How I met Cassius Clay

 

 

 

The day started out like any other day, except it was raining. In and of itself, rainy days were not that unique and for most people in South Florida, merely just an inconvenience. But I was an air conditioning salesman and to do my job right, I had to check condensers (otherwise known as the outside unit), and that meant getting wet. Sure, I had an umbrella, but no matter how hard I tried I still got wet. It just wasn’t worth the extra effort, so the umbrella stayed in the truck.

 

For the most part, I liked my job. I made good money and had good benefits. Of course, my bosses were pains-in-the-butt. But reasonably so, just enough that I had the proper motivation to get out the door and go to work.

 

My base of operation was actually a home office, and my first appointment wasn’t too far from my house. This was a good thing because the less time I spent driving, meant more time to speak to customers. You see, I needed all the help I could get; I’m not the best or most aggressive salesman in the world. But when it comes to AC systems, for some reason, those I can sell. I’m also a terrible liar which made my job much more difficult. Fortunately, I believed in my products and the company I worked for, so lying wasn’t a substantial part of my sales pitch.

It was the spring of 2004, and the air conditioning business was starting to pick up but not overly busy, I had three appointments that day. They weren’t too far apart, and it was easy to schedule decent travel times, even a lunch break. My first appointment was at 10:00 am; my last was at 4:00 pm. I was on my way to my first and was five minutes early—perfect timing.

 

I was greeted at the door by a pregnant woman, her eight-year-old son and two pit bulls close in tow. The man of the house was not there. In sales, this is called a one-legged lead. That’s because the spouse is alone so only one leg of the decision-making process is present. It’s done on purpose, that way the one-legger can always say I have to talk to my husband/wife before I sign a contract. And while it’s usually true that without both decision makers present, a salesperson may be wasting time; it’s been my experience that the customer has gone out of his or her way to talk to you. And yes, they lied when they said that it’s a good time for everybody to be present. But rather than try to reschedule and risk alienating the customer, I always chose to present my pitch. It’s an abbreviated pitch, but it’s designed to give me the opportunity to impress while at the same time educate. Believe it or not, it worked about 40% of the time.

 

So there I was, getting ready to do my job. The first part of the process is assessing the situation which requires documenting the condition of the existing equipment. And that meant going outside and getting wet which is what I did. Fortunately, the rain had subsided to a very light drizzle, but it was enough that those in the house chose to stay inside including the dogs.

 

I went to where the condenser was located. It turned out to be a package unit, the type of air conditioning system where the entire unit is one piece. As opposed to a split system where there are two parts, one inside and one outside. I started to do my assessment and was busy checking everything out.

 

Shortly after, I was satisfied that I had what I needed, I stood up to gather my stuff and go inside to pitch the customer. It was then that I noticed the small, dark gray kitten with big blue eyes quietly sitting on top of the ac unit next to my briefcase. He was watching every move I made with intense curiosity. I put my hand out, and he let me pet him. He even started to rub his head in my palm as he started to purr.

 

Back in the house I gave the lady her pitch, and after a few questions which I answered professionally, she bought from me. Funny how that worked out. True story. Not only that, later I found out that her husband told her to buy from the first guy who didn’t try to reschedule and whose price was reasonable. In all honesty, this isn’t how it usually works out. Customers frequently pull the spouse option and then after they ride the rescheduling merry-go-round with the others, they call me back.

 

After the sale was complete, I was talking to the customer more as a friend than a client. I do this while I gather all my paperwork. It’s a very important part of the sale that greatly reduces cancellations but goes completely unnoticed by the customer, and is usually a discarded step by the salesman.

     As part of my conversation, I happened to mention, “I saw your kitten outside by the air conditioner. He was soaked but otherwise, didn’t seem bothered by the rain.”

She shook her head no and said, “That’s not our kitten. We’re dog people because my husband is allergic to cats.”

     “Oh, I’m sorry. I just assumed the kitten was yours because I saw the litter box and the cat food on the patio.” I didn’t think it was a poor assumption on my part, but I made it my mistake because that’s what a good salesman does.

     “No. His mother had a litter in the crawlspace under our house, and when she left, she forgot to take him. We’ve been feeding him ever since, but he never comes in the house because of my husband.”

