This needs to be made clear straight away: I usually love cats.

Usually.

That’s not the most masculine admission, of course. Gender stereotypes being what they are, it would be much more acceptable for me to proclaim a love of ugly, hard-nosed dogs named Buster or Killer ”“ animals that chew meat and smell like armpits. And I love them, too, providing they don’t pee on my laptop. Cats, though, are almost painfully cute, low-maintenance creatures that cuddle and purr and pounce on things. A cat and a laser pointer can provide hours of entertainment, more so than a Pauly Shore movie, although that’s largely because Pauly Shore is dumb.

Every animal, unfortunately, is capable of its own evils. You’ll never see a cat threaten a nuclear strike, or force you to watch “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” But once in a while, a feline comes along that makes you glad it doesn’t have the opposable thumbs necessary to operate a switchblade.

This is the story of Schmucky the Cat.

That’s probably not his real name, but we all know cats only respond to the sounds of can openers and deflating balloons, so I’m just gonna go ahead and call him Schmucky. It’s a well-earned moniker. Schmucky has the temperament of an injured Iranian soccer player, combined with the glowing personality of Stalin. If Schmucky were a man, he’d have a face tattoo and massive biceps from years of arm-wrestling in dive bars.

Sadly, I can’t avoid this objectionable beast. See, my apartment is uniquely situated: There’s the apartment proper, where I can shadow-box and play air drums to Kool and the Gang in complete privacy, but in the back, there’s access to a room I share with one of my neighbors. This room basically amounts to a massive shed ”“ a giant, sawdust-smelling tinderbox that’s perfect for storing old microwaves and back issues of Nintendo magazines. I use this storage space to house dumbbells and freeweights, because I’ve convinced myself it’s not too late to transform a physique that resembles a melting lump of candle wax.

Trust me, I’m not trying to sound manly. I’m about as manly as a scented candle. But I mess about with my weights because it makes me feel like less of a sloppy bum. Until recently, I could do this in relative peace. That was before Schmucky ”“ my neighbor’s orange tabby cat ”“ commandeered the storage room and turned it into his own private bunker of hatred.

I’m usually good with cats. In fact, at a friend’s recent birthday party, I was nicknamed the Cat Whisperer, although to be fair, it was a nickname I invented myself, and no one believed me. Still, I have a way with animals. I consider it a personal failure if I haven’t earned an animal’s friendship. Or at least its respect, which it expresses by not pooping on me.

But I knew I was in for a challenge when I met Schmucky. Truth is, Schmucky’s kind of a putz. The first time I walked into the shed and saw him standing stiff-legged in front of my dumbbells, he hissed a hiss that could strip the varnish off a park bench. As I approached him slowly, cooing and trying to chill him out, he backed away but kept his teeth bare, as if daring me to make a move. Any move. Anything at all that would justify his lion’s ancestral call to go mental on my tender ankles.

Needless to say, it was a bit disconcerting. As Schmucky disappeared all ghost-like into one of the room’s hidden nooks, as felines are want to do, I started my workout routine without incident, thinking he had run off to smoke a Marlboro and cool down. Then, as I stood to do curls, a venomous hiss erupted from just above

my head.

Schmucky, that crafty little ninja, had found a way up into the rafters, and squatted on one of the beams, scowling at me and threatening violence, all within a foot of my fleshy bald scalp. I whirled around to face him, as much as a man can be said to “whirl” when he’s carrying dumbbells, and beheld a face so sinister, so distorted by rage, I had to fight the urge to bolt for my kitchen in search of garlic and a wooden cross.

I sat down on my workout bench, continued curling and locked stares with my nemesis.

There’s a scene in “Rocky IV” ”“ undoubtedly the most ridiculous of the Rockys ”“ in which Sylvester Stallone’s title character stands in the middle of a boxing ring prior to his big fight. His opponent is a towering Russian killing machine who looks like a ‘roided-up Dolph Lundgren, possibly because it’s a ‘roided up Dolph Lundgren. The two fighters stare each other down in the seconds before the opening bell. The Russian, with a stone face and soul-dead eyes, says to Rocky, “I must break you.” And for 15 rounds, he nearly does.

Clearly, Schmucky has seen “Rocky IV.” He’s got his Dolph Lundgren impression down to a science. And he does it every. Single. Day.

There are a number of things I could do. I could move to Switzerland and join a circus. I could become a sword-swallower and travel the world, disturbing people. Or, you know, I could talk to my neighbor about it. There’s that.

Then, perhaps, the long nightmare will be over, and I can once more regard cats as cute little fuzzballs. Non-murderous fuzzballs that won’t stuff me into the trunk of a Lincoln Continental.

Your reign of terror will soon end, Schmucky.

So go ahead. Make your move.

— Jeff Lagasse is a staff writer and columnist for the Journal Tribune, and would never harm an animal, even if it had a dagger and an eye patch. He can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 319 or [email protected].



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