Happy 18th Birthday To My Damn Cat

“Shut the f*ck up,” are the first words out of my mouth most mornings. I know that makes me sound crude and uncivilized, but when an animal the size of a breadbox is screaming in your face at 6:15 am, a time when you’d saw off your right arm with child-proof scissors for another hour of sleep, I don’t think it’s unreasonable. Typically I’ll then push her off my bed, which is basically a couch from a nice neighborhood.*

“MEOW!” she’ll scream from the floor.

“Please…PLEASE!” I’m begging now. “Shut…Up! PLEASE!” It has no effect.

“Meow!” Having been tossed from the trundle bed, she exacts her revenge in the hallway, knowing that my wife can now hear the meows from the other room, and if SHE has to get up an hour early on a work morning to feed the damn cat, I’LL be the bad guy.

“Meow!” A decibel higher. So I lay, one eye open, a battle raging in my mind over which is worse, losing an hour of beloved sleep or having my wife mad at me because she had to get up early. My decision is obvious, and I begin the slow slog down the stairs.

In October of 2001, my girlfriend Colby, my buddy from Hawaii Duff, and I had decided on somewhat of a lark to move to Philadelphia with essentially no money in the bank, and after a couple of weeks grew tired of sitting on camping chairs.

I lived on 6th Street, just south of South Street, in the old Levi’s Hot Dog building. It wasn’t far from where much fancier people put decent furniture out on the sidewalks on Mondays. One day, when walking home from another disastrous lunch shift at Sfizzio’s (where Zahav is now…that’s a whole other story), I came across a small sectional on the curb, and as I had a friend from work with me, decided to take it to the apartment. Initially, the small sofa was the height of luxury for guys who had spend the first two weeks in Philly in camping chairs. But it held a dark secret: it was inhabited by mice, and within a few days they had begun to attack the kitchen. It was time for a cat.

Colby and I went to the Morris Animal Refuge just before Halloween with the intent of taking home a kitten, but we saw two who were brother and sister and didn’t have the heart to tear them apart from each other. So we took home two kittens, who we named Popiko (it means “cat” in Hawaiian, we shortened it to Popo) and Malia (after a mischievous dolphin that I loved when I worked at Dolphin Quest in Hawaii) in the hopes that they would alleviate the mouse problem.

Duff enjoyed taking ridiculous pics of the cats playing basketball.

Popo was the early star, active and excitable the way a kitten should be, never catching mice but letting his presence be known. Malia, on the other hand, spent most her time chasing her own tail and staring at candles. So it came as a shock when one night Malia hopped up on our “coffee table” (technically a piece of wood placed on top of milk crates) with a mouse in her mouth. She was hailed as a conquering heroine, and the pride she found that night has carried her through to this day.

Colby and I broke up a year later, and for some godforsaken reason I demanded to keep the damn cats when I moved in with a work friend in early 2003. One night that spring, a door in the back was left open, and Malia disappeared. Frantically, I made up posters and hung them on telephone poles. I then walked into the back alley calling her name.

“Malia! Malia!” Finally I heard a meow, loud but coming from a distance. I looked over walls, behind alleyway detritus, until finally I decided to look up. Stunned, I saw her perched atop the second story roof of a nearby house. How she got up there will always be one of life’s great mysteries. In the meantime, I had to figure out how to get her down. I went home, grabbed a ladder, and tied a shoestring to it. I climbed the ladder to the top of a back porch, then MacGuyver-style lifted the ladder up by the string. I climbed it again, and leaning tenuously (as one does atop a ladder on a flimsy deck porch) I reached for her. I was hoping to expedite the process, knowing that at any second a neighbor could be dialing the police in reference to a man on a ladder on top of a nearby porch deck. Playfully she avoided my reach and went to rub up against a nearby chimney.

“You little bitch,” I muttered under my breath to no-one in particular. “Malia, come here.” She meowed, rubbed up against the chimney one more time, then pranced over my way. I grabbed her, dropped the ladder down one floor by the shoestring, and together we descended.

The past 18 years have gone whirring by, and she’s been there for just about all of it: multiple roommates, girlfriends, and other pets moving in and out. She has taken it all in stride. Like most cats if there’s food in the bowl come morning and again in the afternoon, the rest takes care of itself. After six years apart, Colby returned to Philly and we got back together, then got married. Malia could have cared less, though it did give her one more human to draw heat from when the weather turned cold. Once we had a kid, there were two.

Let’s not get overly romantic here: once you have a dog, a wife, and a kid, the cat takes a backseat, and becomes more of a chore than a close companion. But she went missing again in October of 2015, and I found myself once again desperately searching the back alleys of the neighborhood for her, posting flyers on telephone poles again, looking under nearby parked cars. Don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, I suppose. After a couple of weeks of fruitless searching, my buddy Vaughn came by to help me hit up a few alleys. After an hour or so, we called it quits.

