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There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.

Albert Schweitzer

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In the first 13 years of this site's existence, my buddy Erasmus was a constant presence. Here is the original write-up I had posted here while he was alive; as of Oct. 2015 the tribute at the right has taken its place. I miss you, buddy.

Meet Erasmus, my fine furry friend, vice-president in charge of rodent control, chief of D.R.N. (Division of Random Noises), also known as the troublemaker with a fur coat for the way he likes to play paw hockey with the things on my desk, and his experiments in gravity which occasionally result in the fragmentation of drinking glasses. His preferred method in dealing with human intruders is reverse psychology. He hides under the couch, a strategy which is calculated to shame them into leaving, and which shows he is wilier than your run-of-the-mill attack dog. No mouse has dared to challenge his unparalleled hunting skills. His reputation makes  a great deterrent. I submit as evidence the fact that, in the six months before he came, a number of mice had taken up residence in my humble abode. The hoard's steady pilgrimage to their cheese-related demise (with the help of several metal traps) came to a sudden end on the day of his arrival, over sixteen years ago, and the noisy critters haven't been back.  Although Erasmus does enjoy reading and playing the piano, his favorite activities include bird-watching out the front window  and he maintains an exhausting schedule of several naps a day. Sometimes he barely has time to wake up from one before it is time for next. He particularly enjoys the laundry basket.

about my furry assistant....


He didn't actually come in a box
In July of 1999 a very polite cat came to live with me. The story actually begins on Christmas Eve 1998 when I was wrapping presents in my third floor downtown apartment and was astonished to see a mouse come out of the corner, advance toward me, stop a few feet away, and squeak. 'Not a creature was stirring' my backside! I thought. That mostly harmless encounter was the prelude to a deluge. Apparently my non-violent stance toward that first mouse was taken as an invitation for the whole clan to come over and have late night parties in my kitchen. For the next six months I was awakened by the sound of partying mice, occasionally relieved by the sound of a trap springing shut on the ones who had forgotten to bring Doritos from home and thought they could snag some available cheese. After a while, I thought, that does it, I'm getting a cat.

"no rodentia in here!"
I was in graduate school at the time. I hadn't had any indoor cats as a child since I was allergic to practically everything. By the time I was in high school our family got two outdoor cats, one of whom was a great detriment to the mole population. In one week she had made an example of 6 of them, and the rest decided to find friendlier quarters. Before that, I had a few hamsters, some very short-lived frogs, and turtles. Every year, the turtles would find a way to escape, and the hamsters never lived more than a year, except the last one, who knew I was tired of hamsters, and lived to a ripe old age. None could be described as very interactive pets; the hamsters tried to run whenever I picked them up, and the turtles just hid in their shells. Erasmus was the first pet who really enjoyed my company, and I his.
At our first encounter at an animal shelter in Cleveland he demonstrated his personality. As I went down the row of cages I noticed most of the cats sleeping or looking bored. One, a little tabby, was playing with a super ball, batting it back and forth excitedly. He's an active cat, I thought. I'd like one who is able to entertain himself and find things to do. I don't want him to just sit on my lap all day, or sleep in the corner. Then I opened the cage door, and he came forward to the front of the cage. He stopped, not trying to get out, looked at me, and mewed politely. Hello, he said, in that chirpy little mew cats have that means hello.  In future years I would hear it every time he jumped on the bed or the chair to let me know he was there just before stepping on me.
He may have been personable in the shelter, but after I turned his life upside down he was scared. I don't know how he spent the first year of his life, but he had a scar on his right ear and on his chin, and he was very afraid of people. He looked like he'd had an animal attack him and he'd had at least one family adopt him and then return him to the shelter for what sounded like a bogus reason ("cat wants to go out. We don't want cat to go out.") His first 24 hours in my care weren't likely to endear him to me. Once he'd spent 45 minutes in a box, another hour or two in my parent's basement while I bought a cat carrier (large size), and seven hours in said cage on the way to Baltimore, he was petrified. At a rest stop, I noted his anxiety and gave him a pep talk. I know you're scared, I said. It's ok. We are going to be pals. You're going to like my apartment. You'll get plenty of food and water and all the mice you can catch. It's going to be great. As I talked to him he looked at me and I could see him relax. Then he started to eat the food he'd left untouched the entire trip. It was our first bonding experience.
Once inside my apartment he made a thorough investigation of everything in it. This cat wants to know everything there is to know, I thought. He is a scholar. And I named him Erasmus, after the last person who some say may have been able to keep abreast of all human knowledge.
After that he spent the next several days under my couch. I stuck my hand in and petted him assuringly from time to time, and then he would come out for a little while and eat. Then it was back to the couch. After a week he decided he could move around my apartment with me in it, so long as he kept a wide berth whenever he saw me coming. After another week or so I was allowed to pick him up. It was six weeks before, one night at 2:30 in the morning when I couldn't sleep, sitting in my chair, he jumped up on my lap, circled a few times, lay down and went to sleep.

