Unlike Any Blues I’ve Heard

“There’s a giant orange half-moon in the sky, so of course I’m reminded of him, how could I not be? He was pretty rough, to be honest: not the easiest guy to get to know, not always the greatest if you did.”

For as uncertain as I am about the direction this all ought to take, how the pieces will fit together and what sort of order they’ll assume, I am at least certain where to start. The story does have a beginning, of course. It’s all about this Cat guy, who did, true to form, always seem to have some sort of hat to be “in.” No, it was not the same variety all the time. He was not some sort of pastiche. He apparently simply required head covering most of the time. Maybe he had a growth of some variety about which he was embarrassed. Maybe it was strictly a sartorial proclivity. Or it might just have been for the rhyme.

In any case, “he did come from somewhere else, and it certainly seemed like a place one wouldn’t very much want to remain, if one could possibly avoid it. How he’d come to darken our door, I couldn’t possibly tell you. It might have been his good luck, or ours. Nah, I don’t know much about the name. To tell you the truth, I never really asked. But I do have a few theories, if you’re interested.”

I was, to be honest. Theories seemed like as viable an inroads as any, facts about the prehistory were not soon forthcoming. In this case, they were a bit scattered for my taste, but it’s enjoyable to sit in the heat and not think too much, more absorb and wait for something interesting to come along.

“Well, for one, he did seem to sleep through most of the daylight. At first I figured it was just exhaustion, or an issue with time zones. Circadian rhythm is real, you know? It isn’t something everyone can just change, especially when they’re forced against their will. But in the end, I figured he might just be nocturnal. I mean, he was just a miserable creature in the daylight, didn’t even look like himself until noon, and a pretty shabby facsimile for the next few hours after that. Nah, he never touched the stuff. If he was on anything, I never saw him take it. That was kind of frustrating, too, because there was always something to celebrate or something to mourn with that guy.”

Slept all day…this didn’t seem a particularly compelling reason to change one’s name. But of course, theories require partners, and sometimes more than that.

“This one might sound silly, but he had hair on his body like you wouldn’t believe. It was thick but short, dense. It ran the lengths of his arms and out the top of his shirt. He could grow a beard at that drop of a hat, and only ever tamed it for a disguise. Can you imagine? Most people on the lam would try to grow a beard, this guy was cutting his back daily and still it would cover his entire face half the time. It was short, too, but incredible thick and soft. Never seen anything like it. And I know cats don’t have beards, but there must have been some catlike spirit trying to escape him through his skin. When they’d quarrel, Jack would say ‘Atavist!’ It was the most cutting insult he could come up with: ‘Atavist! Atavistic bastard.’”

This medical abnormality was a bit more compelling, I suppose. There was some reference to his hair among the notes, but, like so much else, I really couldn’t make out why it mattered. When theories progress like this, of course, there has to be a kicker.

“Six toes, like Hemingway’s cats.” My interviewee held up all the fingers on one hand and grafted an extra from the other, as if I couldn’t have conceived of what six digits would look like gathered together. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. I suppose they were…vestigial or something.”

He went on about the toes for awhile, but I didn’t find that particularly illuminating, and this was all rather perplexing. Despite my limited tolerance for metaphor, I had expected to hear something more about the man, his habits, his characteristics, anything that made sense of the “Cat” sobriquet. But it was not to be, at least not now, and the phone number on this card was about to be cast into the “SPENT” pile. But I had to try to get something useful, and it is fortunate I did.

“Yes, I was part of the crew. If you lived close enough, you almost had to be. But I was always on the outside looking in. Cat in the Hat was on the run from the Feds, or so he said, when he rolled up at the group house. I was just a visitor, though a frequent one. At that time, it had to have been Aunt Sandy and the Professor, Caprese and Precarious (she hadn’t dropped that name at that point, but it’s just as well I don’t use the real one here), Sparkles was back around, and here and there you’d still find Francois, Moist, Pogee, Reich…”

I needed to steer him back to the task at hand. This roster meant nothing to me.

“Listen man, I don’t know if I should say all this, but I’m going to try to give you the short version. This guy rolled up without a story, and Jack—did I mention Jack?—decided out of some kind of principle that they ought to help him out. He would mutter something about the drawbacks of sainthood, it never made any sense to me, Jack that is. And Cat could have been a terrorist or even a simple thief, but he turned out to be neither. It was us, all of us, who had to plan the robbery and get together some funds. That’s right! That run of mansions along Foster Av! We didn’t need that much to keep comfortable and underground. Well, when you actually say the number, it sounds like a lot, but we’re talking about protecting this guy as a full-time job! Yeah, Rios got him the ID, but it was only fake in the sense that it was up to date, and looked legal. The man’s name, for all intents and purposes was Cat in the Hat.”

But why help someone you’ve never met without any idea who they are? Was my own sense of charity and contributing to the grand human project so distorted and cynical?

“You know what swung it? After he explained he was in trouble, and looked at each one of us with those massive green eyes, he noticed a guitar and told us he could sing the blues. That’s just what he said. ‘I’ll sing you the blues. They’ll hate that,’ he said. Who would hate it, or why, I never did figure, but it wasn’t really for me to know. And man, these weren’t like any blues I ever heard before. I remember it like it was yesterday: ‘The Kissing Blues.’ It sounds a little silly, but he meant it, serious as death. He sang of himself as an ‘alchemist tramp.’ I always assumed it was some kind of translation error, that it was a profound statement in his language, whatever that was. But it may have been just two words that sound catchy together. He finished the song and we all just sort of looked at each other stupidly, amazed at this creature who had wandered into our lives. Except Jack. He was rarely surprised by much of anything, at least in my experiences with him. Jack started debating with Cat and interrogating him as if they had known each other forever and were newly reunited. Let me tell you about Jack…”

“Oh, and Billy One-Shoe. I can’t believe I nearly forgot Billy One-Shoe…”