“When childhood is allowed to linger, it brings strange and wonderful things to those who help foster its perpetuation. To all of you who fit that description (you know who you are), I offer you a whole new form of fiction for children. Suspension of disbelief is required for your amusement.
Dewey is a short-haired, all black, feral cat who was found under the deck of a house near the ocean in Dewey Beach, Delaware. He was rescued by a family known as the Whites, an irony not lost on the precocious little black kitty.
The Whites, it turns out, had a daughter named Caroline, who had a friend named Chelsea, who really wanted a kitten. Her mother was not of a like mind, however, so Chelsea embarked on a long, and eventually successful, campaign to adopt little Dewey and bring him into her home.
That’s how it all got started.
Dewey’s feral ancestry was immediately perceptible in the little kitten’s approach to playing. He was pretty intense. Not the curl up on your lap variety of domestic purr-monster. Dewey was more the wrap his front and back paws around your arm or leg and scratch, variety of critter. He preferred kangaroo kicking any exposed part of your anatomy … while sinking his sharp little teeth into any nearby flesh,
Still, there was something about him. Something barely perceptible, but there nevertheless. Beyond the obvious aspects of his nature arising from his predecessors’ dubious pedigree, he possessed that individualistic thread that runs through the breed
in a very ample serving. I suppose you could call it personality. Dewey had an abundance of it. And it instantly endeared him to Chelsea’s dad, who had lobbied for his adoption into the family amidst the protests of his wife and two sons.
And, as it turned out, the mockingbirds who nested in the tall pines and evergreens along Chelsea’s cul de sac , who were not overly thrilled at Dewey’s arrival either!
That’s how John got involved in this bizarre twist of nature. Because these were no ordinary mockingbirds … not at all. These were cold, calculating masters’ of vocal disguise who would stop at nothing to get rid of this pesky, cocky little mouse catcher from the sandy Delaware shores.
Granted that Dewey may have snatched a few of their young his first year there in Hockessin at the Gambino household. But the poor thing had a feral ancestry, for christ’s sake! It was nothing personal. Those mockingbirds should have known that. What were they … freaks? So Dewey liked to hang around at the bottom of a tall pine and wait for one of the mockettes to fall out of the nest. Big deal. It was no different than a mortgage banker waiting to pounce on another foreclosure or a Wall St Hedge Fund manager waiting for their next Ponzi scheme victim. Just nature being acted out by hunter and hunted!
But the mockingbirds took it too far! Their vengeance was insatiable. They couldn’t just write it off to bird vs wild and be done with it. No. They went too far … way too far. While the unsuspecting cat was continuing his transition from an outdoor beast to a lover of all things made with tuna and savory sauce, during the winter of his third year, the mockingbirds were busy making plans for the spring.
And this time, they had a new avian trick up their feathers. They signed a pact with the devil himself. They enlisted the help of the most feared and hated of all local birds … even worse than enraged flocks of Rehoboth gulls chasing down a box of boardwalk fries. Crows . Big, ugly, mean, loud and nasty crows. Spring was about to be sprung around 5 Green Blade Circle. Black cat vs black crow. The ultimate Discovery Channel special was about to take place right outside John’s front door.
UNNATURAL SELECTION: OR … SURVIVAL OF THE WITLESS!
As anyone who has an outdoor cat may have experienced, certain species of birds will defend their nest quite aggressively. Mockingbirds are one of those species. The ritual that takes place between cats like Dewey and Mockingbirds like Geronimo, who John named for the ferocity and sheer abandon of his aerial attacks, is no more serious than a game … a game in which no one ever seems to get hurt.
Jump on www.youtube.com and type “cats and mockingbirds” and have a look if you doubt me. But those dive bombing mockingbirds never get close enough to the cat they’re trying to keep away from their nest to do any real harm. Besides, the cats usually appear to be serenely oblivious to the kamikaze flight patterns of the irate birds. Well, hey, take a close look at the target a savvy cat offers up to a rather small bird when the cat rolls on its back, extends all its claws, and opens its gaping little tuna hole as a friendly hello to its dive-bombing, suicide martyr bird.