"Hey, where do you keep the tuna?"

It's our morning thing now
He continued to lose his shyness as time went on. I was starting a relationship with a young woman named Kristen who came to my apartment around Christmas. Erasmus saw her and flopped on his back for the first time. It was as if we had a pre-arranged signal, and he was telling me, this one is going to be my other human someday, and you know this because she is the first person I've ever let rub my belly.
Erasmus got more comfortable with time, but he didn't stop being polite. Whenever I got him chicken and gravy, his absolute favorite, he would come over to me and say thanks by bashing his head into my leg before he started to eat. If he wanted a drink from the bathtub faucet (which he preferred; the bowl on the floor was only a last resort) he would stand in the bathtub and mew once, then wait patiently while I came over to turn on the water. When I came home, he would greet me at the door, when I woke up in the morning he would always get up from his own nap and come over and say hi. He was not the aloof, uninterested cat that dog lovers tell us is the natural way of cats. He did not, however, jump on my crotch and bark, which was fine with me. Only when I had been away for a couple days did I get the high pitched whine that he saved for those occasions; looking up at me he mewed  "where were you? I was worried..." Then, although he often visited me in bed but seldom stayed there, he would sleep with me that night to make sure I didn't get away again, and even follow me from room to room that evening.

In the early days we used to play the sock game. He would chase it, and get points if he touched it; more points if he got his teeth on it, and a total knockout if he managed to get it away from me. He had a ball or two with which he would demonstrate his mad soccer skills and some toy mice he liked to lose under the refrigerator. He would bat them around the corner to pretend they were running from him and then sit and wait. Just when they thought they were getting away...BAM! Erasmus would disabuse them of that notion. And if any bugs wandered in, they were the sorriest bugs ever, and a good source of protein. But he never caught a mouse.

It's halftime, right?
I know he'd be embarrassed to see that in print, but I explain it this way. Good mousers catch a lot of mice. The great ones don't have to. The day he arrived those noisy rascals that we met partying in the first paragraph disappeared. They could smell his presence and they weren't stupid. They knew it meant annihilation if they stayed, so they found somebody else to host their all-nighters. For the next 16 years I never saw evidence of any mice in my apartments, or the house. He was that good.

He was sure there was a mouse in the printer
Meanwhile he kept his chops through practice. He would patrol the apartment, seeking the high places, including the shelves near the ceiling, giving concerts on the refrigerator, from which he once made a death defying leap onto the couch, and finding milk bottles and ping pong balls to attack randomly. Just when they thought they were getting away, he would go the other direction around a chair or table and meet the surprised object head-on. In all this he found time for science, running dozens of experiments on the effects of drinking glasses when dropped from a table. The results were always the same: unhappy humans the next morning. It was from this devotion to science that he got his middle name: Galileo.

hosanna this!
He was also a gymnast: of all the times he walked around the edge of the bathtub in the old apartment he only fell in once. one time I saw him leap off the edge, twist in the air, and come down perfectly like an Olympian on the balance beam. There was the time he, for no reason, raced the length of the apartment and hurled himself onto the top of the rocking chair with me in it. I saw my life flash before me as I became the victim of an apparent tiger attack, seeing him lunging toward my throat and keep on sailing past--and then, miraculously, I wasn't his meal after all.
His meal, actually, was chicken. I know this because whenever I got chicken flavored dry food it disappeared faster than the other kinds. I kept his bowl permanently filled and he exercised discipline by not over-snacking. This worked for both of us. A couple of times a week he got a can of wet food. For a while I would run an experiment wherein I put two cans on the floor, one with chicken and the other some other flavor. He would sniff them both, then make his selection by looking up at me after pointing his nose at one of them. I swear to you, he picked the chicken 10 times in a row. I have no idea how. I don't think you can smell the contents of a hermetically sealed can.
Erasmus would want you to know that chicken is the best flavor in the world. Gravy on top is even better. Once I figured this out I noticed that he always licked all the gravy off first and then came back later for the rest. He was the inventor of the humblebrag, or the complaining brag--he'd come back into the living room and you could just tell he was saying "man, don't you just hate it when you get all that gravy stuck in your tooth and you have to lick it off" positioning himself as obviously as he could so you knew who'd just gotten chicken and gravy. He was a noisy eater. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to all the deaf people in Canada.
He was an erudite cat--and a compassionate one. He also briefly had a subscription to "Cat Fancy" magazine
He spent his evenings shilling for chicken. As he grew older, he become more manipulative. He'd come toward me like he wanted pets, and then run away once I extended my arm--halfway to the kitchen (on the way to the pantry where all the cans of chicken were stored), then turn and look back at me. "Are you coming or what?" He tried really hard to train his human. When he realized he could get water by asking he decided one night to go to the bathtub and mew for a drink and when I got there he upped his demand and ran into the kitchen. He got "time out" for that. He tried it five or six more times anyway. It never worked but he didn't give up. It was his eternal quest.
"Jail kitty"
Then there were the episodes involving plant eating. He liked salad, and whenever Kristen's spider plants were not locked away they were in his jaws. He was always scheming to get into her study in winter where she kept the salad bar.
He didn't get out much. He spent his life inside. Once when in another country for three weeks my parents hosted him at their house. He got outside because my dad didn't realize he could fit through a partially opened door. He had an adventure with a barking dog that put him off going outside for a while. Once he accidentally got out of my apartment. I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and there was nobody there. Looking down I saw Erasmus!

He was never really sure about my organ playing...
At the age of thirteen, he retired from catching bugs. I was stunned to see him look complacently at a bug and then decide not to bother. It was so unlike him. But he didn't do much hunting anymore. More sleeping and less exploring. He had a routine, and you knew where he'd be at certain times of the day. In winter he napped against the wall of the furnace room to stay warm. In summer he would be on the back of the couch watching the cat tv that was our front yard (usually it was on the squirrel channel). I still love how he had a squirrel too petrified to move for twenty minutes, despite that fact that he was on one side of the glass and the squirrel was on the other! How could I forget the time he decided to make those chirpy birds sorry they chose my second floor air-conditioner to make a nest by karate chopping through the Styrofoam!
That squirrel chomping on our pumpkin is going to be really sorry if somebody would just open the window!
He spent his retirement years being pampered. We bought him a brush, which he surprisingly turned out to love. Every morning it was Kristen's pleasure to brush him when she got up. If she didn't get up soon enough he reminded her. If she had other things to do he made sure she knew she was neglecting him. He couldn't clear his throat but he could be a constant furry presence in her field of vision. Whenever she made tuna, he was there for a sample. He always had the number one spot on her lap, by fiat. If there were other things there when he got there he sat on them or moved them. She was a slow learner, so he had to keep doing it.

