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The Last Days of Sylvester the Cat, as Told by Himself

by Ken Sanes

It was brutal, absolutely brutal. My kitty was leaning against a garbage can when he felt a sudden surge of predatory instinct. "Come on," he said, bouncing around like a prize fighter. "Let's show that overgrown mouse who's boss."

"Yeah, I'll show him," I said. "I'll show the mouse who's boss."

Why did I say it? Why? Just a few minutes before the mouse had scored a direct hit with one of its giant feet in my right eye. But I guess I wanted to impress my son. He's such a feisty little cat and so proud of the old man. I had to prove I can't be beaten by a two-foot tall mouse with enormous feet.

So I put my nose to the ground, picked up the mouse's scent and the chase was on. The blood started rushing to my nostrils as visions of uncovering a nest of giant mice swirled through my head.

Soon I caught sight of the mouse's tail as it turned into an alley off Mange and Canine. It bounced around the corner. I bounced around the corner right behind, only to discover the mouse was gone.

I called out for it. Nothing. I called again. Still nothing. But now I had a plan. I would use myself as bait. Then, when the giant mouse tried to clobber me with the foot, I'd give it a twist at the ankle and force it to lead me to the nest, hopping on one pumper.

Unfortunately, there was still no mouse. I turned another corner. And another. With no other way to go, I squeezed through a fence and made a run for it across someone's side yard. I had lost the scent and I was standing in the middle of an unfamiliar street.

I looked around. Night was falling and my nose was cold. My figure cast a huge shadow on a nearby wall. Suddenly, all my fears from before the chase came back in full force.

"I'm lost, utterly lost," I cried. "I'm lost in a maze of alleys leading nowhere in particular. So this is how it ends. Life without warmth. Death without meaning. Dinnertime without a can of tuna fish packed in light oil. Oh, the end is never as one expects."

Regaining my composure, I poked around a garbage can for a quick refreshment. Suddenly, I caught a whiff of mouse.


This was the moment I had been waiting for. My nose quickly thawed out and regained its former flexibility. Nose to the street, my body in tow, I was an inhaling machine, as I sniffed my way to ecstasy.

I slunk through a door. I raised my arms, my claws flicking out like pen knives, ready to pounce, ready for the ultimate experience life has to offer, when suddenly a deep voice interrupted my concentration:

"Order. I say order in this here court. Sure as I'm Judge Foghorn Leghorn, I say, see here now, order."

A sick feeling sank into the pit of my stomach. I glanced to my right. Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd were sitting neatly in a row in their Sunday best. It seems that I had been so consumed with getting the mouse, I had followed it into a jury box without realizing it - and the eyes of the jurors were now directed my way. Averting their gaze, I looked to my left. Mouse! Right there next to me in the jury box, staring straight ahead, its soft and tasty underbelly exposed to the world. All that meat in one package and there I was, the center of attention, unable to act on my better instincts.

A Rooster in robes smacked a gavel. Not wanting to attract more attention, I took my seat.

"If that's a judge than the giant mouse sitting next to me is a baby kangaroo," I whispered to Daffy.

Daffy gave me a funny look.

"We are here, I say, son, we are here to consider the malpractice lawsuit of Wile E. Coyote versus Dr. B. B. Whatsup, Rabbit Shrink, over the alleged loss of hunting ability resulting from intensive psychotherapy. And have the assorted characters of the jury reached a verdict," asked the judge.

Jury foreman and attorney for the plaintiff, Daffy Duck, rose to his webbed feet.

"Pardon me, Your Pulchritude, but the state has been denied the right to cross examine the alleged Dr. Whatsup."

Suddenly there was mass pandemonium in the jury box with assorted bouncing and leaping and growling and a cloud of dust so thick only occasional tails and arms stuck out.

"Order! I say, see here, now, Order! Or I'll exile every one of you to a Walt Disney cartoon," shrieked the judge.

The dust settled, revealing the assorted characters of the jury, once again in their assigned seats.

Whatsup took the stand as Daffy walked behind him, mimicking his manner.

"Will you please tell us in your own words and in nontechnical language, precisely what went down," asked the duck.

