Or, Sonja's Hot Somali
"Filbert." That's the name of Sonja's cat. It was entirely her doing, I had nothing to do with it, was not a party to it, was not consulted. Our daughter was partly my doing so we got together, Sonja and I, and collaborated in naming her (Stephanie). But the cat had one parent and that parent seized the name-bestowal prerogative, that’s that. I was informed that the cat’s name was Filbert. Filbert?
The name so stunned me I was afraid to ask why. Never have.
That was long ago now. Filbert is no longer with us; long gone, and so missed, still. We’re still grieving and I’m still wondering why the name – “Filbert.”
Sonja loves filberts (so do I) but would she name a cat for a nut? Maybe it’s Filbert’s aristocratic ring that enticed her. Aristocratic ring “Filbert” has, but of a dainty sort, I should think. That cat is categorically and uniquely aristocratic, pompous and so forth, that's obvious, no question. And no cat could be more aristocratically accoutered, with plush Edwardian lace shirt coupled with a shiny blackish high-riding tuxedo vest, upscale tail. Plus some nonstandard accessories which any pampered prince would demand, to wit and for example, a Mack Truck mud guard attending his rear end and Swiss-army-knife claws. But except for the lacy shirt, and his voice (you’ll hear about that), dainty he was not, most certainly not in manner. And that’s what has always befuddled me, the disparity between the delicacy of the cat’s name and it’s indelicacy of mien. It was one mean cat.
But Sonja is no mean name-giver. By my chauvinistic standards she may have short-shrifted her cat's manliness, but in naming her coons she out-guns and out-puns me, no contest.
I could never bring myself to say "Filbert." When I wanted him around (which I did more than you’d expect) or invited him up on the table for our breakfast of Blueberry Morning (actually he's already up and into the bowl; invitations are for sissies), I got into my deep voice and went, 'caaaaHAAAATTTT!" Sonja always winced (delicately) when I said that.
To me “Filbert” cannot communicate the cat’s essence. That cat was a wannabe lion. Would you name a lion “Filbert”?
In profile his head was a perfect duplication of the most noble lion Disney could create. And that leonine headpiece, if not exactly mane. Actually it could pass for a whiplash collar, or a renaissance ruff collar. And oh that magnificent tail, as big as he is, almost; hardly the ropy nubby thing dangling from mere lions, so lush, so extravagant it takes over the whole rear end, the back of the legs down to the toes, like a blur behind a runner in a photo taken at a slow shutter speed. He brings along his own cushion when he sits down, and it flares out under and beyond him – his built-in haunch pad. As the finishing touch for that upscale tail, it is escutcheoned, with the sign of Zorro zig-zagging from tip of tail to root and beyond. I would have named him “Zorro.” No, a real lion isn’t equipped with a built-in pillow to sit on, as Filbert was. But he was huge, maybe not as huge as what roams Botswana, but bigger than most at the cat show.
That cat is spring-loaded for pouncing, and, like the creature of the jungle, pounces from the shadows onto a dozing, unsuspecting fawn. And he was big, smaller than a lion but bigger than the usual cat. It’ll be night and we’re in slumber like lambs, and --WHONK! -- I’m whapped in the belly by a sack of cement.
Cuddly? A lap-cat? HA! A big macho laugh! You wouldn't expect a he-man like that to be cuddly. He'll leap on your back, your shoulders, your head, and probably already has (sorry about that) but leap on your lap? Aw c'mon, man; no way, not my style. He never was exactly kittenish.
And its fangs, a lion should be so lucky. And with the fangs a philosophy. Whereas some cats have attitude, this one has a philosophy — gnaw-sticism. That cat is a profound gnawstic. What the cat gnaws religiously are noses, toes, heels. Not only does it have a philosophy, it has a foot fetish. Ouch! it must mean something that that cat ablates the same body parts as leprosy does.
And the eyes, a terrorist should be so lucky: fierce, bulgy, hyperthyroid eyes -- scary. Would you name a terrorist “Filbert”?