Whom do you suppose wins that fight?
So like a couple of wrestlers at a hyped-up, thoroughly staged event, Dewey and Geronimo acted out their little one act play several times a day for anyone who cared to take it in. Dewey would saunter down the driveway in a particularly feline gait, swagger intact, with a slight strut. Right on cue, Geronimo would seem to leap out of the tallest evergreen on the front lawn and immediately swoop down at Dewey’s head. The first time you see it you’re certain that the poor little cat is going to have an eye pecked out, or a newly pierced ear. But watch for awhile and you see that it’s one of nature’s little sideshows. If you like birds, you’re angry at the cat for running off with a mockette in his mouth for no other reason than sport. How perverse!
On the other hand, if you fancy cats, you say it’s just their nature to hunt for sport and that one of these days those damn mockingbirds are really going to hurt somebody’s pet kitty with all those dangerous aerial stunts.
Or perhaps you’re a sane individual with an opinion resting somewhere in between those two extremes. Whatever the case, the little dance that Dewey and Geronimo had been dancing was about to turn into a gang fight.
The cunning little mockingbirds had found a way to hire a family of crows from Mendenhall Mill road, the roadkill capitol of Hockessin. These aerial drones lived off the dead squirrel, possum and assorted other animals who risk it all jaywalking to cross the road that local residents like to use as a dragstrip to see how fast their cars or motorcycles can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour. When an unfortunate creature picks the wrong time to cross the road, the crows take over.
Led by the fierce, Crowgar, these birds had accepted the job of protecting Geronimo’s nest. And for Dewey, that spelled trouble … BIG trouble!
THE CAT TALKER
The first time Dewey spoke directly to John was on an otherwise uneventful day. They were sitting out back on a mild Spring afternoon on the patio. John smoking a cigar and sipping on a Pellegrino, while Dewey sat on an opposite chair staring off into space as usual.
Just then, John heard it. It was a soft, delicate sound. Like a woman’s whisper or a child’s not readily audible conversation.
“You know I don’t like the damn smoke from those cigars, don’t you.”
The sentence appeared to have been spoken by the cat!
“Well yes I have noticed. You’re so damn obvious about it, always running off … hey what the hell …”
John spent so much time talking to himself that he didn’t even skip a beat in replying to Dewey’s comment. He was used to answering his own questions because that’s the only way he could ever get the right answers. Then he realized he was talking to a cat and the cigar fell onto his lap, almost burning him. Dewey stood up on all fours.
“Relax, Dude. You haven’t lost your mind. You’re out back talking to your cat.
John looked truly bewildered. Dewey jumped off the high-backed wrought iron barstool onto the patio and began pacing back and forth. John wondered whether Ian and Tony had dosed him with mushrooms. He was sitting there in his own backyard … a smoldering cigar in his lap … with an agitated, nervous, talking cat pacing up and down like an expectant first-time father.
“Most people wouldn’t notice, but you’re not most people are you, John? You are a strange one, you are!
“Look who’s talking, a damn talking cat!”
“All right, look, John … you’ve been very good to me, so I guess I owe you an explanation. I’m in trouble. Those goddamn mockingbirds have hired Crowgar and his fetid flock of carrion crunchers to take me out. You know, to put a cap up my butt. That’s why I’m talking to you in a way you can hear. I always talk to you, because I like you, but you may have noticed that I don’t say much … and when I do … it sounds like a cute little gurgle coming from my throat. Well, guess what. It’s no freakin gurgle. It’s me telling you something that up until now hasn’t been worth mentioning. But a bloody bunch of flying thugs is trying to take all nine of my lives in the same instant. And I need your help.”