“You put up signs, you’ve spent days searching through alleys for her, you’ve done everything you can do,” he said. “Now it’s for the universe to decide.”

I would continue to walk to the wall in our back yard, call out her name, and shake the cat food, but once we past the month milestone it seemed to be little more than a pitiful habit. Until, one night, I saw something move down the alley.

“Malia!” I cried. She ignored my call and kept scurrying towards the gate at the end of the alley that emptied onto Pemberton, slid through the grates, and ran across the street.

The next night, I walked back there again. I was about 75% sure I had seen Malia the night before, but couldn’t be certain. I peered into the alley again. There she was. “Malia! It’s me! Come here!” She looked up, saw me, and sauntered back the other way.

“You little bitch,” I muttered under my breath to no-one in particular. At this point I was just annoyed. “Well she’s had her chance to come back. She knows where we are.” I stomped back into the house.

It was late October, and the next night the temperature dropped drastically. Sure enough, Malia came prancing back into the yard. The queen, after a month abroad, was ready to be pampered, fed, cleaned up after, and most importantly kept warm by her people.

Her brother died in 2019, at age 17. He was, for about the past decade leading up to his death, an old man: feeble, sickly, and cranky. He existed to eat and ate to exist and the rest of it was bollocks. Malia is quite different. She has always enjoyed it when company comes over. She loves being rubbed on the head and adored and worshipped like the goddess she undoubtedly is in her own mind. A few months ago she decided she was sick of cat food, and simply stopped eating. She was essentially on a hunger strike, and willing to die for the cause. And so we started buying tuna fish, which she enjoyed for the next month, until she decided she was ready for cat food again.

Is there a moral here? Have I learned anything over the past 18 years, other than “Maybe shoulda gotten a dog”? I don’t know. Does there need to be? Isn’t that kind of the point of cats, that there is no point, they just confound you by hopping in front of the coffee pot, fridge, or sink, wherever it is that you’re trying to get to? That their existence is driven not by love or affection but by food and body heat, and that we spend thousands and thousands of dollars over the years to give them both? There’s probably some sort of moral about unconditional love buried in here somewhere, but my sleep deprivation has left me incapable of articulating it. I’ll just leave it to the universe to decide.

*My wife and kid sleep in the “good” bed, as he has taken over my role as “preferred cuddler” in this house, and the cat and I sleep on what I only found out three weeks ago was called a trundle bed.

Epilogue: Malia passed away on July 30, less than three months short of her 20th birthday. We will miss her terribly. And we will roll our eyes and laugh….a lot…whenever her name is brought up.

The Friday 5

I stuck my cheesesteak card into the Cheesesteak ATM and withdrew 4 cheesesteaks.
  • What I’m reading: Articles about infamous Philly Daily News columnist Pete Dexter, who now is better known for writing the novel Paris Trout and the screenplay for Mulholland Drive. This profile of him in Philly Mag in 1979 is terrific, though his life would get even more interesting two years later, when he and Tex Cobb got beat up together in Gray’s Ferry. He would quit writing for the News after that and started writing novels.
  • What I’m watching: my son is really into Halloween. Definitely his favorite holiday, and has been ever since he was two. Dunno what it is, but he loves mystery and horror. It started with Little Red Car (don’t watch this link unless you want a terrible song stuck in your head for, uh, roughly forever). He soon moved onto Scooby Doo, which is pretty fun to watch. But I wanted to see if he was ready to step up his horror game, so I recently showed him this cartoon of the Fall of the House of Usher. It’s read by Christopher Lee and it’s a really fun Halloween watch, whether you’re 5 or 50. He digs it, and the other night we watched a short bio of Poe. I’m really excited for him to become a Poe fan.
  • What I’m listening to: Sometimes I check in to see who is coming out of Camden musically. If ever there’s any hope that something good can come out of the most brutal of circumstances, it comes from forgotten towns like Camden. One of the guys I like the most right now is a young dude named Mir Fontane. As I’ve expressed on the past two editions of the Friday Five, I’m a huge fan of people who can paint a picture, and this young guy does it incredibly well. Especially powerful is a song of his that simply titled “Camden.” The cast of characters he describes in the first verse is nothing short of Dickensian:
RaVicky gettin money 
Cause he got a little set now
Shae lost her baby

So she back smokin that wet now
Pooh got booked

I heard he workin with the feds now
Til Tony caught him slippin’

Shoulda never turned his head round (BANG!)
Keisha still fuck around with Crackhead James
Heard he sold a flatscreen

So he could buy more caine.
And Jermaine sit on the block

Snd it’s a shame cause he smart
His momma crying every day

And say he breaking her heart
The whole hood shed tears

When they heard Diggs got killed
It’s been two whole years

And no bids got dealt
A n***a that I called my homie
Fucked around and changed on me
Pulled the heat from off his hip
And tried to make it rain on me
This what y’all call hell
But this what I call home
And I’m gonna grind until I get it