"Certainly," said Whatsup. "Wile E. Coyote came to me, undernourished, his ego drooping, suffering from a severe case of Pathetic Predator Syndrome, not to mention an hysterical inability to speak. He had spent his life seeking the ultimate act of digestion that would end his problems. As in many forms of Marxism, the theme, Your Honor, was paradise in a mythic future. Subject and object would at last be reconciled -- by eating the object.

"And now would you please explain that in nontechnical language," Daffy said impatiently.

"Certainly," said Whatsup. "This deluded dog wanted to eat the innocent Roadrunner bird and permanently squelch its adorable 'Beep. Beep.' He was obsessed with the 'Beep. Beep.' But every time he began the chase, his ACME devices turned on him and he became, as they say, the hunted."

"Hmm, very illuminating, very illuminating indeed," said Daffy, pacing, his hands clasped behind him. "And now to sum up -- "

"Coyote is an all American dog," continued Whatsup. "He is man way after the fall, atoning for an unknown sin and chasing Eden in a vision of plumage. He is Richard Nixon in need of a shave, and looks a bit like him -- "

"Very incisive, very incisive indeed," said Daffy. "Let's give him a round of applause folks. We all owe a debt of ingratitude to the good doctor for illumin --"

"And what if he did digest the roadrunner," the doctor continued. "The cycle of repetition would be broken, the panacea would turn out to be one bony mea -- "

"SHUT UP!" screamed Daffy, plunking his tail in his seat.

"Sustained," said the judge. "And have the assorted characters of the jury reached a verdict? It's time for lunch."

"We have, Your Vicissitudes," said the duck.

It was at just that moment that I saw my opportunity. "LIKE HECK WE HAVE!" I screamed, grabbing Daffy by the neck to divert attention. And then, in a swift and masterful stroke, I grabbed for the giant mouse. Suddenly, everyone was swinging and kicking and screaming and we were going round and round in a cloud of dust. Then it drew near -- the enormous foot -- and scored a direct hit, foot to face. I was spinning out of control as Whatsup's mad ravings seemed to circle around me.

"Pathetic Predator Syndrome...," Whatsup's voice echoed. "...the ultimate act of digestion.... every time he began the chase…he became…the hunted."

I panicked. I had to escape. I swam crosswise against the current, dodging assorted body parts. Daffy sped by. I tried to reach around him but we all became entangled -- legs and arms, feathers to fur, bill and beard, Sam's whiskey breath hot on my whiskers, debris flying everywhere. And then it collapsed. All at once we were back in our seats, hands and paws folded neatly in our laps.

I sat there, looking from side to side. My suspicions filled the room. It was all just a little too neat. Each of us once again in his seat, the mouse next to me, ready to resume the chase. I didn't like the smell of things.

Daffy rose: "Not guilty, Your Orneriness."

Mass pandemonium resumed in the courtroom.

But I had lost my appetite for the chase. I slipped out the back door, passed the pushy pig and dog reporters with the Number Two pencils tucked behind their ears, waiting at the wrong exit for a story.

Whatsup's description of Coyote kept going through my head.

"Is that the way it is?" I wondered. "Is that my fate as well -- to lust after delectable prey, to pursue, to fail and to get the big foot in the face every time, as my son looks on in humiliation?"

Suddenly, life seemed little more than a series of unsuccessful chases; Coyote here, Sylvester there and Elmer Fudd, all of us pathetic predators, deluded into believing we were hunters. We had lived in this universe with our noses to the ground and all of us were so wrapped up in our own pursuits that we had never thought to wonder why.

I had walked through life as a sleepwalker and suddenly I was a cat in a whirlwind.

It was soon after that experience that I began to delve into secret arts and esoteric philosophies in an attempt to discover why I could never catch the mouse. I conducted strange experiments in the basement, in a wizard's hat and robe, with shadows and mirrors and a magnifying glass, while colored vapors bubbled from beakers that I scrounged from the old lady's kitchen.

Then, for a time, I studied the Monadology of Leibniz the Ladybug Killer. Reality is made up of spiritual atoms called monads, he said, and each self-enclosed monad reflects the universe in its own unique way.

It was a brilliant theory and emotionally very satisfying for a cat like me. A world of monads that had no picture windows. The cat monad and the mouse monad, like two creatures trapped in soap bubbles and no matter how hard I tried to catch the mouse, I couldn't break out of my bubble.

