With the descent of darkness a strange yowl-a-rama took over the block.  They enacted West Side Story-like intrigues from the rooftops. Screeching, macabre-ish sounds would send me to the yard with a flashlight and a baseball bat, dreading a scene of disembowelment, only to interrupt two cats in the business of making little ferals.   They climbed through open windows and looted from the kitchen.  I’d walk in on them licking plates at 3AM, and they would tear crazy eights across the countertops and leave claw marks on the table. Neighbors put plastic jugs of water around their yards to scare them off, in vain. The ferals sunned themselves atop cars, tails twitching contentedly, bellies bursting with fresh payloads of kittens.  They mulched their caca wherever they wished.

I’m going to take action, announced Mrs. Upinthevalley.   I’m a girl on a mission!

A campaign of trapping, neutering and release began in earnest.  It was slow going.  It took six months, and many long rides to FixNation, but eventually 46 cats in all were trapped.  Time, raccoons and owls did the rest. The cat herd was reduced to a stable dozen.   They wandered down the block from the Cat Mothership to gather on our steps each morning and evening for kibble, courtesy of Mrs. U (herself a bit of a Cat Lady in Training), squat and gobble, then go about their day. For a few years the equilibrium held.

Then one day Tangerine showed up.  From the ranks of the in-bred and mal-formed, the ratty-haired and hinky of eye, a housecat emerged, made to order.   Our housecat.

Plump, apple-cheeked, with a well-groomed look about him.  Nice coat, too.  Plush. Or so I imagine, were I actually allowed to run my fingers through his fur. A big butch tomcat head that announces: rub your knuckles right here, and I will purr for you. 

To simplify matters, he established our porch as his living room, morning, noon and night.  We opened the door, and there he was, circling the food bowl, tail up,  not scattering off like the others.

Well, come on in, dear boy… 

Uh, not exactly.   You can leave the door open. You can place a trail of cat treats leading right up to the couch. Getting him to place the first paw across the threshold into the lair of the two-legged, fur-less, food-givers is another matter.  For that represents a breaking with the tribe.

Months of effort by Mrs. U has yielded but fleeting moments of inter-species contact. A stealthy rub here or there. Acts of shoplifting while he was distracted by food. ‘It’s purely transactional.  I’m paying for his services, for the privilege of rubbing his cheeks.’

No longer feral exactly,  nor domesticated, either.  A messenger from the other side of the River Styx.  An enigma.