Although this is a blog about movies I wanted to pay tribute to one of the most important figures in the background of Film Babble: my cat Squiggy who passed away on Friday, September 12th at age 16. The picture above of her as a kitten was taken by my mother at my apartment in Greensboro in 1998.
Squiggy would often sleep in my lap as I worked on the content of this blog, which is one of many, many things about her that I will dearly miss. I’d scratch her head and stroke her back while pondering my next sentence, and I hated when I had to get up to go to the bathroom or grab another Diet Coke because she would be dislocated, but it usually wasn’t long until she jumped back after I sat back down.
I adopted Squiggy from the Greensboro Cat Clinic in May of 1998. Thankfully, my friend Snoa Garrigan, who knew I wanted to get a cat, told me that they had just gotten a few kittens so I went to their location on Battleground Avenue and immediately took to this little spunky kitten with tabby markings and neatly arranged white patches.
I named her Squiggy after the character played by actor/comedian David L. Lander on the ‘70s-‘80s sitcom Laverne and Shirley, despite that people would tell me that it was a boy’s name. I liked saying it and thought it fit her. It did create some confusion when I’d take her to the vet – earlier this year when she had to stay for the weekend at Quail Animal Hospital here in Raleigh, I saw that somebody put a sign up on her cage that said “Squiggy is a girl.”
Squiggy lived with me in several different apartments through the years and at one point, still in Greensboro, she was briefly an outdoor cat. This ended when I saw her almost get hit by a car running across the street because I called her name – yes, she was a cat who knew her name and would sometimes respond when called. I say sometimes, because as it’s been said, “Dogs come when they’re called; cats take a message and get back to you later.”
When I moved from Greensboro to Durham in the summer of 2001, I lived with a friend, now a former friend, who I didn’t know had become a skuzzy heroin addict in the years I wasn’t in touch with him. It was less than 2 months that we lived there, but I am still sorry to Squiggy for her having to be around that mess of a human being. The guy was my best friend when I was a teenager, but it was clear to me after we left his Hellish orbit to live in Chapel Hill that Squiggy was a much better best friend, who had more genuinely helped me through hard times. And being that it was approaching September 2001, hard times would soon dominate everyone’s landscape.
In 2003, Squiggy and I moved into very interesting digs. I became the caretaker of the Horace Williams House in the historic district of Chapel Hill.
Horace Williams was a UNC Philosophy professor who had lived in the house from 1897 to 1940 (the house was built in 1854 by another professor, Benjamin Hedrick). The house is a cool octagonal structure with a large yard that hosts many events including weddings and art exhibitions, and Squiggy and I lived in a basement apartment there for seven years.
Squiggy got out of the apartment a few times and explored the rest of the long rumored to be haunted house – the Octagon room, the dining room, kitchen, and parlor – and scarily got in the dank crawlspace under the house a couple of times. I think this is what Sally Holton, a former site manager for the Preservation Society, was talking about when she posted “I've always felt jealous of Squiggy for knowing the secrets of the Horace Williams House” on a farewell Facebook thread the other day.
I had a few girlfriends who weren’t cat people and didn’t kindly take to Squiggy so, of course, they didn’t last long. Then in 2008 I met the lovely Jill Walters, a wonderful cat person, who brought Squiggy gifts like cat toys, and a scratching post tree, but the problem was that Squiggy didn’t take kindly to Jill.
But Squiggy just had to deal as Jill and I were married the next year, and she had to go from being the #1 only cat in the household to joining a cast of five cats – a line-up that would increase greatly when we started fostering for the Raleigh cat rescue Alley Cats and Angels. Squiggy disliked the other cats and kept to herself, particularly disapproving of the antics of the series of playful wacky kittens that would come and go in what my wife Jill dubbed “The Johnson/Walters Home for Wayward Kitties.”
Last night, Jill said “at 10 years old she went from basically being an only cat most of her life to having kittens everywhere, and she didn’t poop or pee places she wasn’t supposed to, or start fights or any bad stuff; she just adjusted.”
She had a reputation for being grumpy – this was long before the internet sensation Grumpy Cat – and many would note, especially Jill, that she only liked me. To prove that she was sweet and actually purred I posted this YouTube video:
In 2010 she had a tumor, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy. While I was away for Christmas at Jill's parents' house in Florida she stopped eating and lost half her body weight. Nursing her back to health was stressful and difficult into the New Year – I had to get up in the middle of the night and feed her through a tube for a period – and one visit to the vet really had me thinking it was the end because the radio in reception was playing Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
But Squiggy rebounded and gained back weight and seemed like her old self – except as Jill often pointed out, she lost interest in grooming herself. She learned the word “food” during this time as I would say it while she was eating. Her ears would perk up and her eyes would get wide when she heard it said. Once, while she was resting in my lap, I sang along to an Arby’s commercial with its line “it’s good mood food” and she jerked her head towards me hoping I had some for her.
So Squiggy had beat cancer, but her kidneys were failing which meant she’d get sick every so often which was always a concern if we were going out of town - “that’s one co-dependent cat you got there” Jill would say – but for the last several years of her life she seemed to be happy. Despite all the cats that is. It helped that she had the exclusive area that is my office that she could eat her food in private and sleep away from bouncy kitten activity. She would scratch at the door to be let in, and she was good at communicating when she wanted out.
It’s very sad to not have her around anymore. There are other cats that I love and will love in the future, but I know I’ll never be as close to another cat like that again.
To the non-cat/non-pet people out there, thanks for indulging me in my memories of my dearly departed cat. I promise that I will be back babbling ‘bout film next time, but take note that without Squiggy all curled up in my lap while I write it just won’t be the same.
R.I.P. Squiggy Stardust Nova Scotia Hummingbird Johnson Walters (1998-2014)