And once I get it I’m gone
The white folks want the drugs,

So they come and spend their bucks here
Til they ain’t got no bus fare,
Now them n***as stuck here
  • New Philly Blunt podcast dropped this week: An interview with Ange Branca of Sate Kampar. She grew up in Malaysia, but moved to Philly in her early 20s. After working in the financial sector, she got bored and decided to open her own restaurant, cooking Malaysian food unlike anywhere else in the city. A great listen if you want to hear how Philly looks to someone who not only didn’t grow up here, but grew up half a world away. You can check out Sate Kampar here on IG (and go by there and try the Rendang Daging.)
Punkin pickin.
  • Place I’m checking out: The last one is kind of expensive but yet at the same point totally worth it. We love the fall around here: as I stated earlier my son loves the Halloween season especially, but my wife has always loved pumpkins, fall leaves, the whole thing. So on Sunday we headed to Shady Brook Farm in Yardley. It was $18 each just to enter (!) but once inside it was a great place to take a 5 year old. There was a hayride to pick apples and pumpkins, a big playground, speed pitch (I got up to 60 mph, which I was fairly happy with), inflatable castles. And for adults, they also have an outdoor bar serving pumpkin beer and so forth. We went during the Eagles game (they were playing the pathetic Jets, so I thought it would be a good one to miss) which was a strong move. I’m sure it’s much busier when the Birds aren’t on. There is also a corn maze but I have a terrible sense of direction and I hated it. At the end of the day it’s too expensive but I’m sure insurance there is a bear and when you and your family have a great day it’s hard to put a pricetag on it.

Until next week, be sure to follow me (and argue with me!) on twitter. And if you’re a sports fan, be sure to follow Shibe Sports on IG. Just did a photo shoot last weekend and gonna be posting some great photos over the next few weeks. Finally, if you enjoyed the Friday 5, be sure to click like below. Have a great weekend!

Meet Dr. Snow, Philly’s Former Cocaine Kingpin

On the latest edition of the Philly Blunt, we did a remarkable interview with Larry Lavin. In the mid 1970s, Lavin started dealing pot to his frat brothers. By 1981 he was the biggest coke dealer on the East Coast. I first came across his story 15-20 years ago, when I bought a random book at a used book store called Dr. Snow. I was riveted by this incredible true story, and when we started doing the podcast, I thought I’d take a random stab at doing an interview with him. I reached out to him, and incredibly he got back to me and said he’d be happy too, and he’d be willing to tell all. The end result was a remarkable interview. Here are a few highlights. Be sure to listen to the full thing on our site or on itunes. In this part of the interview, we talk about making the transition from selling pot to college campuses to selling coke.

JGT: How does that expand? Where suddenly you’ve got a guy talking to Cubans in Miami. Like, that’s a whole different ballgame than talking to college kids in Blacksburg.

LARRY: Right. Well everyone kind of has a connection somehow. And I was pretty, I’m a pretty easily friended person. I make contacts really well. And one of my friends that lived out on the Main Line, he was a little bit older, and he had a Cuban girlfriend, fiance I believe, and he had a couple of connections. And he was the one who told me we could do this. So we pooled our money and bought like a half key. Like the smallest buy, I’m surprised they even sold it to us.

GREG: What did that cost back then?

LARRY: Believe it or not, keys used to be $55,000. The price tumbles down over the years to like $14,000.  But for the longest time, we would buy keys at like $55,000 and by the time we broke it up, and put whatever cut depending on which product people wanted, it sold for about $75,000.

GREG: What would you cut it with?

LARRY: Inositol. You know it’s a Vitamin B product. And, uh, lidocaine. But how you develop it is the fact that we had something all the time. So once a week you would come and pay what you could, and we’d give you more, so your business would grow. By me fronting all this. So if you came and wanted half pound, a pound, I’d say “Johnny, what the heck, why don’t you take two pounds this time, and see what happens.” And that’s what made these things grow. And unfortunately everyone’s debt to me grew, because a lot of times people wouldn’t pay them, they did too much product, whatever happened.

REEF: What would you do like the big debt was owed? You would just let it go?

LARRY: Yeah. What good does it do you to get in trouble by going after someone? You try to work with someone, decide if it’s worthwhile, if it’s not-

REEF: Then they lose the connect to you if they don’t pay.

LARRY: That’s exactly right. No one wants to do that because they’ve got, you know, the Golden Ticket.

Wanna hear more about Larry’s days as a cocaine kingpin, how the FBI caught him, and what life was like once he went on the lam? Be sure to listen to this absolutely incredible interview.  And be sure to join us on Facebook, twitter, and instagram.