John was pretty much numb. Was he having an out-of-body experience? Was he having an out-of-mind experience? Was he having both? Who the fuck knew? Certainly not him, because there he was in his own backyard having a conversation with a god damn cat.
Just then, a car alarm went off out front. After it continued for more than a minute or two, John and Dewey both walked around front to see what was going on.
Funny thing was … when they got to the cul d’ sac … there were no cars.
“Maybe it’s coming from somebody’s garage,” John offered. Dewey quickly countered:
“No way,” said the little black cat, “that’s Geronimo. And it sounds like he’s added at least one new sound to his bag of tricks.”
Mock Me Not, Bird.
The Northern Mockingbird is one noisy son of a bitch. In addition to being able to mimic the sound of everything from car alarms to a cat’s meow, they go on all damn night like werewolves when the moon is full. According to Wikipedia, individual males have repertoires of 50 to 200 songs. That’s almost as much as the Beatles, and a lot more than Michael Jackson!
Somehow Darwin, and all the evolutionary biologists, scientists, and anthropologists who followed him, missed the boat with mockingbirds. Rather than a product of natural or even artificial selection, these noisy little annoying birds seemed more like a species created by a dimwitted designer with a very wicked and deranged sense of humor.
Day after day, John and Chelsea would sit out front and watch Geronimo make an absolute pest of himself taunting and dive bombing Dewey. Relentlessly, he flew by the seemingly unperturbed cat screeching in a hideous tone of voice.
Finally, Chelsea had enough.
“You know what,” she said, one otherwise peaceful afternoon, “I’m gonna buy a gun and put that little pain in the ass out of his misery.”
John was pretty sure this was not a good idea. As a 64-year old father of three and devotee of peaceful evolution through natural selection, he wondered whether taking out a mockingbird might be construed as being a bit over the top. So he talked his daughter out of that idea. Or so he thought.
Chelsea agreed not to buy a gun. John was relieved. But Chelsea was not going to abandon her idea so quickly. It was not in her nature to give in without a fight. Oh sure, she agreed not to buy a gun herself. But that didn’t stop her from enlisting the aid of a couple of her brother’s friends who were already in possession of a few weapons which they currently used for target practice outside their isolated music studio in a wooded area where no one was the wiser.
In retrospect, John figured that was how it all really started. When Tony and Drew and Beans came by one afternoon for an impromptu powwow, the subject was the eradication of one particular mockingbird named Geronimo. Chelsea had a plan. And all hell was about to break loose!
THE PEST IN THE NEST
Chelsea had no idea that Dewey was talking to her father. Why the hell would she? John confided in his daughter about many things, maybe too many things for a father to share with his own child, but he correctly decided that talking to a cat was not something he should share. His own actions were already incredulous enough for a 64-year old father of three. And while she loved him dearly, deep down she wondered at times if he was truly in possession of all his faculties. This revelation, he mused, could very well be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back (whatever the hell that expression means).
So he remained mum on the issue, keeping his conversations with Dewey to himself. As a result, Chelsea had no idea that her plans to permanently disable Geronimo would set off a confrontation between armed musicians and hired hitman crows. But that’s what happened. Chelsea wanted Geronimo back on the reservation: DEAD or ALIVE. And Ian’s friends were much obliged at being asked to be part of such a worthy, noble cause.
Besides, they were getting tired of shooting at trees, corn stalks and watermelons near the railroad tracks. They were ready to move up to the suburbs and shoot at something for real. The fact that their target was a multi-tongued mockingbird merely trying to protect its young did not seem to be a deterrent to these obviously non-environmentalists. It just sounded like fun. The problem was they didn’t know about Crowgar and his squadron of airborne fleshmunchers. They thought it was just them against the helpless mockingbirds.
In fact, nobody really knew what was going on except John and Dewey. And even they could have never imagined what was about to happen, as a quiet street in a Wilmington suburb was about to be transformed into a bizarre new video game featuring talking cats, vindictive mockingbirds, killer crows, and murderous musicians!
