You don't see what Jeff the Cat has seen and stay right in the head. That was the first I knew about him.
That and his name. The name they'd given him at the orphanage should have clued us in from the beginning. Toughy. Tough little guy, with a mouth full of teeth and who wanted to box. We called him Jeffrey George Taylor. Jeff for the dozen or so Jeff's we knew at the time. George Taylor for Cheston's heroic turn in "Planet of the Apes".
He wasn't quiet like other cats, this Jeffrey George Talyor. He talked. A lot. But it was always as if he was covering for something with the chatter, as if he talked enough, loud enough, we'd all stay away and he'd get what he wanted. But who knew what the hell that was?
Things I did know: he was a tough kid. Not afraid to pop claws on you at what was taken as the slightest insult (Am I a clown to you? I could swear I heard him say...). Sometimes, just for a laugh, he'd wait until 4:00 AM and then wrap himself around your foot as it hung off the bed, all fangs and claws, then run like hell when you woke up swinging. You could hear the little bastard running the whole way down the hallway.
His mother was overprotective, and stood between that kid and death a million times over, to be sure. And its not clear that maybe she should have got out of the way and let that kid take his lumps, for all the heartbreak he would cause her. It didn't matter if he was playing with matches, destroying a 12-pack of Charmin or shredding the dustcovers on $40 hardcovers. Forget about the biting and clawing. She was always ready to forgive and forget, even after he gave her the cat-scratch fever. And not the fun, Nugent-related kind.
We knew better than to guess he'd stop with claws, and so we looked at one another... what do you do with a problem like Jeffrey? Now this kid is sending his own mother to the hospital.
So we took away the claws.
I know that in the Golden State, some peace-niks decided this was cruelty to animals. In our world, it was take 'em out or the kid gets the slammer. Maybe the needle. So we did what we could and he came off it none the worse for wear.
It was an odd day when a new kid moved to the neighborhood. Ten times Jeff's weight, teeth that could crush him... but it was a single, bassy "woof" that settled things the first day Mel arrived. We saw Jeff turn tail and run in a way we'd never seen before, and that was good for a laugh. Sure, within a year, Jeff would be curling up next to Mel for warmth on the dog bed in the living room, and eventually Jeff would begin hunting Mel and pouncing on him when the mood struck him, but by and large, Jeff knew... do not push the big, orange one.
(coming soon: Act II)