It was always about food. Morning, noon and night (or 'morny noony na,' as Henrey used to say, in imitation of Charango, who was Ecuadorian and had less than impeccable skills in the dialect of the American language that we spoke up in The Heights): tuna, liver, chicken. Meow Mix. Science Diet and Science Diet Light. Purina Dental. 9Lives Shredded! And 9Lives tuna mit cheese. We all had our favorites, Merv's favorites being all and any of the above. If it once had but didn't currently have a pulse, he'd eat it. So, yes, that means the occasional dead cricket was ingested. Along with the human body we found in Fort Tryon Park, but I guess that's another story. Due in part to genetics, but mostly due to his insatiable appetite, Merv was huge. Humungous. Gigantic. Supersized. When he went to the vet, he had to be brought in a dog carrier and weighed on a dog scale (not a truck scale on the New Jersey Turnpike, as the rumor once had it). He was so big that the bed would shake when he climbed the ladder to the loft where Henrey and I spent our lazy fall afternoons. If he was human, he'd be Andre the Giant. And his posse. As a cat, his size was inconceivable, and as a beast he was utterly immovable by anything other than a meal.
I can't quite remember the circumstances that brought Merv and Charango to the Heights that autumn. Something about unpaid rent at the summer house, loud all-night parties, many many kittens being birthed by 'hood strays, all of them white with black spots, all unmistakably huge and Mervoid. All I knew for sure is they got kicked out of their summer place a few weeks prematurely, and their winter residence was in the midst of redecoration and not really safe for kitty living yet. I thought it'd be neat to have them over for a few weeks-kind of like a long protracted sleep-over party with pranks and catnip and running around and eating. Lots of eating. But I didn't clear it with Henrey first, and he was a bit peeved when the two showed up at the door one September afternoon. I always forget that Henrey doesn't like other cats.
The two huge cats strode in and snooped around the apartment. I showed them all the good spots: the bed, the windows, the table where you could sit and watch the finches feed all afternoon, the correct spot at which to stand for optimal hallway-bolting when the door gets opened... Henrey, poor little tiny Henrey, growled and sulked on his spot on the bed. You could tell it was his spot by the circle of black hair around the little hog wallow in the mattress. Henrey, at 10 pounds, is a good-sized cat, but at 10 pounds he's dwarfed by 15 pound me. And he appeared positively minute next to the 18 pound orange tabby called Charango. You couldn't even see him if he was behind the 24-pound monster called Merv.
Cats generally sleep 20 out of 24 hours. I learned that in a Bukowski book. I try to limit myself to 18 hours, but I'm like the Einstein of cats (this refers to of course the story that Einstein slept like four hours a night). Merv would try to get in at least 22 hours of sleep a day, plopping down in a spot on the couch and not moving for hours, only breathing. Occasionally there would be a big "hrrmph!" sound and a slight shift in position. Charango and I would try to taunt and tease Merv, doing all those cat things: tap and run, swat the tail... but nothing would wake the animal. Blue jays would get into squabbles right outside, their loud yells echoing through the apartment, only to be muted by Merv's snores. Merv would take to the couch (he used to call it his throne) right after breakfast and sleep right through til dinner at six. Mom would come home from work and I'd be dancing around her feet, telling her all about the day, and suddenly this huge hulking form would stumble out of the living room, blinking at the hallway light, lumber into the kitchen and stand patiently by his bowl. Charango and I would get all excited and try to get him to play with us, but he'd just sit on the linoleum, huge green eyes luminescent and misty with the thought of Sea Captain's Choice. And then he'd just plow right through his food. Even if Henrey came over and growled at him for being too close, or if Charango or I nosed our way into his bowl, he'd just eat and eat, unstoppable, like a hurricane or a riderless tractor.
Henrey hated the snorting and snuffling sounds Merv made while he ate, and the way his food flew all over the place. "He both looks and sounds like a cochon," Hank would say.
"Why don't we leash him and take him to the park to see if he could find some truffles?" I asked.
"Eey already tried that a few years ago," Charango chimed in. "We found mon cheries y ferrero rochers, pero no truffles. But more than a pig, Merv is a bull."
"Aww, cut the crap, ShaCha." Henrey often called Charango ShaCha, after the chinese entree. "How could that wombat be like a bull?"
"I know you have not seen eet yet, and you may never see eet, but every great once in a while Merv will get eet into his mind to run. And when he does, watch out!"
"You mean it's like when they run the bulls in Spain?"
"Exactly. Y just like there, sometimes people die..." Charango got a sort of wistful, far away look in his orange eyes. "There was one time, before I was born, that he went on a rampage on a Brooklyn street and accidentally killed three people. Witnesses say he was yelling, 'I have the power of Grey Skull!'"
My eyes were as big and round as Pamela Anderson's breasts. "Did he go to jail?"
"No, pero the judge thought he was too cute to put to sleep."
Early one morning I awoke to the sound of a deep rumbling, the feel of a shaking bed. I looked around for Henrey, but he was nowhere in sight. I looked down off the loft and saw two quick forms darting down the long hallway-one white and black and huge, followed by a smaller, lithe black and white form. I shook the sleep from my head. I thought I must be dreaming.
"Run, fat boy, run!," I heard Henrey yell.
"You can't catch me you skinny-assed spider monkey!," yowled back the deep-voiced Merv.
After watching for about 15 minutes, I went to hang out with Charango. "Thees could go on for hours," he told me. "You might as well nap now..." We took a 3 hour nap and just as I was waking up the romping began to slow down to a trot. Henrey was winded and panting, but Merv was... well, Merv was Merv. His big white face still had the beatific expression of a bodhisattva, his breathing no more labored than when he was eating. Henrey slid to a stop, did a quick groom. He stood up on his hind legs, as if he was about to begin pontificating. And he did. Pontificate, that is.
"As you all know," he began, addressing me and Charango, "I've been head cat here in the Heights for a few months now, since that fateful day that I beat Mungo in a fair fight..."
"That was not a fair fight! I let you win!," I yelled, poutily.
He waved me off. "And I, as head cat, have a duty to my fellow cats to declare when an important event has taken place. The large, bovine-like cat that we all thought of as an over-stuffed plush toy, a fuzzy door stop, a fur-covered ottoman, got up and chased me, who is, by the way, in magnificent health and top physical form, for four solid days." Henrey always had a skewed sense of time. "Today is a day I think we all need to etch in our cat memories, and pass down to our kittens in the form of stories... a day to be commemorated in songs, animated christmas specials and action figures. For today is the day that the immovable beast..." Here, Henrey paused dramatically. "moved!" Henrey went back to grooming. Merv went to the dry food bowl, ate 2 cups of Hill's Maintenance and vomited. Charango and I went back to sleep. And soon, so did the beast.