I was out the Salinas River Road for a couple months, but since I was in my twenties at the time, it seemed an eternity. I was there because Larkin’s uncle, a citizen scientist, or perhaps a professional one, had a low ranch home with grottos, tiki bars and exhibition galleries for his archeological collection. It had become, since his death, a ruin in the hands of careless tenants.
A few steps had already been taken by Larkin’s mother: evictions, the collection of day laborers to restore the roof and destroy the plumbing, and a draconian legal document with us to pay a market rent on the place while we rehabilitated it, each of us individually responsible for entire lease payments should the occupancy of the house change (yes, it did). The next step addressed the feral cats.
They were legion. They were in the house and the outbuildings, young, old, big, small, utterly wild, and without any of the T.S. Eliot qualities we had all come to expect / hum along to. We placed have-a-heart traps everywhere, collecting daily and dropping at the SPCA 10 miles out Highway 68 (no, not Highway 61, although it sometimes felt like it should be).
Days go by, leading to weeks and while the stupidest cats had long been escorted off the premises, the smartest ones were forcing the game to another level. I banished war metaphors as I drove out the River Road, turning the corner up to the property as a picture of zen equilibrium. Each day I confronted another array of empty traps, a quiet buzzing of insects over their bait, the warm air pouring off the back of Carmel Valley, and the emotionless gaze of about five of them, sunning themselves. Always a different five, alerting me to the futility of this operation.
As i went back to the car I heard a man’s voice commenting on the proceedings. Apparently I had been observed the by the neighbor down the way, who I had only seen once sweeping his dirt driveway with fiery blasts from his welding rig.
Having trouble with those cats? he asked. I couldn’t lie.
O sure, I replied.
and a bit of silence.
Want me to get ’em? he asked.
And I parsed his meaning. Contrast my city ways filled with have-a-hearts and gas guzzling out Highway 68, the dry food, the wet food, the chicken, the fish, the daily visits, the declining effectiveness and the ultimate result: euthanasia with what would likely be an afternoon of amusement for the neighbor, shooting up Larkin’s Uncle’s property. Well, there was only one thing to say:
I’d love for you to do that, I said. See you in a couple days.
I pulled up in between our two properties the next time and, careful not to get too close in case I had to beat it, asked the neighbor how things were going. He thought I’d find things were alright. I thanked him and asked about a nearby tree on his property: what was it, how long had it been there, was that a fort in there, did he have kids, were they grown now, out on hunter-liggett or at ord and allowed myself to be corrected: Fort Ord is where people are, Fort Hunter-Liggett is simply where they train. I noticed that a 25-lb yellow cat, one of the gazers I had chased for four weeks was sitting on his fence.
I recognize him, I said, nodding at the inscrutable animal.
The neighbor looked at the cat for a while, then looked up at the back of Carmel Valley and muttered
Decided to keep him.
You’re kidding, I said, did you name him?
and a bit of silence.
What’s his name? I asked.
Last Chance, he said.
I nodded, and heard the tiny gate fall on the have-a-heart trap the neighbor had set for me.