the true stories
After a year or so of working and several camping trips with the Boss, his wife and dogs; it began to weigh heavy on the man that I didn't have a dog. I explained that I was renting and that pets were forbidden. Boss kept on about it and even suggested I move to a more accommodating place. I was still suffering a broken heart from giving up the best dog I ever had the pleasure of knowing.
That dog was a half wolf and I named him Yukon. He taught me more about dogs and about people than any other creature before him. I still mist up thinking about that good friend. I explained all this to Boss and he said the best medicine was another dog. I disagreed and held firm to my broken heart.
One morning I was summoned into the Boss's office by Katy. I figured I was in some sort of trouble, like the time a friend of Boss's phoned him that my work truck had been seen parked at night on a week-end in Chinatown near a movie theater. It was strictly off limits for me to use the company vehicle for personal business but I was between junkers and I had a date to go on. He gave me a good talking to over that one.
I walked in to see what I had done now. Boss had a conspiratorial grin on his friendly face. This perplexed me. I knew it wasn't about a raise. I had just that year secured one for me and for Lars, my young apprenticed helper. I had to go to Boss's house, eat a moose kielbasa sausage and polish off a bottle of whiskey while explaining to him and to his cockatiel why I was worth it. I got two bucks and Lars got one, for not showing up on his own.
“Mick,” he said, “We all feel so bad about you being dog-less and all so we got you a little present.”
He reached under his big oak desk and pulled out a tiny black squirming thing. He reached his big hand across the desk and dropped a kitten in my own hand. Then he leaned back on his chair and smiled like Buddha.
“I found him in the heat exchanger of an old boiler yesterday. Poor bugger is covered in soot and scared to beat Jesus.”
Sure enough, it was a yellow tabby and both my hands and my shirt were besmirched with indelible oily soot which coated its body. Only his eyes, teeth and tongue had escaped the blackening. The little fellow looked up at me trembling and mewed. My heart melted and I said thanks to Boss.
“He's gonna be a gas fitter's cat so I'm gonna call him Thermocouple.”
Boss slapped his leg, “That's the spirit, Mick. Sure as hell ain't no dog but it's the thought that counts.
I had to use Go-Jo hand cleaner and a dozen rags to get Thermocouple clean enough to have a bath. He turned out to hate water. I tried to use all the knowledge I had garnered from dog ownership and apply it to my first cat. I bought him a bowl and some good healthy food. I took him home and introduced him to his new domain.
It was a pretty house situated on the Upper Level Highway and the bay window had a commanding view of the lights of Vancouver at night. That is really why I stayed there. The floors were polished spruce and I waxed them to a sheen. Thermocouple never walked but liked to dart everywhere so he spent much of the time skidding out of control.
The first month he skittered across the living room and knocked over one of my Sansui speakers, putting a wicked dent in the tweeter. I still use those speakers, which I bought in 1977. They don't make them like that anymore.
I was playing chess by correspondence at the time and kept several boards set up in the living room with the games in progress. It was a deliciously slow way to do combat as one had to wait for the letter with the next move. To get the letter I had to hike a mile down a steep Lonsdale Avenue to the PO Box I'd set up and traipse all the way back.
Thermocouple grew like a weed and soon was a respectable sized puddy. He must have gotten bored waiting for me to return home at night or perhaps he had become interested in chess. At any rate, I stepped through the door one evening with a letter in my hand from a foreign correspondent that contained a long awaited move.
I flicked on the light and turned on the Sansui. Message In A Bottle poured out of the speakers. I felt something crack under my boot. It was a pawn! I looked to the coffee table where the chess boards were set up. Only the boards remained. I never did find all the pieces. Rather, I found them in the most unlikely places months later after the incident.
That was decided then. Thermocouple could no longer be trusted home alone. I went out and bought a little chest harness which I called his suspenders and a long leash. I sat him down and explained to him that he'd been a very bad boy and thus was going to henceforth accompany me to work each day.
The first day I took a lot of ribbing from Lars, Katy and the Boss. I ignored their jokes. When Lars and I got to the job-site we sprang into action. Lars was doing the ducting and I was doing the pipe. First I had to set up my threading vise and threading oil bucket. It was a Rigid 300 and weighed more than I did. I got some scraps of wood to stand on because she was pouring rain and I didn't want to get electrocuted by the worn extension cord I meant to replace someday.
I tied Thermocouple's leash to the steering wheel and left the window open so he could have air and even go out onto the hood if he'd a mind to. He just sat on a box of pressure regulators and stared at me as I disappeared into the house. A few minutes later, I heard the unmistakeable sound of Lars' laughter and came to see what was so funny.