And yet the mouse foot did reach the face. As I said, it was emotionally satisfying, but not much else. Still, I was without a window on the world.

The days on the calendar passed without event. Then, one afternoon, while perusing my collection of philosophical classics I came upon The Ruminations of Zeno the Chipmunk, the first chipmunk in history to prove by logic alone why the predator can never catch his prey.

I turned to the first page:

"Logic proves that all existence is made up of infinitesimal pinpoints of time and space that are so small they have neither duration nor extension," it said. "And between every two of these points you must traverse to reach the animal of your preference, there is always one more that intervenes. So you see, you never actually get there. And yet it is the passage of these timeless moments we call time and movement through these extensionless points we call space. Voila, space and time are an illusion."

There was a light tapping. I continued reading. The tapping became more insistent. Annoyed at the interruption, I threw down my book and opened the door. It was Wile E. Coyote, wearing a funny hat and a wet raincoat, looking a little grayer and fatter for the years.

He dragged himself into my living room, plunked himself down on my couch in his wet raincoat and looked at me with sad eyes. The work of therapy and the compromise we call forgetting had led him into new dreams.

"Oh, you're probably wondering about the uniform," he said. "I'm a paramedic. I Just saved Pepe Le Pew from a fire, but he mistook me for a lady skunk and we had quite a row," he said sheepishly.

Coyote, it seems, had found his voice.

"I like my job," he said. "And my fat paramedic paycheck goes a long way. Once I thought I wanted a wife and little ones like myself so we could all jump in bed on a Sunday morning and cuddle in front of the TV, watching people. But it never came to pass."

"Mostly, I watch by myself and eat in bed," he said. "But that's normal enough, isn't it?"

"Well then, what's the problem," I asked, impatient to get back to my book.

He stared into the distance.

"Sometimes, early in the morning, I wake up to a noise," he continued. "And I'm never quite sure if it is coming from inside my head or from somewhere nearby. I think maybe it's the 'bleep bleep' of the television set after the programs have run down and the channel has said goodbye. But when I look at the TV, it is dark. And then I think maybe it's the 'beep beep' of a bus horn. So I look out the window, but there's never anything there. Then I lie completely still, listening to the silence. And, suddenly, I feel as sure as one can feel anything that there's a better world out there, a world of wide open spaces where a dog like me can spread out and do some serious hunting."

Having finished what he had to say, Coyote looked at me, waiting for a response. But I was in no mood to discuss his problems. I threw off my wizard's hat and stomped out the door. I needed answers and I needed them now.

I wandered the streets in a daze. I climbed a fire escape, scampered across a roof and down a drain pipe. I passed a fish market, noted the address, but decided not to stop for a treat. Then I turned into an alley off Mange and Canine into a familiar part of town.

"I'm lost," I cried, "Utterly lost, in a maze of a moments leading nowhere in particular."

I cringed in a dark corner, shivering, as the damp cold crawled up my spine. Shadows began to creep along the walls. Huge distorted things full of teeth and hate.

"Come out," I cried, uncertain who I was addressing. "Show yourself, coward."

Then there was a noise.

"Oh yes, I know your game, don't think I don't know your game." I shook my clenched paw at the sky as I spoke. "I know how the cat likes to taunt the lizard. I know how he delights in letting the lizard believe it is escaping and then, just before the lizard runs out of reach, the cat reels it back in with a paw. Again the lizard hobbles away. One or two legs don't even work. But the lizard drags itself off, only to be swept back again. To simply eat the thing and be done with it would be too simple. The cat has to toy with hope. He has to mangle the spirit. And then, when the spirit is dead and the flesh is dying and the little reptile lies on its side, making no attempt to flee, the cat turns up his nose, pushes it aside, and walks away."

"Come out and face me like a cat, sadistic fiend."

I fell to my knees, my spirit sinking, as the shadows closed in for the kill.

All was lost. We were all pawns in a game we could play in but never win.

"Come out," I cried. "Come out."

Suddenly, a long snout popped out from behind a pile of rocks, whiskers sprouting every which way like a hairbrush that was losing its bristles.

