That opening line from an appropriately feline angled representative of the cat-weight of the web is just too appropriate not to pluck out to start today’s message.
Because one thing I’ve never done in my life is write or really in any way go on about cats. That’s probably just a function of my being allergic to them. I love cats, but am definitely not a “cat person”.
But I recently had a relationship with a cat in my neighborhood call me to arms–or to keyboard, anyway–on the occasion of his passing away a few months ago.
He lived next door to me, my kids and I had known him for years.
So, without further ado, this is for Taz.
Of Cats and Kings
I came across Taz a few days before my kids did, but they’re the ones who learned his name when they stopped on our walk up the block to pet him some summer day several years ago.
“Taz. Cool name,” I said. “This is the one I told you about who’s the king of the block.” This delighted them and they turned their attention back to him with even more of that particular brand of warmth and affection unique to little kids. But kings of all stripes behave, it turns out, much the same, and Taz had had his fill of the oblations of these three of his subjects.
I’m a history buff and know a decent amount about kings and potentates of yore. I’ve watched newsreels of kings, watched video of Queen Elizabeth II speak, but I’m an American and frankly have never seen a king in person. But I believe pretty firmly (the author says lightheartedly) that I learned much about how kings behave–both good and bad kings–from watching Taz; as much, I believe, as if I’d spent years in the court of one of the French Louis’s…or a Chinese emperor, or even…the kings whose kingly manner shaped for all time how we two-legged types think about rulers: the Pharaohs of oldest antiquity.
The reason I preferred calling Taz our “king” (instead of just mayor) was his demeanor: 100% absolute cool. Every other cat I’ve ever seen reacts, usually somewhat skittishly, when a sound punctuates their environment, such as when someone walking appears from around a corner. But Taz did so only rarely to my observation. I got to thinking: is he deaf? No, didn’t seem like it. I then figured by sitting outside so much he would have become familiar with the people who lived here on the block, versus the large numbers of others who were just “stopping by”; he’d have probably been able to distinguish our footsteps, maybe smells, certainly voices, possibly breathing rates, etc–all those animal things that people experience less of.
Anyhow, I saw that Taz indeed noticed everything. This became apparent when I was in a hurry one day and walked briskly past without saying hi and he turned to look at me, made eye contact and then turned away: the diss. Ouch. I’m not kidding when I say I felt it. Because as the subject of a king, you want to be in his favor, you need to be. So I made amends, stating clearly that I overlooked the acknowledgment. He was cool with that. (He was most decidedly a good king, and didn’t, it seemed, demand groveling from his subjects.)
It just so happens that the English word “cat”–and basically all other European languages’ words for them–is a borrowing from the Latin word for the adorable domesticated feline: catta (later “cattus”, replacing “feles”).
But the most amazing thing about the word we all use today is that it came to Latin from the source of not only our civilization, but more importantly, of the domestication of this animal to begin with:
was the Egyptian word for this amazing creature that they worshiped as long as 5,000
Some words take wild journeys through the mouths and minds of men and women, bifurcating into a myriad related words that diverge so wildly as to confound us for generations. But not “cat”. We’re saying basically almost the same word as any Ramses II or Tutanhkaman or Cleopatra would have.
Taz was the–very simply & with as little extra mumbo jumbo as possible–the coolest cat I or my kids have come across, and we felt honored and privileged to live in his kingdom. He even came over a few times, and that felt–I kid not–truly like a visit from a king is supposed to: like a treat and blessing unlike any other.
I never knew why his name was Taz: the only derivations I know are 1) short for Tasmanian Devil, like the cartoon character, or 2) the abbreviation for Temporary Autonomous Zone, a byword for the teeny slivers of free will that exist in life.
Taz was such a cat that I and my kids will be but three in the legion of those of us outside your family who will all be like the young boy at the end of the movie Camelot who King Arthur bades: “tell it loud and clear” that once there was a cat…
And here are my top cat videos: