I don’t care about your cat. This is not meant, in anyway, to be adversarial or mean spirited. I just don’t care about your cat. I don’t care that it does the cutest things. I don’t care how it thinks it’s people. I don’t care that it could be in movies if it wanted to. I certainly don’t want you posting pictures of it on Facebook, or tweeting about it, or uploading videos of it to your YouTube channel. And just so you don’t think I’m anti-feline, I don’t really care much about your kids either, at least how their existence relates to social media, and general anecdotes. Estimates put the world’s cat population somewhere around 2 billion, and the chances of yours being any more than normal are slim. Unless you have a calico that writes seamless first-person prose, or pays a mortgage, or has a post-graduate degree in Philosophy, then I’m really not interested. Unless that cat was Sydney S. Pistol Esq., who was put to sleep this past weekend after being diagnosed with an unexpected and incurable illness. He was 12, and he is missed.
Sydney was not my cat. He belonged to the Canadian Ecuadorian Irish Berlin-based writer Ian Orti (L: and things come apart). In 2010, I was living in Montreal, and Orti and I decided to get a place together. We found a unique 6 ½ up in the Plateau with a huge courtyard terrasse and the Mountain for a front yard. The terrasse had a fireplace surrounded by lawn furniture, and very quickly was given the unfortunate moniker of The Ashtray. It also became a comfortable hangout for our friends, an open door of convenience for drinks and merriment and, with the extra bedroom, a popular place for writers visiting the city to stay. But even with the unfortunate nickname, the revolving door of wayward poets, and summer fires in the city, The Ashtray was missing something. A mascot, perhaps. Enter Sydney.
Orti sent me a text on his way back from a visit to his hometown Kingston, a month or so after we had settled into the apartment, that read simply: “bringing back a cat.” Those who had known Orti for a while knew Sydney well, but I had never met him for some reason. I was on my way to the dep when I spotted Ian getting out of the driver’s side of a borrowed red sedan, with Sydney effortlessly clutched to his side. We were briefly introduced, “Spry, Syd. Syd, Spry,” and into the house he went. By the time I returned from the dep, Syd was settled in, even claiming the guest room as his own. He announced himself as the third roommate.
And announcing was something Sydney was well known for. The cat was a talker. If he was awake, he was chatting about something or other. It was comical at first, surprising in its clarity and consistency. Then, however briefly, it was annoying. I enjoy silence, and this was the opposite of silence. Thankfully, it became background, just part of the fabric of The Ashtray. Syd became one of the boys, and a popular one at that. He had a Facebook profile, and had more friends than most. He was very popular with the ladies. If a girl would come to the house, Syd would wait for her to get settled and then slyly pounce on top of her, resting his paws strategically, one on each breast. “Syd’s move,” Orti would title it. And what a great move it was.
I like to think that Syd played a small, yet playful role within the Montreal writing community. Many a published writer, both local and visiting, had spent some time with Sydney. John Goldbach (Selected Blackouts), who is so allergic to cats that he sneezes at the very mention of Andrew Lloyd Webber, visited often and fed him on occasion. Jon Fiorentino (Indexical Elegies) was a favourite of Sydney’s, and Syd enjoyed getting as much of his grey fur on JPF’s all-black aesthetic. Alana Wilcox (Local Motion) spent some time with him, as did Josip Novakovich (April Fool’s Day), and Dean Garlick (The Fish). Elizabeth Bachinsky (God of Missed Connections) house- and cat-sat once, and upon her safe arrival texted me that Sydney said “hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi.” Later that stay, Bachinsky and David McGimpsey (Li’l Bastard) texted me a photo in the wee hours of the morning of the two of them enjoying the confines of The Ashtray, drinking our scotch, reading Orti’s first book (The Olive and the Dawn), playing his guitar, and I could only assume that unseen Syd took the picture. Nick McArthur (Short Accounts of Tragic Occurrences) tried desperately to finish an essay with Sydney trying equally desperately to get his attentions. Katrina Barton Best (Bird Eat Bird) was a good friend to Syd, and was with him on his last day. Darren Bifford (Wolf Hunter), upon hearing of Syd’s passing said: “I always hated that fucking cat, but it’s sad he is dead.” Bifford is surely just jealous of the affection Syd received from his wife, Iris. I’m sure there were many more, as many writers visited The Ashtray, and I’m sure Syd touched them all in some way, literally and figuratively. He will no doubt play a role in their successes and failures in some way.
Orti has the best stories of Sydney, but he rarely told them. It wasn’t his style, and nor was it Syd’s. Syd wasn’t so much as cat, as an unemployed roommate. My feelings on cat stories are documented above. But I’ll share one. You can skip it if you, as I do, hate cat stories. In the winter of 2010-2011, Orti headed to Ecuador to water pools, bemoan another losing season for the Leafs, and write poetry. Syd and I were left together, fighting the damp cold Montreal winter. We were both a little sad, both a little lonely, both a little disappointed by our lifestyles and our diets. One day, I decided to work from home, something Syd seemed to like. He would lie on my bed and enjoy the heat coming off my laptop. About midway through the afternoon I had to urinate. I opened the door to the bathroom to find a large black bird in the sink. I slammed the door shut and scurried back to my bedroom, sure that I was having either a stroke or a nervous breakdown, and likely both simultaneously. I went back to the bathroom, opened the door, and found a large grey bird in the sink. I again slammed the door shut, sure that my brain was paying the price for my twenties. Then, suddenly, a sound that could best be described as gunfire erupted from the bathroom, then up into the ceiling, and down the back wall of my room. For about a half hour, Syd and I lost it, staring and yelling helplessly at the noises in the walls. It finally settled down, though until the next day when the landlord (believing I was crazy) had the birds removed, I used the bathroom at a friend’s place. Months later, Syd would still stare at the ceiling where the noise had come from, fully expecting the noises to erupt again. Somehow, he blamed me for the absence, a blame I accepted begrudgingly.
At the end of the summer, both Orti and I headed off for new lives in new cities, me to Toronto and Orti to Berlin. We tried to pass The Ashtray along to a friends, but no one would take it and it eventually we transferred the lease to strangers who surely did not deserve the apartment. I didn’t think I’d miss Syd, but I did. I came down to Montreal this past weekend, and I was hoping to steal Sydney away from his temporary caregiver and take him back to Toronto with me. On Saturday morning, just hours away from the city, I heard the news that Sydney, who had been sick, had been diagnosed with an illness that was causing him a lot of pain. He hadn’t been eating. His conversational tone had become quiet cries of agony. The vet told his caregiver that the most humane thing to do, the only choice really, was to put him down. Sydney S. Pistol was put to sleep Saturday afternoon. And I still don’t care about your cat. But I do find cat fur on my hoodies. And I still open cans in the bathroom with the water running. And there’s a noticeable absence, a quiet. There’s a memory of gunfire in the bathroom, and no one to help explain it.