The ballad of Sancho Diablo

NAME? I am Sancho.
JOB? I am a hellcat.
JOIN? I would love to join thee!

This story is only tangentially TV-station related, I promise.

CatzillaOne of my fellow board ops at the Fox station was a rather striking redhead who announced, out of the blue, that she was running off to get married. I was disappointed, but for once, not primarily because she was giving us virtually no notice and leaving me stuck with a double shift. I was about to lose my evening shift eye candy. To be fair, we were pretty good friends, but as with so many pretty good female friends, I just never worked up the nerve to go any further than that. I was living on my own and in desperate need of friends; I was paranoid about trying to push beyond that and losing the friendship in the process. I never felt like I had enough to offer to making being “more than friends” worthwhile.

But she did have a parting gift to give me.

I had recently lost my 14-year-old cat, and had adopted a Humane Society kitten very shortly afterward, who turned out to be from a diseased litter and died. I was catless. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not a natural state of existence for me. I was already hopelessly single, but now I didn’t even have a cat.

My co-worker had a solution. Since she was running off to get hitched, she was going to give me her cat, a giant red/orange tomcat named Sancho. He’d recently had a run-in with a car and had a pin in his leg, and he only liked certain food, and he wasn’t really a cuddle kitty, but she was sure he and I would get along just fine. After all, I was a cat person.

As you can imagine, the “hey, you finally got some pussy from her!” jokes abounded among my co-workers. In practice, Mr. Sancho was a pretty tough nut to crack.

This is the story of the only cat I have ever not gotten along with. At least for a while.

To say this cat was picky would be an understatement. He didn’t like the cat food I had left over from Casey and Thisby.

He wanted what I was having. And he was pretty forceful about making this known. I’d cook something and sit down to eat it, and then I’d find myself literally fighting this cat for the right to sit peacefully and eat without 12 pounds of long-haired orange beast in my face.

CatzillaHe liked to knock stuff over and push stuff off of shelves, and he had an unerring knack for finding breakables. In short order, I bestowed upon him a surname: he was now Sancho Diablo.

At least he and I seemed to be in agreement about using the litterbox.

He didn’t want to cuddle with me at bedtime. When I tried to force the issue and carried him to bed with me, he bolted; the one time I tried to hang on to him, I needed some reupholstering. He wanted to go look out the glass door of my apartment instead; from there, he had a view of a small balcony that was a feature of every second-story apartment in that complex.

After one particularly unpleasant evening of trying to make peace with this cat, I was pissed off enough to do the unthinkable.

I went, opened the front door, and stood there. “If you want to go, go,” I said. I’d had it with him.

Out he went. I had never done that to a cat before, I wouldn’t do it now, but for Sancho… he could’ve gone and found himself another home and I would’ve been happy.

CatzillaTo my amazement, a few hours later as the guilt was really eating me alive, there was a scratch at the front door. I opened it, and there he stood, the happiest cat in the world.

That night he actually slept at the foot of my bed.

His adventures outside became a routine part of his day; the only limitation I really placed on him was that he had to stay in my apartment while I was at work, and I wouldn’t let him outside if there was going to be bad weather anytime soon. The payoff was immediate. He was in a better mood, much friendlier, and even accepted affection. He’d come home and want to sit in my lap and cuddle. He even chilled out enough to play with some of Casey’s cat toys. He’d flop over next to me in bed and let me pet him until we both fell asleep.

We came to an understanding on another issue too. He always got a little bit of my food. Heaven knows I was getting enough to eat myself. Double cheeseburgers from Burger King were his favorites.

After a while, Sancho’s outside excursions were a fixture. They were totally against the apartment rules and the tenant contract, but all of my neighbors knew Sancho, knew where he lived, and had no problem with him visiting them. He was suddenly the friendliest tomcat ever. There were very few times that I had to go find and retrieve him because he was overdue coming home; on those occasions, he was hanging around the apartment swimming pool, which meant that I had to go pick him up in the middle of a bunch of sunbathing women I never would have bothered or, in all likelihood, spoken to otherwise. I love getting in the pool, but I didn’t want to be That Fat Guy Who’s In The Pool Driving Everyone Away In Disgust. CatzillaWhatever Sancho was going around the neighborhood and doing, I think he wanted me doing it too. Probably with fewer kittens as a result.

I didn’t just have a cat buddy, I now had a cat bro.

Naturally, this is where the story turns sad.

My co-worker returned from her major life-changing adventure, having realized that running off to marry some guy you dated for a little bit in high school was, perhaps, not the hottest idea ever. Annulment city. She was back in Fort Smith, but not going back to work at the TV station.

And she wanted her cat back.

I actually protested. Sancho and me were pretty tight now, even though all of something like six or seven weeks had passed. But she was adamant: she had given me Sancho, and she was taking Sancho back. That was all she had left of her life before it had been ruined (in the space of something like six or seven weeks; never mind the fact that she had just hit the undo button, returned home and picked up where she left off, minus the cushy job where she could sit and watch Melrose Place, her life was ruined!). She wanted to drop by and pick him up.

When she got there, Sancho had just returned from one of his daily trips outside. He didn’t run up to her. He just sort of sat and stared: oh, it’s you again. Hi. How are things? She walked up to him, put her entire hand over his face like an outstretched talon, and picked him up by his head. This was her idea of playing with him.

Sancho’s body language made it very clear that he didn’t like this idea. But the next thing I knew, she was hauling him out the door like a big furry sack of potatoes without even so much as a cat carrier. He was looking at me the whole time.

Bye, bro.

I was bummed. I knew, I just knew, that he’d finally reached a happy equilibrium with me because I’d given him freedom he Catzilladidn’t have at his old home. And now he was going to have to go back to that. I never heard from her or saw Sancho again, and not for lack of trying to call and check up on him. She probably thought I was being creepy and stalker-ish. No… I really was checking up on the cat. I had lost my fascination with her at this point. Her recent actions had shown her to be flighty, impulsive and irresponsible, jumping into life-changing decisions feet-first without a moment’s thought. And – most important of all for a crazy cat ladies’ man like me – she obviously didn’t know how to treat a cat. That she hadn’t taken major damage from him was proof of what a great, patient cat he was; I knew, from our first few disagreements when he viewed me as an interloper, he was fully capable of handing some damage out.

Sancho, on the other hand, had learned to show his true colors too. He just wanted a bit of freedom to go visit the lady cats in the nearby neighborhood, or to ogle the girls at the pool. He was kind of like my dad, in cat form. All he needed was a can of beer and a cigar.

Man, I was bummed.

The next time I went to the Humane Society to shoot one of the infamous “Explorer Earl” spots, a couple of weeks later, I left with two kittens; the adoption fees were waived because me and my long hair and Hawaiian shirts and pith helmet had helped a lot of kittens and puppies find new homes. And I knew now that I needed someone waiting for me at home.

So back to my apartment I went with my new catboys. A black one and a white one.

One story ends, another begins. Oh, and along the way, I did finally work up the nerve to suggest being “more than friends” to a female friend of mine. I’m still married to that one. (And in case you couldn’t tell from the herd of felines that hangs out here, she knows how to treat cats.)

But you know, I still find myself wondering about the one that got away. No, not the girl. The cat. He would’ve fit right in with these goobers.

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