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  • Aaron Carruth

Cat Packs

My wife has what some (read: me) might call a masochistic digital habit. She will scroll her social media feeds in search of videos created with the express purpose of making people bawl. “A good cry,” she says, “is nice sometimes.” Once partial to videos of soldiers unexpectedly reuniting with their families, she has since graduated to silently weeping while reading animal rescue profiles. The latest of which detailed the many woes of a three-legged feline named “Little John.” Life had been unduly cruel to John. Per his latest update, John had recently escaped a neglectful home, only to be hit by a car. Some time later he was set upon by a pack of stray cats. He somehow managed to survive it all, though he was now one leg short of a full set.


I paused at this point in the story and googled “stray cat packs”. I discovered an amateur synth-rock group and an article that confirmed feral cats will sometimes form packs that “loosely resemble lion prides”. That sounded legitimately terrifying.

I’m not afraid of cats, per se. I just don’t think they can be trusted. There’s something unpredictable about them. Don’t they attack babies in cribs? I swear I read that somewhere.


“What do you think?” Bronwyn asked, her eyes swollen, but hopeful. She turned her phone towards me. I couldn’t recall a seeing a more pitiful creature.


“How did they know about the cat pack?” I asked.


“I don’t know,” she said, irritated with my compassionless query, “that’s not really the point.”


“Oh. You wanted an actual answer? No. I don’t want to adopt him. You know… cats,” I said, gritting my teeth and shaking my head like a child who doesn’t want to eat his green beans.


“Are you going yard-saling tomorrow?” she asked, desperate to change the subject (and, perhaps her husband).


Making a plan with my father (via texts with my mother) in 2020


Me: Am I going to do antiques with dad tmrw?


Mother: Hold on. [1]


[1] I’d bet anything that the second my mother sent this text, she instinctively covered the mic of her iPhone and yelled ROBERT!


Mother: Dad says he will email you.


Me: Email?


Mother: He says he will email you but I think he means text


Mother: lol


Me: Night, mum


Mother (at 6:04 am): Dad says he will be over in about 6 minutes


Mother: lol


--------------


“Did you see that house sold? The one on Bayou?”


I shook my head.


“You know, just past Billy’s?”


Why do dads pay such close attention to the real estate market in your neighbourhood? And, how the eff do they always know who Billy is?


I shrugged.


“Well, that’s good for you, though eh?” he said, nodding in agreement with himself.


My father eased his truck to a stop near the Tim Horton’s garbage bins, the state of which could best be described as apocalyptic. Each container was decorated with a pulsing coat of black scuzz: layers of stain left behind by half-finished sugary drinks hurled in a Paul Georgian fashion towards the baskets. Hordes of wasps circled above, diving at vehicles in coordinated assaults.


“I can’t believe I had Pizza Hut last night,” my father said, to no one in particular. Just then a wasp torpedoed past him, darting back and forth, desperate to puncture my eyeball.


My father took one empty pizza box and carefully inserted it into the other. Next, he folded the boxes in two. Then again. Then again. And again. Each time, the boxes’ protests grew sterner. The cracks and cries of their crumpling escalated. This was the most unnecessarily aggressive pizza box disposal in the history of this drive-thru. Those in line behind us must’ve wondered what the hold up was but, this is Fenelon Falls, no horns would be honked.


For a moment, his magical feat of strength stalled. A fold refused to take and I wondered if the boxes might better him. But, he clamped his teeth together and, with a low, guttural blast, crushed their last slice of hope. He held his pizza-box-turned-paper-airplane out to me and smiled, considering it, not unlike how Thanos admired his completed Infinity Gauntlet.


“Pretty good, right?”


I laughed. “Yeah. Pretty good.”


--------------


I was going to read today. I was going to write today. I was going to eat healthy today.


No. No. And more no.


My eyes closed for seconds at a time, caught in cat-napping purgatory. My father had disappeared into a stranger’s house more than an hour ago. I had a novel, Alexander McCall Smith’s “My Italian Bulldozer” (which has been quite delightful), my notebook, and my phone. I was operating with little sleep, thanks to an idiotic bit of self-sabotage featuring peanut butter sandwiches and an Avengers movie (the one with the special effects).