Basically aristocratically patinated gold, or nut-colored, filbert-colored, Filbert’s fur is of a range of texture I've never seen on one single creature, not even a movie star blonde baring it all. He’s a purring showcase of every kind of fur known, from lacy fine for his Edwardian shirt, to wispy fine like a young Arab’s beard, for his butt pad, the pillow he always has for sitting on; to his back and tail, full utility bristle, like my bristly old beard; to his haunches, thick fascicles of hair coming together in points like a pointed sable watercolor brush, "cat feathers"; to slicked-down, wet-beaver shiny collar. And of course his snow-white whiskers – a kind of fur -- thicker and longer than porcupine quills. All of which (except the whiskers) he discharges into the atmosphere as a cloud, or recycles onto the rug as urped hair balls.
Now (while the fur flurry settles), get that fur into motion and it’s eat your heart out Salome. From a choreographic standpoint, consider the kinetics of his tail, swishing proudly and briskly like a dog’s but so much more sinuously (eat your heart out, Rover), with a riff at the very end of the swish, like a coda, the finale, at the very tippy-tip of the tail, a very quick flourish, the most complex belly-dance jiggle. I am hypnotized. I stare bug-eyed.
But now for the real shock. After all this pouncing and gnawing and whacking and attacking like a NatGeo lion, you’re prepared for a king-of-the-mountain roar. What you get is a voice as soft as soufflé. After the earthquake and the fire and the wind breaking the rocks, the still small voice.* Like Catbert, the evil but soft spoken director of human resources in Dilbert. Or Toht (the bespectacled Nazi) from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I would have named him “Catbert.”
Now I get it: “Filbert” is for the voice, dainty aristocratic voice, not the claws and fangs and pouncing.
But maybe it was because he was so adorable as a baby, so preternaturally adorable, that Sonja, upon first beholding him, could not but purr “ahhh…Fillllberrrrrt!” If no big cat could be as macho and dominating, no kitten was ever as adorable. He was a child star, cuter than, almost as famous as, Shirley Temple, curls and all. You probably saw him in his little pink pot on a Hallmark card, or Gibson Greeting Card, something sold at Kroger’s anyway, and maybe you bought him, maybe you still have his baby picture on a coffee mug.
Now what kind of a cat would be all that? Nothing you could find at your local SPCA, or pets-R-us, or that showed up meowing at your back door. He could only be a product of eugenics, like a fine race horse, and be searched for, hunted down, sought. He’s a pure-bred, blue blood Somali from a Somali breeder in Kentucky, where breeding consummate creatures is the state art form.
Any way you present his pedigree, or ogle his visage on a greeting card, or say his name, he’s beyond naming, beyond description, beyond prose, amenable only to poetry.
Sonja’s cat is highly pedigreed, a certified Somali cat.
You may call him Sonja’s hot Somali, that fits.
But never, never call him just some ally cat
Lest ye be attacked and clawed to shreds and bits.
Sonja has a cat with tail bushy as a squirrel’s
And a voice as soft and purring as a girl’s,
But with a disposition mucho macho Zorro,
And on its tail a Zorro Z from there to 'morrow.
Sonja’s Somali was a gnawing, pouncing, leaping beast,
Landing like a ton of bricks upon my chest, just the start,
Then gnawing at ears and pens and pots and toes, at least.
He’ll be forever pouncing on and gnawing at my heart.
Still hanging on Sonja’s wall is a framed picture of baby Filbert in his pot, like on the greeting card you may have bought at Kroger or Rite-Aid. If Sonja had written this, you know it would be so different in tone and detail, so much more delicate, as Filbert deserves. And, hmmm…, as I write of Filbert from so long ago I just now realize: if I never called him “Filbert” while he was with us, and clawing and leaping and pouncing, “Filbert” is the only way I can think of him now. He wasn't just a caaaHHHHHTTTTT.
* 1 Kings 19:11-13