Once a week you find it in the lobby of the grocery store, a freebie paper. I have a habit of picking these up and reading through. There are the usual advertisers, the churches, the realtors, the auctions, the used car dealers (fewer of those than there used to be), restaurants of the kind that offer daily specials, and local club listings—chess, photography, computers, knitting, quilting, and a host of support groups. There are a few obituaries, but as I’m not from around here and a hermit besides, I never know anyone—not that I hope to find the few people I do know on that page. Its prime use is for the fireplace, but there are classified ads, and these are mostly the reason I pick it up. No, not because I’m buying stuff, or looking for more cats, or yard sales, but because I’m a human watcher.
Every once in a while there’s something interesting. My most recent favorite read: “Found! One of those things you pick up things with in the 300 block of Mayberry Street.” This writer had good intentions, but the words to describe the object he’d found eluded him. Still, he did note the block where he found the “thing,” and perhaps that would reunite the owner with the lost object.
Sometimes the ad gives a picture of the person who wrote it. This is, of course, unintentional, but here’s a good one: “Lost blue tool box full of tools. I’m not sure where I lost it, but it’s blue, full of tools and says Erector on the lid. Reward! Thank-you.” You can tell that losing the box of tools was a bad thing, but you can also tell that he has probably lost a lot of other important things over the years. Still, I feel good-will toward this writer, and hope someone returns the lost toolbox (blue).
I have adopted cats through these papers, the last one many years ago. The ad I responded to—at a time when I was, actually, planning to adopt—said: “Help. I have 31 cats who need good homes. Please bring cat food.“ I went to the place—the back of beyond, up a hill and along a dirt road. There I found an old unpainted house and barn. When I stopped my car, I saw cats, most running for cover. The woman, thin and tired looking, with tattoos on her arms, came out to talk to me. We sat down together on the grass. She explained that she had worked at a shelter, but couldn’t take the weekly euthanasia, and so had ended up with “all these cats.”
I could see straight-away that most of the Cats had no use for people. I watched them skulking under the junkers and old tractors that littered the yard and prepared to wait while they stared. After a few minutes , the woman opened the bag of cat food I’d brought, spreading it out on the ground. Skinny cats came swarming from every direction. After crunching speedily, with one eye on me–the person they didn’t know–most took off. I’d been watching an orange threesome, scrawny 9 month old kittens. The woman called them “the orange brothers.” She told me they’d all been starving behind an apartment in a nearby dead steel town.
One of them, the skinniest and shabbiest of the three, climbed into my lap. As soon as I touched him he began to purr, a huge roaring purr. He drooled with joy while I petted him. His eyes were washed out yellow; his fur felt like straw. I could count his ribs and feel his spine.
I felt we had made a true connection—and that was when he bit me, grabbing the skin of my forearm with his teeth and twisting like a bulldog. Just a millimeter short of blood, he leapt off my lap, stood just out of reach and continued to stare, trembling, drooling and purring.
“He doesn’t mean it,” the woman said. “He gets excited.”
“I know,” I replied.
As you might expect, this crazy, sick, love-boy—and he was all of those things–is the one I took home.