I tried to read a page of my book, but failed to keep my place at least three different times. I started to sag, then jolted to life courtesy some sort of latent survival instinct. I set the book down beside a grease-stained bag filled with crumpled breakfast sandwich wrappers and sighed.


My ancient ancestors – the ones who graced my genetics with the ability to spring to life to escape certain demise – would not be proud of me. Imagine a life spent fighting sabre-tooth tigers (packs?), preserving sacred oral histories on the walls of the least hospitable caves, all so that one day your great-great-great (and so on) grandson could laze in a pile of synthetic slop and pity himself. For shame.


I grabbed my phone – an act of surrender.


One of my students recently asked if he could follow me on TikTok. Rather than receive more pitiable support, I managed to change the subject. I joined TikTok for the same reason I started this blog: to build an audience that might one day want to read my book. For those unaware, TikTok is a wonderful application where people of all ages (sorry, Gen Z, we are incapable of leaving you any space of your own) post videos. It’s different from YouTube because the platform forces its users to keep their videos below a minute in length. I’ve made three TikToks. The only people who have liked them are my wife and students – the modern equivalent to “my mom thinks I’m cool.”


My father returned to the truck carrying a clear bag of assorted jewelry and precious metals. A profitable haul, but nothing new for me to explore. He untied his cloth mask before peeling a pair of black latex gloves off.


“Where are we headed next?” he asked, pointing to a crudely drawn map attached to a clipboard.

If you’re just joining us, my father is allergic to technology. Anything with batteries is a gizmo. A computer is a google machine. And, the cellular phone is the scourge of humankind and single-handedly responsible for the death of socialization as he prefers it.

A quick story for context


“Son? Son. Son! I can’t get the television to work.”


“What do you mean? Are the batteries dead?” I asked, hand extended, beckoning for the flicker. [1]


My father handed me a phone. Our landline telephone. To his credit, it was cordless.


“This is a phone, dad. You can’t turn the tv on with it.”


“Oh.”


[1] We call remotes “flickers” in our house. We also refuse to refrigerate ketchup. Ew, you might think, what if it goes rancid? That’s when it’s best, we’d reply, it just tastes more vinegarish.


--------------


I thought about where we were, geographically speaking, and turned the clipboard ninety degrees. I had little confidence that I might provide reasonably accurate directions.

“We have to head back to where we came from.”


“First, I need to stop somewhere down the road,” he said. “The lady referred me to her friend.”


This happens a lot. My father starts the day with a single appointment and before he’s left the house, a phone call is placed and he’s on his way somewhere new. A close friend, an aunt, a co-worker. It doesn’t matter what antiques he buys, or if he buys anything at all, his visits are almost always successful. Always positive. My father has a certain way with people, especially those from generations before his. It’s because, in most senses, he’s one of them – a genuine throwback. His allergy to technology stems from a deep desire to maintain a sense of intimate social connection. He wants to talk to you. Maintain eye contact with you. He’ll listen to your stories. He doesn’t get notifications. He won’t scroll through Instagram and absentmindedly nod along to the punchlines of your jokes. He doesn’t have to “take this call”. He’s there – with you – and he’s got all the time in the world for your ambling stories of century-old family quilts. And, that means something to some people.


The downside to my father’s organic referral prowess is that voluntary(ish) ride-alongs are almost always extended… indefinitely. If my father asks you to help him move a table or a desk one day, always ask who he’s buying it from. If it’s an elderly citizen, block off your afternoon.