Linguists refer to a gathering of
crows as a “murder” of crows.
That’s a far cry from a
gaggle of geese or a pride of lions!
Technically speaking, crows are not birds of prey. Birds of prey eat meat, and even though a crow may eat a piece of meat if you provide it, a crow won’t actually kill meat to eat it. Of course there is the case of Grey Hooded Crows who have been known to attack little lambs. But that’s another story for natural selection gone wild.
Then there are ravens who are actually crows with a literary pedigree thanks to the poetry of Edgar Alan Poe. But these crows, who looked to the fearsome and fearless Crowgar as their leader, were not the poetic type. If these crows were people, they’d be members of a motorcycle gang. These were bad-ass birds who’d just as soon peck your eye out as steal your French fries!
After his initial “conversation” with Dewey, John began to notice that crows seemed to be massing in the back yard of one of his neighbors. It took him awhile to make the connection, but after a few days of very curious behavior, he noticed that the crows seemed to be coming together with a purpose, not just swarming around like a bunch of birdbrained vultures.
“They’re having a meeting,” John heard the words before he turned around to see Dewey.
“They’re having a god damn meeting, John, what the hell are we going to do about this situation?”
GLOCKS IN THE CROWS NEST.
The first shot rang out around 11p.m. Several more followed moments later and continued for a couple more minutes. John remembered the time because the Daily Show had just come on. There was no mistaking the sound. Someone was shooting guns in the cul d’ sac. He ran to the bathroom window to get a look at the front of the house. Tony’s Blazer was parked in the driveway. He could see three figures at the base of one of the large evergreens that was located on his front lawn. They were looking up and shouting, as they waved what looked like pistols in the air.
“I think I got one,” John heard Beans say.
“All you got was a branch, dumb ass,” Tony spit out the words and started to laugh.
Suddenly, something flew into the side of Drew’s head. He screamed.
“What the fuck was that?” Drew was bleeding. A large puncture wound on his forehead was oozing blood.
John was frozen at the bathroom window. Oh my god, he thought. The crows. That was one of Crowgar’s minions delivering a blow to the side of Drew’s head.
Now Sharon was up. She saw her husband hanging halfway out of the window gaping at the front lawn.
“John. John, are you alright? What’s going on? Are you having another cramp in your leg? What was that sound I heard?”
That was four rapid fire questions in one nanosecond. He started with the first.
“No, I’m not allright. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. Yes, I’m having a cramp. But it’s in my goddamn brain. And I’m pretty sure I heard gunfire!”
John immediately ran down the stairs and opened the door. He could hear Sharon’s persistent warnings coming from upstairs.
“John,” she implored, “please don’t go out there. You’re going to get hurt. You always get hurt. Why don’t you ever listen to me?”
It was too late. John was out the front door running onto the lawn and motioning for the three stooges to come inside. By then, however, the scene had gotten uglier. Drew had several bites and scratch wounds. So did Beans and Tony.
“Yo. Yo. You’ve got to get inside now.”
There was so much mayhem that they didn’t hear him at first. The crows continued to dive bomb like the Luftwaffe over London. Before they all made it inside John had been bitten twice. He steered everyone into the family room. Sharon was downstairs now. So was Ian and Evan and Chelsea.
“Look,” John proclaimed in a very serious tone, blood dripping down his ear, “it’s only a matter of time before the police show up. You’ve got to hide in the basement and be quiet. When the police get here, we’ll just act stupid.”
Given the situation they currently found themselves in, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
THE BITCH NEXT DOOR
Alice Hazell Brown lived right next to John on the Green Blade Circle cul d’sac. She was, among other things, a viperous snake in the grass who hounded her husband to death and cheated his family out of their rightful belongings. But other than that, she was just a nice old lady who liked to feed birds and show her clients how to cheat on their taxes. When you first meet her she seems like nothing more than a cranky, nosy neighbor. You know, the kind you can see peering through the curtains when anything moves on the cul d’ sac.
