Big ball o' love 

The cat's in the cradle and then out the door

Nobody argues that Jethro is a magical cat. Even Lary agrees, and Lary warms to animals like a blowtorch to a toilet brush. His last cat, Cocksucker, who was foisted on him by a sympathetic friend who felt Lary could use a bit of warm-bloodedness in his life, did not even qualify for the occasional head pat. No wonder the poor thing died mysteriously one morning after eating his fourth can of Fancy Feast.

"You killed Cocksucker!" I shrieked at Lary when I heard the news. "You callous, cat-killing, heartless sack of maggots!"

"Listen, retard," Lary insisted, "Cocksucker died because he was a cocksucker. He probably keeled over because his crustiness finally froze up his heart."

Not that Lary isn't fully capable of slaughtering the innocent, but in the case of Cocksucker, Lary might have a point. I could see how that cat could have keeled over out of sheer orneriness. Cocksucker really was evil, for one, and older than magma, and Lord, that cat was ugly, too. He had eyes the color of frozen gun metal, tobacco-colored teeth and a hide so wiry you could use him to wash your pots.

His sole activity seemed to be to sit by his bowl glaring and growling, and not the normal injured-moose kind of growl you'd expect from a feline, but the kind of growl that grizzly bears make. You really started to wonder, after a while, if he wasn't a cat at all, but rather one of Atilla's more bloodthirsty huns living out an eternal curse of some kind. In all, the cat was about as approachable as a big bag of broken glass and it's a wonder he lasted as long as he did.

Now that Cocksucker's gone, though, Lary keeps bugging me to give him Jethro, my magical, big fat yellow cat. Jethro is a big ball of love, a king-sized pillow covered in soft fur the color of sunlight, and when I hug him he purrs in my ear and I'd never let him go if I could help it. Maybe it's his gentle nature or lumbering physique or serene green eyes, but there is something about Jethro that causes everyone else to drop their guard and love him immediately, too. I adopted him after one glimpse from a cell phone's photo bank, and he was barely through my door before my other friend, Keiger, who is normally as demonstrative as a redwood, exclaimed, "Now that's a good cat."

So I'd sooner throw Jethro into a nest of rotating lawnmower blades than hand him over to a drug-addled old cactus like Lary, but I have to say I'm pretty impressed with Jethro's ability to charm people. Even Lary -- Lary, who himself is about as loveable as a rocky cliffside -- loves him.

So when I came home from a trip to find Jethro disappeared, I of course thought Lary took him. Not only is he the kind of guy to kidnap a cat, he's constantly threatening to do just that, the last time just two days before my return from holiday. "You think your door can keep me out?" He laughed, "I'd have that thing unlocked before I put my car in park."

So I spent my first two days back assuming it was all a bad joke. "Gimme back my cat, you polluted, hard-hearted poohole! You're playing with my feelings here," I cried into Lary's voicemail. Usually, such flirting merits a return call within the hour, but Lary never called me back because Lary was at that moment soaking in a Jacuzzi of high-grade tequila on a tiny island in the Mexican Caribbean. "I don't have your cat, you pussy," he e-mailed me the next day. "But you better find him because I love that cat."

I flew outside and began knocking on doors. The entire time I've lived here I've only met my neighbors on either side, but it turns out that Jethro has been busier than I have, and had spent the last week canvassing the neighborhood acting as ambassador on my behalf. "That's your cat? I love that cat. He was just here," was the popular response from neighbors who'd called after reading my flier. I finally tracked Jethro down to a house on the next street, where the couple inside had taken him in after he'd established camp on their porch.

By the time I'd contacted them, they had, of course, already bonded to Jethro like welded metal, and they handed him back to me as happily as social workers giving a baby back to its crack mom. No wonder. I did, after all, let this lovely beast roam homeless for six days.

Which brings us to the mystery of how Jethro got out. There were no jimmied locks, no open doors and no loose windows. There was just a cat door that led to a utility room where the litter box lay, and sure, over that there was a window way up that was open a crack, but there's no possible way, no way in hell ... wait ... what the hell is that? Is that Jethro, my big ball of love, shimmying his rotund body through that tiny opening? How does he do that? How is that possible? I grabbed him before he could make his escape, but eventually I know I'll have to buy him a collar or a microchip or something, and let him roam the neighborhood like he wants. That's just the way it is with love, you can't keep it inside. You have to let it out.

Hollis Gillespie is an award-winning humor columnist, NPR commentator, "Tonight Show" guest and author of two acclaimed memoirs, Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood and Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories. To register for her writing workshops, The Shocking Real-Life Writing Seminar, visit www.hollisgillespie.com.

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