     At this point, it had occurred to me that there’s a slight problem with this arrangement. There were two full grown pit bulls in the house and a small kitten outside. What happens when the pit bulls are let out in the yard? I didn’t want to stick my nose where it didn’t belong because that’s the quickest way to lose a sale, but . . . “I’ll bet that kitten has a really good hiding place for when you let the dogs out.” I was really worried—that kitten was so small, I didn’t even know how he was able to get on top of the ac unit, let alone deal with two pit bulls.

     My customer and her son started to chuckle. She pointed to the dogs and said, “Do you know why those two big dogs are spending their day cooped up in this little house? I’ll give you a hint; it isn’t the rain.”

     “Well, it isn’t that little kitten. They could eat him for a snack.”

     Mother and son burst out laughing, and that’s when the boy said, “They’re scared of him.”

     I looked at Mom, and she confirmed, “It’s hard to believe, but those two big dogs are scared shitless of that little kitten. As soon as they see him, they run right back into the house.”

     I found that hard to believe and said, “Why? He seems so gentle; he let me pet him.”

     Now they were in disbelief, and the boy said, “He doesn’t let me pet him.”

 

     Then I noticed that Mom had that look in her eye, the one that said I got you Mr. AC Salesman right where I want you. “No, my son’s right. That kitten won’t let any of us get near him, and the dogs are afraid of him because of what he does.”

     “What does he do?”

     “He tries to play with them and ride them. He jumps on their backs and holds tight with his claws. At first, the dogs tried to shake him off, but when that didn’t work, they tried to bite him off. That didn’t work either because he’d jump on their short snouts and dig his claws in deeper. It was really kind of funny watching these big dogs trying to shake this little kitten off their faces. They’d bob their heads and paw at him but the harder they tried, the harder he dug his claws in. Sometimes they would get him off by rolling on the ground. But that didn’t work for long because it just made him jump back on and hold tighter. Eventually, the dog that wasn’t being attacked would find his way back in the house, and the other would just start whimpering. Then we’d have to go out there and pull the kitten off. We take turns getting scratched.”

 

     Mom was still giving me that I gotcha look when she said, “But he seems to like you. You’d be doing all of us all a really big favor. How would you like a free kitten?”

Now. It’s time for some more information about me. A little over a year before this sales appointment, I lost three cats within three months due to a veterinary screw up during routine dental cleanings. All three cats were given excessive amounts of anesthesia. Every cat reacts differently to the same medical screw-up which explains the three months, but the ultimate result is the same, death. After that ordeal, I didn’t think I was ready to start with another cat just yet, even though my customer, and the kitten seemed to think it was a good idea.

     I was looking for a way to say no and not lose my sale when it hit me. I had more appointments to go to after this one, and there was no way that I could leave the kitten in my hot truck all day. “You know, I’d really like to take him, but I have to work, and he can’t stay in the hot truck. I won’t be done until 5 or 6 this evening.”

     Mom smiled, “Oh, that’s okay. We’ll watch him for you and you can stop back after you’re done for the day.”

     Before I could stop the words from leaping off my tongue, “That would be great.”

     “We’ll see you then. My husband will be so happy.”

 

And that ladies and gentlemen, is how I met Cassius Clay, the toughest— nicest cat I ever knew.

All in a Name

I showed up around 6:00 pm to pick up the kitten: it was springtime and the sun was still up. The kid was waiting on the front porch for me. I guess Mom thought it would be harder for me to back out if she wasn’t there. She needn’t have worried. I loaded all the supplies the kid gave me including food, litter, pet-soap, even some cat treats. Then, I took the sleeping kitten; he didn’t have a name yet, so I called him Little Buddy. I thanked the kid, got in my truck, and placed Little Buddy on my lap.

 

At the time there was plenty of clearance between my stomach and the steering wheel. Today, it would be impossible to do. The ride home, for the most part, was uneventful as far as Little Buddy was concerned. He was exhausted, and why not. He had just spent his last day terrorizing pit bulls, and I’m sure he made the best of it.

 

I started the truck and before I could shift it into reverse Little Buddy opened his eyes and meowed. He took one long look at me, pulled himself up by my shirt just enough to bury his head in my chest, closed his eyes again, and purred himself back to sleep. For the most part, the ride home was uneventful, except of course, for that.