Alice was the turd in the punch bowl when it came to John’s neighbors. She was always looking to complain to the police, the homeowners association, anybody who would listen. She seemed to take great delight in breaking John’s balls! You can’t leave your trash can visible. You can’t park on your own grass. You’ve got to pay me for the fence repairs even though it was my tree that fell on my fence. She was an exasperating old goat who lived alone and had almost zero visitors. Except at tax time when her driveway was constantly occupied by cars belonging to the poor schmucks who let her do their taxes. John often thought about reporting her to the homeowners association for running a business out of her home, or being an unlicensed tax advisor. But you know what they say about people who live in glass houses. Besides, with her connections, including a relative who was a state trooper, it would be like getting into a pissing match with a skunk!
STOWAWAYS IN THE BASEMENT
When the knock came at the front door, Dewey headed to his spot under the bed. That’s where he went when you ran the vacuum. That’s where he went whenever construction workers were in the house. That’s where he went when there were thunderstorms. And that’s where he went then.
John opened the front door and sure enough, there was Alice with her short-haired, uptight, pine tree-up-the-butt state trooper friend or relative or whatever the hell he was to her.
“Mind if we come in,” said the trooper, squinting to make himself look more stern and serious.
“You damn straight I mind,” John shot back, a confident look on his face. “What the hell do you want? I sure didn’t invite you over for tea.”
“Someone heard shots,” the trooper continued, ” and we just want to have a little look around.”
“Well go have a little look around somebody’s else’s house,” John shot back, the disdain for the trooper’s choice of profession practically dripping off his face.
“Don’t know what you’re afraid of sir,” the trooper deadpanned, trying to look official and intimidating, but managing only to look stupid and not sure what to do next. Finally, he offered his exit line.
“We can’t come in without a warrant,” the trooper parroted, “but that can be arranged.”
John was pretty sure he was bluffing, but it’s hard to read someone’s mind who’s so stupid, so he reminded himself to proceed with caution and try not to inflame the situation.
“Look, officer,” John called all cops officer. They seemed to like that, “we really didn’t hear anything, but I understand that you wouldn’t be standing there if someone hadn’t heard something. But you know lately I’ve been hearing a lot of that crazy hip hop music booming out of cars speeding along on Mendenhall Mill Rd just behind us. Maybe that’s what someone heard.”
The trooper shook his head a few times and then looked over at Alice who was obviously pretty pissed off at how this confrontation had gone.
“Nothing more we can do here, maam,” said Dudley Do Right, and off they headed back toward Alice’s house.
JUST A GREAT BIG MISUNDERSTANDING
As soon as Alice and her sidekick, Dudley Do Right were out of sight, John practically sprinted down to the basement where Tony, Ian, Beans and Drew were getting ready to light a bong. John freaked.
“What the fuck are you guys doing? Didn’t you hear me talking to that state trooper at the front door?”
“He’s gone now,” said Drew. John threw his arms in the air.
“Jesus Fucking Christ guys haven’t you accomplished enough for tonite. You could all go away for awhile on weapons charges and you want to add drugs to your lengthy incarceration and take my miserable homeowner’s aiding and abetting ass with you?”
By now, everyone was in the basement. John, Sharon, Ian, Evan, Chelsea, Tony, Beans and Drew. The only one missing was Dewey. He was still under the bed. And of course, the mockingbirds and crows were outside somewhere.
It looked like the Emergency Room at Christiana Hospital on a Saturday nite. Sharon was busy trying to apply dressing to all the wounds from the attacking crows. None of them appeared too severe, which was a very good thing, because a trip to the real Christiana Emergency Room would have been a disaster.
Still, it was bedlam in that room … pure chaos. No one knew what the fuck had just happened! John looked around at the scene in front of him and shook his head back and forth until Sharon finally looked her husband straight in the eyes.