It was soon evident to me what had been he the source of his mirth. There was Thermocouple dangling in mid-air from his suspenders from a length of one inch gas pipe which was strapped to the roof of the truck. He looked like he was trying out for Cirque de Soleil. He had evidently gone out exploring onto the hood of the truck and made a jump at the roof of the garage a foot away. He missed and wound up short of rope and fouled his line over the jutting pipe in the bargain.
I took the little fellow down and tied his leash to a young maple in the front yard. He was a sturdy cat and already sodden so I figured he could get under the foliage and start to dry off a bit. Lars and I went about our business. I could see the lady of the house looking out of the kitchen window and admiring Thermocouple each time I came out to thread a new piece of pipe.
After an hour she slid open the window, “Excuse me, do you mind if I take that poor, adorable kitty inside out of this awful rain while you work. I'll take good care of him til you are finished. It's no problem, I have a cat as well. What's his name?”
“Thank-you ma'am. That is mighty sweet of you. His name is Thermocouple and he's a gas fitting cat. He's OK outside, really.”
“Alright. We both appreciate it.”
The lady came out and ceremoniously undid the leash and Thermocouple flew into her arms immediately. She cuddled him and baby-talked to him and he purred up a storm. They disappeared into the nice warm house and my heart glowed at witnessing such humanity and female compassion. I went into the basement and screwed some pipe together and placed the straps to secure it with. I headed back outside to cut some more after I had taken my measurements.
The next time I returned to the threading machine, which was forty minutes later, give or take, I was surprised to see Thermocouple sitting forlorn in a small puddle under the maple. I looked at the wee fellow and then up at the window. The lady slid open the glass.
“You're #$%&*@#! cat ate all my cat's food, drank all his milk and then scratched the #@%& out of him!” she slammed the window shut so hard, the glass rattled. I decided it was time for lunch and went in to get Lars. He was laughing all the way to the truck to the point he could scarcely draw breath. I told him to shut-up and picked up my cat and climbed in the dry dirty rig.
I was having cognac liver paste on Caraway rye with Port Salut cheese and thin sliced onions, while Lars was having a chunk of chicken his Mum had made the night before and cut so he could also put it between two thick pieces of buttered Heim-gemacht Roggen Brot. It was dressed with home-made Danish cucumber pickle, fresh lettuce and mayonnaise. I poured some kitty kibbles into an end cap of four inch duct and sat it on the floor for Thermocouple.
He sat brooding in the space between the two seats sitting on a box of greasy two inch elbows listening to the radio with us. I had toweled him off and he looked like he was getting his mojo back. We opened our Thermos bottles. I had Medaglia D'Oro black and Lars had English Breakfast with plenty of creme and sugar. We both had a little Irish Mist to quell the dank.
A Tom Petty song came on the radio and I had to put my sandwich down on the dash to play air guitar to the solo. Lars was learning to play guitar and he followed suit. When the solo ended Lars took over the bass and I went onto the drums. We laughed and picked up our food when the song ended.
I was working the windshield wipers when I heard Lars swear in Danish. I snapped my head around to my right and saw two things. Firstly, Lars was holding two perfectly good pieces of Roggen Brot in his left hand and Thermocouple was heading into the back of the truck with the chicken, the lettuce and leaving a trail of cucumber pickle and mayonnaise all the way down.
I am a man of principle and I immediately gave half of my half sandwich to my protege and began giving a stern lecture to the feline delinquent. Thermocouple was all the way in the back licking his mitts on top of a roll of BX cable. He not only ignored my tuition, he hissed like a broken steam valve when Lars threw a piece of bread to him.
In time, I learned that cats are not at all like wolves and in fact, resent the comparison. When the first Spring came with Thermocouple I began to let Thermocouple explore the back yard. He was good in coming home every few days. Then it happened. He didn't show up for a week. For two weeks. After a month I stopped hoping and began the grieving process.
Around late summer when the blackberries are best, I saw the old man who lived next door. He was housebound and lived alone. I had rarely seen him outside. He was sitting in his wheelchair in his back yard. Over the bramble-covered picket fence I could see his hands were busy with something. I walked up to the fence to talk and pick some berries.
The old fellow had a tartan blanket pulled over his ancient knees and perched on top of it was the most majestic, pleasant cat I have ever seen. The miniature tiger looked at me and narrowed its eyes. The old fellow greeted me and introduced me to his wonderful cat, Sandy. He said Sandy had just appeared one night through his window and that they had made fast friends. He fumbled in a tin and fished out a bit of smoked salmon for the cat and stroked its chin. I was truly happy for both Thermocouple and for the old gentleman. I thought,”What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” I winked at Sandy and I could have sworn that he winked back.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.