 

The first thing I did when we got home was take Little Bud to the bathroom for a bath. It was his first, and last, ever. I learned two things that day. One, a complete and utter compassion for those poor pit bulls, I now knew their hell; the blood trails down both my arms were the proof. Two, Little Bud (yes, he was still my Little Buddy) was not a dark gray kitten. He was white, except for two black rings around both of the bluest eyes I ever saw on a cat. With age, those black rings bleed into a two-toned facial pattern, but at that moment, he looked like an amateur boxer who just went fifteen rounds and was looking for more. He had this really cute and goofy expression on his face that seemed to mock me. “Dude, if that’s all you got—I know a couple of puny pit bulls that could kick your butt.”

 

From that moment on his name was “Cassius Clay.” If the reference eludes you, Google it.

A Good Cat . . . for Me

Cassius (a.k.a. Cash) was a really good cat. Of course, most people will say that about their cat, their dog, their parakeet, or their kid(s)—but ask them about somebody else’s, and you get a different story. It’s understandable because most people are biased towards their own. The main point of this written portrait isn’t to brag; it’s to help me remember years from now when everyone, including me, has forgotten, what a good cat Cassius Clay was.

 

Maybe after reading this, you’ll agree too.

 

So at this point, it’s obviously time for me to lament endlessly about all the wonderful and cool things he used to do. Things only I would think are wonderful and cool. And after tolerating one or two of these longwinded tearjerkers, you’ll skip the rest because life is short and there just isn’t enough time. To spare you that trauma, here’s just one that paints a good overall picture:

 

For those of you who know something about the Green Hornet, you’ll understand the reference; Cash was my Kato. For those of you who don’t know, the Green Hornet (GH) had a sidekick named Kato. Kato wasn’t just a sidekick; he was also the GH’s sparring partner. As a form of training, Kato would launch surprise karate attacks on the GH to keep reflexes and fighting skills sharp.

 

During our first few weeks together, Cash had a hard time adjusting to my going to work. Let’s just say that I didn’t want to leave anything out that couldn’t be replaced: he had a lot of energy. Eventually, he adjusted to the schedule and turned my arrival home each day into a welcome home smackdown, similar to GH and Kato.

 

Sometimes he’d be right there at the door ready to pounce. Other times, he’d hide-in-waiting for the hapless sucker who dared to leave him home alone for the day. I would walk around a corner or down a hall not sure where the attack was coming from: Kato would be proud. Cash almost never used the same spot, but sometimes, when he thought it was a good idea, he would. And yes, at least from his point of view, it was usually a good idea.

 

Cash didn’t like to pull any punches either; his play attack was the equivalent of another cat’s full-on brawl. In his defense, whether he came in low, usually working his way up from the knees, or flew in chest high, he always kept his claws retracted around my face. I never taught him that, he just knew.

 

One day I came home and walked through the door prepared for anything he might conjure up. My intention was to catch Cash mid-air during his initial frontal assault, or side assault, or whatever. I thought I was ready for anything. But of course, I was wrong. To my surprise, there was no attack. I cautiously peeked around the corner and down the hall. The coast seemed clear, and it actually was. There wasn’t any attack, not in the bedroom, or the bathroom, or the kitchen, or anywhere else. I was beginning to get worried.

 

Now before I go any further, there are a couple of things you need to know. At the time I lived in a nice house in Coral Springs, Florida. It had a huge great room with vaulted ceilings, ranging from 10-22 feet high. There were built-in custom wall units and plant shelves at various levels with Spanish tile throughout the common areas. Yes, it was a beautiful and spacious house, and yes, you needed a ladder to clean it. And in case you were wondering how a lowly AC salesperson could afford such a house; I wasn’t divorced yet.

 

Anyway, back to Cash. I spent the next half hour looking for that cat and having no success. Besides guerrilla warfare (his favorite game), Cassius also liked to play hide-and-go-seek. I figured in lieu of an attack; Cash was changing it up a bit by playing hide-and-go-seek-on-steroids. I was only half right. After calling him by his name and all his nicknames, and even trying to bait him out with his favorite treats, I still had no idea where he was.

 

Finally out of exasperation, I stood in the middle of the living room, looked up and shouted “Cash, where in the %^*^$$%% are you!”

 

It suddenly got very quiet as I stood there looking up at a cat that was looking down at me with that mockingly-goofy look.