“John,” she began in that tone of voice that spelled imminent disaster, “what the hell is going on?”
“It’s a long story,” he began.
By now Dewey had left the safety of being underneath the bed on the second floor, and was now perched on the top step of the stairs leading down to the basement listening in to the conversation. Oh shit, Dewey thought, I hope he doesn’t tell them he was talking to me.
Chelsea was off in the corner in one of her usual semi-detached poses, her attention fixated on the Three Hombres. She kept imagining that Tony, Drew and Beans were three characters from Eastbound and Down with huge sombreros on their heads and criss-cross bullet suspenders across their chests. I should have known better she kept repeating to herself. I really should have known better.
Sharon took a slight break from applying hydrogen peroxide to John’s ear.
“You were saying that’s it’s a long story. Would you like to begin now while we have everyone assembled?”
John took a deep breath and let out a long sigh.
“OK, he began, quite promisingly, “you all know that those damn mockingbirds have been making nuisances of themselves forever.”
“This better not be about that damn cat,” Sharon looked ready to go up in spontaneous combustion.
“To continue,” John continued, “I’m not 100% sure just what the hell really did happen here tonight, but I’ve probably got a better guess than anyone else. You see, it’s kind of a miscommunicated comedy of errors.”
Sharon cocked her head, a quizzical look on her face.
“OK not so much a comedy,” John continued, “but here’s what I think happened. Chelsea got sick and tired of Geronimo dive bombing Dewey day after day and she said something to Ian who said something to Tony, Drew and Beans who had gotten sick and tired recently of firing their weapons at trees and jumped at the chance to take out the evil Geronimo. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.”
“What about those goddamned crows,” Drew shouted, “they bit the hell out of me. Where did they come from?”
John grimaced and Sharon noticed.
“John,” she said drawing out the singular syllable of his name, and blending it with the kind of bemused look a school teacher would give to a particularly troublesome student.
“John,” she repeated, a determined look on her face, “what do you know about the crows?”
“They’re black and nasty,” he said almost as a question. Just then, Dewey came sprinting down the basement steps and everyone’s attention was focused on the cat. John got the hint. Don’t say a word, John, he seemed to be able to hear what Dewey was thinking. They won’t believe you, John. They’ll think you’re crazy. Hell they already think you’re crazy. You better make up something fast, because I’m not saying another word!.
“We’re waiting,” Sharon said impatiently. “What about the crows?”
“Oh yeah, the crows, well I suppose they were just up in the tree when the three musketeers here began firing their weapons and got caught in the crossfire and just got pissed off and attacked.”
No one had any real reason to disbelieve him. Maybe that’s all it was. What else could it be? So John told the shooters to stay in the basement and be quiet. And most of all, not to get high because the house was going to be under surveillance all night.
Meanwhile, Dewey had gone back upstairs and was at the sliding glass doors leading to the back yard. John heard him crying to go out and went upstairs to let him out. Chelsea, Evan and Sharon eventually went upstairs into the kitchen trying to sort out the pieces of this bizarre evening.
John followed Dewey out the back door. The black cat was hard to see especially on a night with almost no moon light. But John followed the little bell on his collar out toward the back of the fence.
Then the strangest thing ever transpired right before his eyes. There were several mockingbirds spread out across the fence and in between each of them was a crow. Dewey seemed to be engaged with the largest crow in some form of animated conversation that was totally alien to John’s ears. After several moments, Dewey walked over to John, and in that now familiar, soft, gentle voice proclaimed a peace treaty among the mockingbirds, crows and cats in the neighborhood.
“We learned a lesson tonight,” Dewey whispered to John. “We learned that we’re all part of the same evolutionary process, and that we have to respect each other’s right to live and prosper in such a difficult, dangerous world or else the consequences are catastrophic for all of us.”
John just shook his head. Then he heard his name being called from the vicinity of the family room.
“John, are you talking to someone out there,” Sharon asked.
“No dear. Just Dewey.”[