I was all set to write something yesterday involving some combination of our Palm Springs plumbing disaster from Friday, our Sunday afternoon visit to LA Greekfest, Britney's zombie-stripper "comeback" and Larry Craig's increasingly comical bids to "clear" his "good" name. But then, something far more significant occurred — Mentos, our tall, skinny, dreamsicle-colored Tabby-Abyssinian mix, passed away, the victim of blood clot launched by a very bad ticker. Carole and I knew that it (or something like it) was coming soon, but we are utterly devastated nonetheless.
Mentos was a real character, a royal pain in the ass at times, and a true friend. He went by many nicknames around here — Mr. Orangey, Mr. Helpy, Mr. Pink Nose, Crazy Legs, El Dopo, Horfmaster General, Goatboy, Lil' Leepus, Peelu's Stupid Brother — but mostly he was My Little Dude, something he'd been from the moment Carole and I walked into the LA SPCA's Jefferson Avenue cat shelter on a Sunday in the middle of August 1995. Only 14 weeks old at the time, he stuck his little triangular head out of his cage as soon as he saw me come into the room, and howled as if his life depended on it. There were other people in the room, but it was clear to all that he wanted MY attention — he chose me, essentially. So we adopted him and his much snootier sister Peelu, who I don't think ever fully credited her extroverted brother for getting the two of them out of the shelter.
Mentos and I bonded in a special way — basically, he tried to kill me. At the time, Carole and I lived in a split-level apartment; and as soon as Mentos figured out how to use the stairs, he set about knocking things — potted plants, tchotchkes, framed pictures — off the edge of them. One day, I glanced up just in time to see a large wooden fish falling directly towards my head, with Mentos looking on from above in wide-eyed expectation. I caught the fish, then chased Mentos up the stairs with a squirt bottle; from that point on, we were inseparable.
They say a dog is a man's best friend, and Mentos was more like a dog than any cat I've ever known — and there's no question that he was my best friend. I had four different cars during his lifetime, and he was somehow able to identify the sounds of all of them; Carole would often tell me how he'd go into a state of semi-suspended animation when I was gone, and then snap out of it as soon as he heard my car pull up — whereupon he'd run to meet me at the door. Whenever I was out in front of our house, talking to a neighbor, he'd get in the window and yowl until I came upstairs. (My friend Tracy once noted that she could actually see a total physical change come over him whenever he heard my voice.) During the day, when I'd move around the apartment, he was almost always close on my heels, or sitting in my lap whenever he had the chance. At night, he'd curl up in the crook of my arm and snore contentedly, at least until he'd decide it was time to wake up and cover my face with kisses, or "make muffins" — kneading his paws on my chest or stomach — while making loud "horfing" sounds.
There was no feline standoffishness to Mentos, at all; if guests came over, all the other cats would hide, but he'd come out and sniff the newcomers to see what they were all about, and maybe allow himself to be petted. One of my favorite lingering mental images of him is from an evening back in the late 90s, when my friend Gary had come by to hang out. We were both sitting on the couch, having a cocktail and a smoke, when Mentos hopped up between us on the couch and proceeded to sit there like a human — back upright against the cushions, arms at his sides, legs stretched out in front — while giving us each looks like, "What are we talkin' about, guys? And what are we all doin' later?"
Mentos,it has to be said, was a man's man. While he was happy to receive attention and affection from anyone, he REALLY dug the dudes; it was not at all unusual to see him follow our male friends into the bathroom, and there were a few occasions where he became so overly affectionate with a buddy's leg or lap that we had to forcibly banish him from the room. So it wasn't surprising that, when I brought home a manly Black Label Society hoodie — given to me by Zakk on the same afternoon that we wrote The Fake Zakk Wylde Bio together — Mentos quickly adopted it as his favorite nest. I spread it out on the futon in my office, and he'd sit there, paws tucked under his chest, and watch me as I worked. If one of the other cats dared to sit on it, he'd go all alpha on them until they vacated the spot. (Mentos may have also had some cross-dressing tendencies, as indicated by his propensity to abscond with my sister-in-law's blush brush.)