The first day in our apartment Erasmus found a hole in the wall under the sink and used it to explore all over the building. When he returned I taped the door shut. Here he is trying to get it open again.
In fact, most days when I got home, within thirty seconds of sitting in my chair a cat had grown in my lap. This was a lifelong habit, though it started to happen more often as he got older. He always looked so contented it was hard to go anywhere. I think it is his picture in the dictionary. He had the nicest purr which commenced as soon as I laid my hand on him.

Contentment: n. what you see in the picture above.  That is one contented cat.

What you don't get from the pictures is how Erasmus would spend at least twenty minutes kneading the blanket from every angle before finally laying down on it.
This doesn't mean he couldn't be annoying. He lost his drink-from-the-sink privileges around the age of 10 when he started replacing his polite little mew with an uninterrupted stream of loud, demanding calls. He kept jumping up on the dining room table despite repeated attempts to make him stop (he knew perfectly well he wasn't allowed up there). And he did his level best to destroy our new blinds. Our carpets still have several bright orange stains that never would go entirely away. He got crankier as he got older.
You wanna make something of it?
But he was still my buddy. He liked to hear me play the piano, but not practice. He'd enter the room mid-piece, and when I got to the end I'd start again. When I got to the part I had been playing when he came in he always left. "You played that part already." He also helped me compose several pieces by sitting on my lap and snoozing. He had his priorities, and those priorities were supposed to be your priorities. Things like, slow down and enjoy just being. Do whatever interesting you. There is always time for chicken and gravy. Always lick the gravy first just in case a comet gets you` before you get to the rest of it. Always tackle problems (like mice) head on. They won't think of that. Let them get complacent and then....spring into action.
Also, what is it with you humans and all these pieces of paper? Don't worry about it!
He was a sage. I caught him reading the Bible, the dictionary, and several musical scores. He had quite an inner life; no wonder he needed so many naps to absorb all that information. He was aptly named, and his namesake would have been proud of him.

Erasmus started to limp in February of 2015. By April he had been diagnosed with bone cancer. There was a tumor in his back hip. At the end, he hobbled about on three legs, seldom leaving the window. When he started picking at his chicken and hadn't eaten his dry food in a week and a half, it was time to go. We buried him in the back yard. It was a very sad occasion. Like the ancient Egyptians, we buried him with two items to take with him to eternity: a super ball to play with, and a can of chicken and gravy. As this is the part where one generally makes a comment about their loved one looking down from heaven and smiling (as if they've nothing better to do), I will simply opine that, knowing Erasmus, he is probably busily engaged in trying to show St. Peter the kitchen.
Not having him around that first week was disorienting. In the morning there was no cat to greet me. I still sometimes check were his food bowl should be on the way out of the house. I don't have to make sure all the glasses are stowed away safely before retiring for the evening, or make sure the outside door is closed or that I won't back over him unawares. He hissed at me the one time I did--it's the only hiss I ever heard out of him.

A week later I was out mowing the yard. As I got near his grave I felt sure he would suddenly burst out of it and run away, the way he did whenever the vacuum cleaner got too close to his hiding place under the bed. He'd once done it so crazily he managed to knock the vacuum cleaner over and the plug out of the wall as he streaked up the hallway. He was never a big fan of big, noisy appliances.
When I managed to mow over his grave and there was no glorious resurrection I knew he was gone. He had managed to hang on a few days past his adoption day, the day that we celebrated also as his unknown birthday. They told me he was a year old at the time of the adoption. He must have lived to be just about 17. And for 16 years and a few days, he was the best furry friend his two humans could ever have. He was also the cutest cat who ever lived. Ever. Don't argue. He was.

Erasmus lived with me/us for just over 16 years, in three apartments and a house. His name, Erasmus,  means "beloved." He was a loved cat. It's wonderful how much joy, and how many hours of sheer entertainment, a cat like that can bring into your life. Thank you, Erasmus. Thank you for everything!

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