Tell us a tiny bit about yourself and a whole lot about the mog(ies) that share your current and/or past life.
My name is Tim Lucas. I’ve been a published writer since 1971 or thereabouts; I started by publishing my own fanzine, then I began reviewing films and music for my high school paper. In 1972, I placed my first writing with a Chicago-based (but internationally circulated) magazine called CINEFANTASTIQUE. I’ve been a professional writer ever since – writing mostly film criticism for magazines all around the world (including my own, VIDEO WATCHDOG, which ran from 1990 to 2017), but also novels, liner notes and – my current main source of income – audio commentaries for movies on disc. I married my wife Donna in December 1974, and we have been cat people for most of that time.
Have you always had cats or are you a late convert to the Church of Mog?
I have only ever had cats; I am not much of a dog person, so it’s strange that I’m associated with a magazine with “dog” in the title. When I was a teenager, my family (my mother, my half-sister, and I) shared a cat named Morris – a Dragon Li breed who, I understand, lived well into his 20s. I was always ashamed of the name we had given him, straight off a 9 Lives cat food commercial (Morris was their orange tabby mascot), and I would tell people that his name was actually Maurice, which was more dignified. I’m afraid our youthful antics with the cat made him mean, and I regret that. I didn’t take much responsibility for him, and my only memories of him concern his companionship in those early days when I would stay up late, learning to write and watching television.
What features do you like most about your current cat(s) or cat(s) that accompanied you through your life?
Our first cat was Godot, a black-and-white longhaired cat (at least partly Ragamuffin), who came into our lives from a co-worker of Donna’s, whose apartment we also later moved into. I remember that her mother’s name was Cecily, and nothing was known about the father. Godot was born on March 9, 1977 but we couldn’t take her right away because we had our first vacation upcoming, so Donna’s friend agreed to hold onto her till after our return, about four months later. So she had to leave the apartment she had always known, and move into our small efficiency apartment. We named her Godot because of the wait, but her name was well-chosen too because she never came when we called her. I remember the surprised look on Godot’s face on Moving Day, when we let her out of her pet carrier into the apartment where she had lived the earliest months of her life – she must have thought we had decided to move in with her! She didn’t meow much, was usually quiet and withdrawn (and the noisiest cat I’ve EVER known when she was in heat), and didn’t much like to be picked up. When she was in heat, the poor thing would sit next to me as I watched television, and pad and twitch. There is a great mystery associated with Godot: one morning, while Donna and I were still asleep, we were suddenly awakened by a loud scream from her. We found her sitting calmly in one of her favourite hiding spots, on a chair under our dining room table. We often thought that, if you could ever ask Godot one question, we would ask what caused her to make such a bloodcurdling scream that morning.
Then came Kaboodle – all white, medium length hair, green eyes, and pronounced cheekbones. We don’t know Kaboodle’s birthday; Donna happened to loan our pet carrier to a co-worker and, on the day when she was bringing it back home and waiting for a bus, suddenly there was heavy thunder… and she saw this tiny white kitten step out of the woods, Donna picked it up before the rain started! So, as she likes to say, she put the cat into the carrier just as the bus arrived and “brought the whole kitten Kaboodle [kit & caboodle] home!” We weren’t going to keep her at first, because Godot made it clear right away that she would welcome no sibling, but as soon as Donna found the name for her, she just became an important part of our family. Also, I had immediately seen in my mind’s eye her cartoon likeness and began drawing dozens and dozens of cartoons of her, often misbehaving, or illustrating our wordplay, or simply to chronicle things she had done. We have hundreds of them – and they are a testament to my deep love for her, the most profound connection I’ve ever had to a pet. She died of renal failure on February 13, 1996, when she was 16. I’ll never forget coming back to the house after putting her down, because everywhere I looked there was a heartbreaking memory of her, places where we had played, where she had done something funny. We cried for hours. Godot, who had always ignored her, became more affectionate toward Kaboodle near the end, and when she passed, Godot would often cry into the darkness of the house at night. Godot died five months later, on July 29, at 19.
The experience of losing two beloved cats so close together made us not eager to replace them, but after a year, we heard from one of Donna’s sisters that a Maine Coon litter was available – so we went about to meet the kittens when they were just a week old. We picked out two that we liked – one was male, grey and white with black Egyptian markings, and the other was female, black and white and shy, like Godot. The boy had a sweet inquisitive face (he may have had some American Curl in him) and had a hearty cry, and the girl was always burrowing, so we named them Snooper (the girl) and Blabber (the boy) after two Hanna/Barbera cartoon characters. They were born on June 29, 1997 and came to live with us on July 27 – earlier than they should have left their mother, but the little girl was inquisitive and always taking walks, and the lady of the house was concerned that she might get eaten by the dogs next door if we didn’t come and take them a.s.a.p. We had a long and happy life with them. Snooper claimed the upstairs of our house, Blabber the downstairs. Blabber was the most affectionate of all our cats, and loved to cuddle. Snooper eventually died in 2014 on the very day I’m writing this, March 11, at age 16, and Blabber died on July 17, 2015 at 18.
