The Old Man and Me

Chapter 2: Coffee

Making coffee is the second thing I do in the morning, right after I let Little Bit out for her morning piddle.  It’s an iron clad routine. Weekday or weekend, lazy summer Sunday or Christmas morning the first thing I do is let Little Bit out.  Then I make coffee.  I have a Keurig Rivo espresso machine.  They’re discontinued now but Keurig still makes the pods and it works just fine for me.  I stand at the counter and run the machine through twice to clear any grit in the water, then two long pulls of Lavazza Delicato blend espresso and I let the attached steamer heat up 6oz of milk to pour on top, hot and foamy.  The whole process takes roughly 5 minutes and I often pop over to the slider somewhere in between pulls to let Little Bit inside and see what, if anything, Bella has left for us in the night.

The morning after the old man’s arrival though something new adds itself to that “ironclad routine.”  Just after turning on the Rivo I see, or rather hear, the old man padding in from the dining room towards me and meowing at the top of his ancient lungs. I have found over years of cat ownership and many cats both resident and foster, that each cat has his or her own distinct meow.  Floof, for example, has a full-throated, deep “MAO” that he seems to wrap his whole jaw around and push out from inside like an opera singer.  Bella chirps a short alto “mrup” and Charlie has such a high pitched voice that he could sing for an Italian boys choir.  The old man’s voice is like listening to the crumpling of ancient yellowed paper.  It crackles.  You can hear the raspy age in his meow and when he stutters through the end of one he starts another almost immediately, as though he thinks I might not notice he’s there.  He’s incredibly loud. When he arrives at my feet he butts his head against my legs and, once he’s sure I’ve spread them enough to make room, winds his way through them and back again, scenting me.  He continues meowing until I reach down and rub his head, then he stops and cocks it back to give me access to the spot just under his right ear.  I scratch it and when his eyes drift closed we share a moment of understanding because I do the same thing when Steve rubs my feet.  Then I laugh a little because when Steve does rub my feet I almost always think, “God, I love this man.” And looking at the cat’s face I believe he might be thinking the same thing about me just now.  The milk steamer beeps to let me know it’s finished and I pour the froth over my half full mug of coffee.  Then I carry the cup over, let Little Bit (who’s barking by now) inside, and go back to pick up the old man.  In the past day I’ve learned that in addition to the base of his tail, arthritis also plagues his front shoulder joints and back legs so I carefully avoid the sore spots when I lift him and carry him over to set him next to my spot on the sofa.  I know that my lap is uneven so I decide to let him navigate it himself which he does, picking his way over my thighs to settle facing the computer screen balanced on the arm of the sofa.  And there we stay.  I check CNN and Facebook and keep a running monologue up for him.  We check my APCSM email and I ask him what he thinks about upcoming events.  When 7:30 rolls around I know I need to wake the boy up for school and get ready for work but the old man’s so content that I linger awhile longer.  “I’ll just leave my hair wet and put it in a braid.” I tell him.  When I finally do get up to start the day I gently place him on the sofa where I had been sitting, where it’s warm, but he doesn’t seem to be interested without me there.  As soon as he knows that I’m not coming back he jumps down and wanders off towards the sunroom.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

From the day he was born the boy has been a notoriously poor waker.  It’s not just that he’s slow to rouse in the morning, he wakes up physically angry at the world for turning again while he slept, at school for existing, at me for making him go to said school, and at the sun for daring to breach the sky in the first place.  Normally he’s a sweet, if energetic, kid who’s a joy to be around but in the mornings?  Yikes.  Even though I don’t drop him off until 8:30 I wake him an hour earlier with an eye toward the inevitable moans, attempts to go back to sleep, and shouted exclamations that, “YES I’m getting DRESSED!  I heard you the FIRST TIME!!!!!” On the old man’s first morning he stomps down the stairs, socks in his hand and murder on his mind.  “Do we have any CHEERIOS???”

“Excuse me was I rude to you just now?”

The floor suddenly becomes very interesting.

“I don’t think I was.”

Silence.

“If I’m being polite to you I think you should be polite to me back, don’t you?”

….

….

“Hey, is that the cat from last night?”

Sometimes you have to pick your battles. “Thank you for asking nicely.  Yes he is.”

“He’s 20, right? How old is that in cat years?”

“Three Million.  There are cheerios in the cupboard.”

“No.  It’s only 140 right? Seven years for every people year.”

He grabs the cheerios and pours far too many into a bowl.  Dispensing with a spoon he scoops up a small handful of cereal and pops it in his mouth as he perches on a chair at the kitchen table and regards the old man laying in an early morning sunbeam.

“Is he gonna die?”

“Everything dies honey but I’m not expecting him to go tomorrow.”

Another handful of cereal and I start my second cup of coffee. Please God, it’s too early for this conversation.

“Is he the oldest cat in the world?”

“I don’t think so but you can google it.”

“If he is can we get him in the Guinness book?”

Thank you God!  I can’t handle doing the death talk with the 10 year old at 8am but Guinness book conversations? That I can do.

“Why don’t you google ‘oldest cat in the world’ first and see if he’s a contender.”

And that’s all it takes.  The morning monster is banished for another day as my inquisitive and now fully awake boy slides off his chair and carries the still-too-full bowl of cheerios into the living room to grab his laptop and research the oldest cat in the world.  Little Bit follows him and jumps into the worn, brown leather recliner with the full expectation that once he finishes he’ll forget to take the bowl to the sink and she’ll be the lucky recipient of any leftover cheerios.

*The oldest cat in the world is named Cream Puff. He died in 2005 at the age of 38 years and 3 days.  Thank you Google!

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