It was a nose. A humble and unpretentious nose, making no statement and no demands on the world. A saint of a nose in an unsaintly world.

Harp music lilted about my ears. Such beauty. Why now and why a nose?

"Coyote, you followed me," I said, as he crawled out on all fours from behind the rocks.

Then, we sat there and we waited. For the first time in our lives we really waited, not driven to seek, to grab and to stick in the mouth before whatever we had hold of was yanked back out.

And as I sat there, unworthy as I am, an image appeared of the hidden harmony of life, each predator perfectly matched with its indestructible prey, each pair forming a self-enclosed, self-torturing, personality.

But that image quickly faded away and then I was blessed with a vision of the hidden hierarchy of life, with Coyote on the bottom, in his proper place. And me, I was in there too, trying to claw my way over everyone else to look over the top. And at the pinnacle, swathed in his own loveliness, a bunny, utterly untouchable, picking a piece of carrot from between two buck teeth with a toothpick, a halo orbiting his ears like the rings of Saturn. I trembled at the majesty of it all.

Then that image faded away as well and suddenly I saw a still picture of myself about to grab the mouse. The picture fell away and a second picture took its place, with the same image, except the mouse's foot was slightly raised. That too gave way to another picture and another, and on each one I moved closer to the mouse as the mouse’s foot moved closer to my nose.

Suddenly, the pictures began to fall away so quickly that the images seemed to move and come alive. The foot made contact with the nose and an "Ouch!" rang through the universe.

One last picture remained standing:

"Existence is a vast, unceasing, engine of Cosmic Animation. It is drawn one frame at a time," it said. "Please dispose of popcorn containers in handy bags attached to seats. The End."

I seemed to waft in an out of existence. Suddenly, I was divided into a thousand selves, each one frozen in a different pose. I struggled to bridge the gap, to remain, certainly everything wants to remain. Then the shadow of an enormous hand descended on me from above and I felt myself tickled into existence by something wet and pointy.

Coyote sat next to me with a big grin. He seemed to me now as fine a hero as a cat would ever want to know, an Errol Flynn type character who had devoted his life to rescuing an innocent roadrunner from a heartless, hollowed out predator, the evil coyote, himself.

The dog began to flap his arms. He smiled and, for a moment, I could have sworn he started to ascend.

"For reasons I will never know, I have changed from a predator into a philosopher," I said.

"Oh well, what are philosophers but predators of being," Coyote replied."

We sat there, our back ends in the dust, amazed at our own profundity.

Then we shuffled off and headed for home.

But the scenes we were familiar with were crumbling and peeling away. Large space ships hovered menacingly in the sky and jet-propelled robots were shooting beams of light at each other, destroying everything in their path. We came upon Sam, bleeding in the street, and Coyote stopped to bandage the wound.

At last, I made it to the safety of familiar streets and dragged myself, exhausted, back to the old lady's house.

After that, I spent my days on a rocking chair on the front porch, getting beat at gin rummy by a rabbit who lived in a hole in the yard. One morning my son walked off in search of his own block, his few possessions - a dash of catnip and a rubber toy - rolled in a handkerchief tied to the end of a stick. There was an unexpected bloom of azaleas and I danced in the rain.

I am living my life.

Am I happy?

The question doesn't disturb my sleep. I can tell you one thing though -- the hidden hand is not my god.

Don't misunderstand what I'm about to say. I'm not a bad pussy cat. You sensed that, I'm sure. I help my neighbor. I love my kittens. I have my nobility and no one can take that from me.

But I'm a predator by nature and must have my satisfactions.

So every now and then, late at night, I take out one of the lizards I keep in a box with holes in the top and I give it a little nudge. "Come on, Sylvester," I say, pitting the little green gladiator against a claw.

I never kill them you understand, though few make it till morning.

And then, when I really get going and a lizard will no longer do, I take the old lady's jalopy out for a spin and drive by the house of my dear friend, Wile E. Coyote, and, just to add a little zest to life, I give the horn a quick "Beep Beep," and drive away before his face can pop into the window with that bewildered look he does so well.

Perhaps it is the ultimate proof that existence, even for Him, is a mystery, but I found those little outings the most satisfying moments of my life in Cartoonland.


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