"Lary, if you bring Mangey to my house, I will personally rip out your lungs with a rusty TV antennae," I said, and I was not shrieking, so he knew I meant it. "Besides," I added, "Mangey is not homeless." It's true. Mangey lives in Ansley Park, so Lary took him there instead.
When I met Mangey years ago, he didn't look so mangy. He might even have had eyelashes then, and that snaggle in his front tooth wasn't made so prominent by coffee stains. I don't even think he had a beard then, if that's what you'd call the sprigs of gray wires he has today. But the years have been tough on him, and now he kinda looks like he's been scraped off the bottom of a boat. When he showed up at a fundraiser last week, the top of his head was so sunburned it was covered in angry scabs.
"What's with the riff-raff?" I heard someone say.
"Hey, that's my riff-raff," I interceded.
"I lost my hat," Mangey explained sheepishly, but he did not explain his pajama bottoms. I bought him dinner and then he offered me his chocolate cake. Lately he has taken to bringing me gifts. Last week, it was a banana and a can of cat food, the week before it was a small collection of greeting cards depicting cats on the covers. But for Lary it's different. For Lary, he brings porn.
"Hell, Mangey," I said, regarding the cake, "this is yummy. Why didn't you want it?"
"Actually," he said softly, "I was just expecting you to take one bite."
Later, he left unobtrusively, like he always does ... until last week at the Marcia Wood Gallery exhibit, where Mangey breezed right on by me at the first sight of Lary. "Is this self-serve?" Mangey asked Lary as he reached for Marcia's bottle of Belvedere, and this is where any responsible keeper of a mascot would have heard an alarm go off in his or her head like a fucking foghorn. Any responsible keeper of a mascot would have ushered Mangey away from the hooch as if keeping a kid away from a darkened room packed with child-molesting masturbators. In fact, practically any person would sooner sit on a hive of hornets than hand over a bottle of the world's most expensive vodka to what appeared to be a scabby-headed homeless person, but this is Lary we're talking about here.
"Sure," Lary said, and stepped aside. Soon, Mangey was wobbling around, intent on showing us his battle scars, many of which were located way below the elastic waistline of his pajama bottoms. It was the first time I'd seen Mangey drunk, and goddammit, now I'm all worried we've gone and become a bad influence on him. Lary especially. "You gotta thin the herd," I've heard him say.
I know now it was just a matter of time before Mangey made his way to Lary's carport, taking his place among the endless stream of other stray kittens that hang out there, flitting among the oil cans, Christmas lights and cinder blocks. Only Lary's strays hardly fare well. For example, his favorite has gone blind and now spends her days bumping into things, and a few years ago, his other favorite cat Jeff got flattened by a semi. As for the others, well, Lary regularly gets it into his head to gather them all in a box and cart them to the humane society, where they probably just get gassed.
"Why can't you just let them live here forever?" I implore him, but it's useless. He has to thin the herd.
That night, I saw Mangey wobbling along the sidewalk in the Castleberry district after I left the Marcia Wood Gallery. He looked so little in his pajama bottoms, lugging his bag of worldly possessions, so I pulled over to give him a lift.
My own stray cat, Lucy, is 16 years old, and she's looking pretty mangy herself these days, drooling like she does because, for some reason, she can't put her tongue all the way back into her mouth anymore. Lary says I should shoot her in the brain with a BB gun. "Look at her, she's miserable," he says, but I can't bring myself to put her down.
I remember when I picked Lucy out at the humane society; she'd reached for me through the cage and placed her pink-padded paw gently on my cheek. It was about the last gentle thing she ever did, and today even my full-grown pit bull is afraid of her. Mangey said he could cure Lucy. "I'm a cat whisperer," he reminded me, and I considered letting him try. Mangey Qat is a good person, I thought, I can see it in his lashless eyes, and he's fairly well-trained, too. He'll mind when you tell him no.
"You're a good person, Mangey," I told him as I pulled over and hugged him goodbye. "Now get out." At that, Mangey Qat, a perfectly good mascot until Lary came along and corrupted him, copped a feel and disappeared into the night.
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