Here’s another relevant design feature that you need to know about. At the peak of the highest vault in the living room, there was a big 10-foot wide skylight that had a framed architectural detail around it. The purpose was to accent the skylight which it did. It was not an empty plant shelf, though, to a cat, it sure looked like one. I guess Cassius decided to fill it with himself. The problem is—there was no discernible way for him to get up that high without literally climbing a wall or two.

 

Uh-Oh! That’s right folks, if it was made of drywall and had two perpendicular surfaces, Cassius could climb it. While I was standing there taking my sweet time working through this realization, Cash decided to turn hide-and-go-seek into a game of guerrilla warfare. He attacked, and all I saw out of the corner of my eye was a white blur coming straight at me. Reflexively, I ducked.

It was one of the very few times that Cash ever missed me. Instead, he landed on the top of a knee wall and then bounced onto the couch behind it. A short moment later, and as only a cat can do after a major fail like that, he came strutting around the corner acting as if nothing happened. His expression said it all, “You didn’t see that. You think you saw that, but you saw nothing.”

 

I picked him up and checked him out. He was good to go.

 

If you look at the picture of Cash sitting while sporting that mockingly-goofy face of his, you’ll see the knee wall that I’m talking about: he’s sitting on it. The skylight is about 20-feet above and to the side a bit.

A Better Friend

When we met, circumstances were such that Cassius needed a place to stay and I opened up my home. The wife and kids were not necessarily overjoyed with my act of generosity but Cash was my friend, not theirs, and he needed a helping hand. I’ll never forget the first night that he stayed with us; he was dirty and tired from being outside for weeks. He took a bath and at some point needed to use the litter box, and that was where he fell asleep. It did little to endear the wife and kids, and quite frankly, I myself have never fallen asleep on, in, or around a toilet. But he did. I knew it was from exhaustion, but they used it as an excuse to ridicule.

 “What are you looking at? You know you would if you could.”

Interestingly, a relatively short time after Cassius Clay’s arrival, the wife turned out to be an ex-wife, and those kids turned out to be ex-kids, she took them with her when she moved away, and I haven’t had any contact with them since, nor have I tried. That might sound somewhat callous of me, but please keep in mind—perspective. Perspective is everything, especially after a very cantankerous divorce. As for the children, they turned out to be hers and someone else’s (DNA doesn’t lie like ex-wives do). And as for the ex-wife herself, there are things one can’t forgive. Suffice it to say, it was a terrible time for me, but Cash was there to help; his unwavering support through the entire divorce was invaluable.

 

That cat made it a point to know where I was and to have eyes on me 24/7. Cassius wasn’t a touchy-feely kind of cat. His idea of closeness was sharing opposite ends of the couch or being in the same room. But during that time, I needed him just to be there, and he was; right next to me on the couch, curled up by my feet when I sat in a chair, he even made sure he had a least one paw touching me at night when we went to sleep. And it continued for years. He wouldn’t tolerate closeness like that from anyone else, just me.

In the End

His health in the early years was impeccable. He was strong, robust, and full of piss and vinegar as they say. He took crap from no one. He was a fighter. But he had a lingering eye injury that needed professional attention more than once. After the last operation, something had changed. His eye got better, but he took longer than expected to recoup from the operation. He hadn’t lost his fight, but some of that piss and vinegar . . . turned to water.

 

Then unbeknownst to him or anyone else, including me, he became diabetic. He was the type that suffered his discomfort and even pain, in relative silence; only saying something when it got too unbearable. In this case, he waited too long to say something. He had been living for months with a blood sugar level in the high 500’s, and it took its toll. By the time we started insulin treatments, a lot of the damage was already done. With the treatments, he improved, and much of his discomfort went away, but the doctor told me that he could live for months or he could live for years, it was up to Cash.

 

As you already know, his full name was Cassius Clay, and that’s because Cash was a fighter extraordinaire; he was a fighter at the beginning, and he kept on fighting until the end. I know because I was able to be there for him and see it for myself. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. He fought like a champ even though we both knew he couldn’t win.

 

On April 5, 2018, at approximately 1:00 am, after just over a year on insulin treatments which helped but never got his glucose levels down to normal, Cash died. He had multiple massive seizures, one after another without rest until his heart couldn’t take the strain anymore. It took hours, and there was nothing left for me to do except make him as comfortable as I could and be there for him the way he had been for me.

Thank you, Cassius Clay,

for spending your precious fourteen years of astonishing life being my cat . . . always a great cat—and a better friend.

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