I was careful to mask my disappointment this morning. One of the reasons my father is working right now, years after his retirement, is to ensure that people such as myself are protected. I’ve relied on his support for the entirety of my existence, so I can’t complain when our schedule gets unexpectedly revised. My father is a generous man, but he will not suffer critiques on his antique collecting methods. More than once he has admitted to a philosophical alignment with Colonel Nathan Jessup, the villain of Aaron Sorkin’s classic, A Few Good Men. Jessup’s infamous “You Can’t Handle the Truth” rant re: the death of PFC Santiago and its impact on national security, dovetails perfectly with his position on supporting a family via yard-sales and auctions:


*A family member shows a hint of dissatisfaction with my father’s business or approach*


Dad: I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to [someone] who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said "thank you" and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a DAMN what you think you're entitled to! [1]


[1] You might think this is a touch extreme. Pick up a weapon and stand a post? Yeah. You haven’t met my father.


The man we had been referred to was busy inspecting a wooden board when we arrived. [1]


Our interruption instantly transformed him into a thoughtful character in a Depression-era drama. He sighed and took a handkerchief from his pocket, dabbing some sweat from his brow. They chatted for a while before my father returned with this:

I suppose when a man lacks a cellular device, he is forced to improvise.


My father handed me the wooden contact details and said “Email your mother, we’re going to be late.”


[1] I know nothing about wood. I once mistook a cedar tree for a Christmas tree (because that’s what they’re called, right? Christmas trees?). I can’t tell you what a two-by-four is. No clue.


--------------


“We’ve just got one more stop to make. It won’t take us long.”


I was immediately suspicious.


My father’s understanding of time is, in a word, limited. The foundation for his estimates borrows heavily from comic-book universes, wherein time is often a nebulous concept: a non-standard metric, subject to the whims of the heroes of the story. [1]


[1[ and sometimes the villains.


“What do you want me to text her?”


My father stared blankly at me.


Email,” I corrected, mentally shaking my head.


“That we’re going to be late,” he said.


Late? That’s it? I thought.


Perfect.


What else does she need to know, right? An actual time that we might arrive? Pfffft. I doubt it. Mothers and wives are widely known for simply accepting gross generalizations – especially my mother.


Me: Dad says we’re going to be late.


Mother: Ok. How late?


I swear to f$%*


--------------


The man with the freshly chainsawed business card had insisted we visit his sister.


Sensing my anguish at the prospect of my day dissolving into a series of half-baked comas whilst waiting in people’s driveways, my father doubled down on his original projection.


“This won’t take long.”


“Do you have a ballpark?” I asked, understanding that my question was a moderate risk.


What wasn’t said, but totally works


“You want answers?”


“I think I’m entitled to them.”


“You want answers?”


“I want the truth!”


“You can’t handle the truth.” [1]


[1] This is completely accurate. Had I known what I know now, I probably would’ve melted down to a stage-five hissy-fit.


What was said, but totally sucks


“I don’t know,” he said, not as careful to mask his disappointment. “Not long.”


--------------


At around the two-hour mark, I knocked on the front door. For those curious as to my mental state, please refer to the figure below:


A friendly woman in a green knit sweater shuffled into view. She smiled at me through the window I was peaking in and insisted I open the door with a welcoming wave. “I told him you must be terribly bored,” she said. Her voice was warm and playful. “Come in, come in. Your father is busy picking through who-knows-what. Can I get you something?”


“Is it alright if I used your washroom?”


“Sure, dear. Down the hall on the right. The only door that’s shut.”


I furrowed my brow.


“I’ve trapped the cat in there. He’s the nosy sort. Don’t worry if he gets out. It’s not the end of the world.”


I speed-walked down the hall and gently opened the door, half-expecting the cat to lunge at the prospect of freedom. He didn’t, though. He barely moved.


And that’s when I noticed, he had THREE LEGS.


No. That's not true.


He used all four of his legs to waddle over and park his rather large bottom on my left foot.


The cat had made two unwise assumptions. One, I wanted a cat on my foot. Two, I was an accurate shot.


I tried to shoo the cat off my foot, but he insisted on interfering. He reached his paws to my knee, his claws hooking on my jeans and piercing my skin. Startled, I jumped back, sprinkling the toilet seat, floor, and the cat.


That’s correct. A common house cat attempted to climb me, I got scared, and I peed on it.


Like I said, my ancient ancestors would not be proud of me.

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