Long before they left us, back in August 2004, we added a third – a foundling who showed up at our back door one day, about a month earlier. We called him Kitty at first and left food for him outside, even put a little water-resistant bed on the back porch, where he sometimes had to defend his food and his turf from visiting opossums. One day when Donna took food outside, she called for him, couldn’t see him anywhere – and he eventually responded to her calls by jumping down off the roof of our house! He had taken to higher ground! We brought him into the house on August 17, kept him in the basement for about a month before allowing him to meet the other two, just opening the door one day and allowing them to find each other – as vets seem to agree is the best way to subdue the shock of a new arrival. The owner should disassociate themselves from the process as much as possible! For various complicated reasons, we ended up naming this new arrival Elvis, but he has a LOT of different names and nicknames, including Elvy, Pipsqueak, Squeaky Boy, Mr. Pip and even The Plight of the Pipsqueal! Elvis is a strange cat – he seems to be a Sphynx mix of some kind; he looks like a black cat, but if you stroke his fur, it’s all white below the surface. He has a worrisome bump on his skull, where a rhinocerous has its horn. He’s got white membranes that cover his eyes as they narrow, and the pink insides of his ears are mottled with black, like someone took an eye-dropper full of ink and dropped it into his ears. When we found him he was about three months old, we were told, and he had no testicles – nor was there any sign he had ever had a previous operation to remove them! We eventually learned that he was born with a rare disease of his auto-immune system, and he has spent the last few years suffering from skin cancer. Donna has to spend a lot of time with him, painstakingly treating his crusty skin growths with various natural emollients and moisteners. She tries to keep him as comfortable as possible, and we’re keeping a close eye on his quality of life.
Elvy was lonely without Blabber and Snooper, so we agreed to take a cat that was owned by one of our nephews when he had to get rid of it. Janie came to live with us on August 18, 2015 and she was about 10 years old at that time. She spent her first night with us under a desk. We didn’t like her name, but it seemed too late to change it – I eventually modified it to “Little Janie Haney.” She is like a Russian blue but without the blue, with a bit of Siamese, I think; she is gray like cigar ash, with green eyes – a bit overweight, and she has ONE meow whose only quality is insane urgency. I can’t walk into the kitchen without getting her insane urgency cry – “I want a treat!” or into our bathroom without her running in and giving me her other insane urgency cry – “Brush me!” I love Janie, we have some wonderful moments together, but whatever she may want at any given moment, she wants NOW – and she doesn’t start out at 1 and proceed to 10; she starts at 10 and stays at 10. This is a daily problem.
Do you have a special divert and distract method to keep your feline from bothering you while you’re writing? Or does your cat leave you alone while you are typing away?
Our cats have always been good about this… until Janie. I have had to start locking my office door when I write because of her. She demands constant attention, and she will rub against things and knock them over till she gets it. Otherwise they have always tended to leave us alone until they get hungry, and I can remember some of them taking a nap rather than disrupt us.
Have you ever featured one of your cats or a cat in general as a protagonist in one of your stories?
The cartoons I did of Kaboodle once took a diversion into the descriptive with a short story I was writing, which never went anywhere. But she had the most wonderful “evil” expression – you could actually see a naughty idea forming in her brain as you looked at her, and she made a blood-curdling noise at the back of her throat when she saw birds outside, and it gave me pleasure to try to find the right words to describe what was so special about her.
Also, when I was writing my novel THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA (Touchstone, 2005), I decided to hide the names of all our pets up to that point in the text, because the story was about a pawn of Dracula who loved animals and was compelled to prey upon them. Writing it made me very conscious of the sadness of so many animals’ lives, and the fact that so few animal lives have been documented as authentic contributions to history, so I found ways to weave even the very strange names we had given our cats into the book – and it’s not easy incorporating names like Godot and Elvis when you’re writing a story set in the 19th century!
Most disgusting gift/surprise you ever received from your cat?
Snooper once brought inside a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest, and dropped it on the kitchen floor – where I didn’t take notice until AFTER I had stepped on it.
What’s the biggest cat-astrophe a mog has ever caused in your household?
Kaboodle used to think that toilet paper was a clever new form of scratching post. But the biggest cat-astrophe was probably the year when we decided to have an authentic pine Christmas tree. The smell of it drove Godot wild – and once, after it was fully dressed, she decided to get under it and climb to the top, causing the whole thing to fall over. It had been seated in a bowl containing a special fluid guaranteed to keep the tree fresh, and it tipped over and spilled, staining the finished wooden floor. We subsequently found tinsel in the litter box, which had taken a scenic tour through her digestive system.
We’ve loved them all and it’s a pleasure to be invited to revisit our memories of them here in your Writer’s Mog blog!