You couldn't tell by his skinny frame, but Mentos could eat like a horse — or really, considering his varied appetites, like a goat. While our other cats never evinced much interest in anything more exotic than baby food, Mentos always wanted to eat anything Carole and I were eating — often while we were eating it. Roasted chicken? Clam sauce? Pizza crumbs? Paremesan cheese? Potato chips? You name it, Mentos wanted it. After-meal dishes had to go straight into the sink; otherwise, he'd launch repeated assaults on the table in an effort to lick your platters clean, until you were so annoyed that clearing the dining area was the simply only option.
While opening a can of tuna was always a predictably easy way to get a rise out of him, he'd get just as excited by a can of tomato paste — even after it was opened, and I'd showed him that it WASN'T tuna, he still wanted to get in there and try it out. Carole once caught him with his head in a colander full of defrosted peas. "Mentos, kitties don't LIKE peas," she scolded, whereupon he turned and looked at her, his surprised eyes as big as quarters, with one bright green pea perched perfectly between his lips.
By rights, Mentos should have died two years ago, when (without any warning) he went into total kidney failure. The situation was made worse by the fact that he had a previously undiagnosed heart condition — and just like in humans, you can't treat a cat's kidneys without putting strain on the heart, and vice versa. Thankfully, the good folks at the California Animal Hospital somehow managed to get him stabilized. Thus began two years of pills (for his heart) and subcutaneous fluid injections (for his kidneys), neither of which he was particularly psyched on, but he and I managed to come to an understanding about it all; and though I've long had an absolute horror of needles, I became quite efficient at administering the injections. These are the sort of things you do for a good friend who needs you.
(I also have to give a shout-out here to my friend Gail at Cat Faeries, whose "Kidney Kitty" herbal tincture — mixed into his wet food with water — definitely seemed to make a difference in terms of keeping up his appetite and his overall kidney health. Every time I took him into the vet, either for a checkup or to deal with some other problem, the doctors were visibly surprised by how well his kidneys were doing.)
Mostly, though, I think Mentos hung on because he still enjoyed life so much. It wasn't until this summer that his natural ebullience began to noticeably fade. He was breathing harder (we had to have his lungs tapped a couple of times to get rid of the built-up fluid), and he wasn't as social as he used to be. Instead of hanging out and watching me work, he'd hang out by himself in the bathroom — possibly in expectation of a gentleman caller, but most likely because it was the coolest place, temperature-wise, in the apartment. At night, instead of curling up with me, he'd sleep on one of the square cushions by the bedroom windows. He seemed to be slowly making his exit, and instead of taking a long Labor Day weekend in Palm Springs, we stayed home and hung out with him in LA, figuring that he wouldn't be with us much longer.
And then, as soon as the Labor Day heatwave broke, Mentos was suddenly back to his old self — running around, jumping up on top of the refrigerator, and chowing down like crazy. Four out of the last five nights of his life, he slept in my arms again and woke me up repeatedly with "muffins" and kisses. (At one point, I was dreaming that someone was poking me gently on the tip of my nose with a slightly damp pencil eraser; I woke up to find him standing on top of me, gazing intently into my eyes.) I thought that maybe Mentos was on the rebound, and we'd get to have him for another month or two, at least. In retrospect, though, I think it was his way of saying goodbye.
I'll spare you the details of his passing; suffice to say that he went out with the courage and dignity of the little lion he was, and I felt blessed to be able to be with him at the end. Carole and I took Mentos out to Palm Springs with us last night, and as the last rays of an appropriately orange sunset faded behind the San Jacintos, we buried our sweet pal — wrapped in his Black Label hoodie — in the shade of our favorite palm tree, our tears mixing with the desert soil. We already miss him so much; despite the fact that we still have three other cats (including his sister), the apartment seems awfully quiet and empty now without his oversized presence.
If you've read this far, I thank you; and hopefully you'll please forgive me for getting on my soapbox for a second. There are so many great cats at shelters and rescue agencies that are in desperate need of good homes. So if you or someone you know are thinking of adopting a new cat, please consider going that route instead of paying big bucks to a breeder for a pure-bred feline. Do it for me; do it for Mentos. Mentos was a mixed-breed shelter cat who cost me a grand total of sixty dollars to adopt — not much of a show cat or a status symbol, maybe, but he was a loving and faithful friend who opened my heart like no other animal before him, and I wouldn't have traded him for any pure-bred in the world.
Sleep well, my friend. I love you so much; thank you for loving me like you did. You were the best Orangey ever.