Lita was one cool cat.

July 26, 2019

Yesterday morning I got up early and thought I saw Lita, our cat, as usual, in the window giving me her daily look that says, “Where the hell is my breakfast?” I stopped for a second because our 17-year-old cat had died two days before. I once heard Patti Smith say something like, “The dead live on in the memories of those who loved them.” There was some comfort that Lita is still on our porch is some form, waiting for breakfast.

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I got Lita in the summer of 2002 when she was a tiny kitten. I responded to a Craigslist ad for a free kitten and collected her from a young Mexican couple who had their hands full with a new litter. She was born in the City of Roses, so I named her Rosalita, which just became Lita. She was a spritely demon who would tear through the house like she was possessed, putting cat claw scratches on my wood floor.

A few weeks later I had a brain hemorrhage and a stroke. After a month in the hospital, Lita was waiting for me when I got home. As I would work on my physical therapy, she would attack me like the hyper-maniac that she was. It was actually very helpful as I could tell where the feeling was returning to my right side by whether or not the gashes she put in my body hurt or not. One day she left off my right shoulder and I could definitely feel it. Thanks, kitty.

A few years later, Lita, who loved to go outside, got hit by a car and lost her tail. She disappeared for over a week and came back looking like hell, dragging her smashed tail. Amputation was the only option. She also lost control of her bowels and permanently became an outdoor cat. (I used to joke I would rent her out to anybody who had an enemy and wanted their house to smell like cat pee – No takers.) She became known as the cat with no tail and would greet everyone who passed by our house and not even pee on them.

Over her 17 years, this cat saw a lot, including outlasting a few long term relationships. (Each came with a dog which Lita was not thrilled about). When Andrea arrived into my life, Lita gave her a nod of approval and crawled into her lap as we planned our life together. When Andrea was pregnant with Cozy, Lita seemed to accept there would be another small creature in the house, and started to clean up her bad ass act. By that point she had become used to the neighborhood raccoons and opossums stealing the food and the occasional brigade of coyotes patrolling the street. (Coyotes had made off with her brother, Leon the Cat, one night, so she had reason to take them seriously.) She just laid back and became the watcher of the house.

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Coming home from work or a long trip out of the country, Lita was always there to welcome us home. As Cozy got bigger, she loved to carry Lita around the front yard (and never got peed on). Our letter carrier, Anthony, would regularly take time to pick her up and pet her. Every winter I’d build a winter chalet for her to take refuge in and every spring I’d marvel that she made it through another series of snowstorms. That darn cat!

Seventeen is old for a cat. I knew what was coming. Last week she started disappearing and when she showed up she was all skin and bones. We brought her inside to make her comfortable and tried to get her to drink some water with an eye-dropper. She found her way to the bathroom floor where she liked to sleep when she was a kitten. Around midnight on Tuesday, as Andrea and I petted her, Lita gasped her last gasp and the ghost left her body to go look for her tail.

Of course, the larger question became, how would Lita’s death impact Cozy? Cozy is cat crazy and loved Lita in a way that was endlessly endearing. So we sat her down and didn’t sugar coat it. Lita didn’t go away, or go live on a farm, or go off to join the cast of CATS. She died. Cozy paused, and in her pre-school thinking responded with the perfect question. “So are we going to get a new cat now?” Then a little tear came out of her eye and she wanted to know why. “Lita was really old, Cozy. She was at the end of her life.” We read Elisha Cooper’s book, Big Cat, Little Cat, together and she seemed to understand.

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We busied ourselves with funeral plans. Cozy really wanted a “ceremony” to say goodbye to our dear pet. We went to the flower shop and she picked purple roses. At the garden store, she picked out a rock with “Forever” engraved in it. She even selected the spot to bury her, next to her favorite spot on the porch, where Lita would recline in the afternoon sun. Through it, she wanted to see Lita’s body, which was wrapped in one of Cozy’s baby blankets and laid inside a Doc Marten boot box. “I thought she would just be bones,” she said as she petted Lita just one more time.

Lita is now under the ground, buried with pictures her family, drawings by Cozy, and a little bit of cat food, just in case. The lesson is that nothing is forever. Appreciate those you love while they are here, even if they have leaky bladders. Cozy will tell you how much she misses Lita. We all do. But she will also tell you about the little cat that is coming to help the memory of the big cat live on. Thanks, Lita. Wherever you are, I hope you got back your tail and control of your bowels.

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“Thanks, punk!” (For David Dickens)

January 10, 2019

I know the first time I saw David Dickens I was both frightened and liberated. I was a 16-year-old kid trying to figure out “punk rock” in 1980 Georgia. I knew what punk looked like long before I knew what it sounded like from reading Creem Magazine in the late 1970s. There were no internet streams of music or satellite radio. If you didn’t have a friend who had an older brother or sister who had somehow had gotten their hands on a Ramones album from some far-off big city record store, you were SOL. But I knew punk looked wild and David Dickens was a punk.

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In 1980 I was 16 with a drivers license. On the weekends I would tell my mom I was going to the midnight movie. Often I did. It was Rock n Roll High School on Fridays and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturdays and I know David was often there, screaming “Where’s your fucking neck?” at the screen. Most of those weekends, I would head to the punk rock clubs with my fake ID. (Sorry, Mom.) The Metroplex on Luckie Street, The Bistro on West Peachtree, and 688 on Spring Street. They seemed like a million miles away from my subdivision in Stone Mountain. And Dave was there, all in black, blonde mohawk, and snarl. He looked just like the punks in Creem. I didn’t have to go to London. 688 was close enough.

David worked the door at a lot of those clubs and instantly identified me as a fellow misfit, part of the diaspora of suburban refugees looking for escape from Southern hypocrisy and fueled by the energy of the guitar and bass drum. In the suburbs, people married their high school sweethearts and raced into the doldrums of adulthood. Here there was space to be your true self. In your free space. It was a subterranean world of anarchist bohemian spirits, set free in a little corner of the Deep South. And David always let me in the door, no matter how fake my ID was. “Come on in, kid,” he’d say, his cigarette hanging out of his mouth, looking like he just walked out of a frame of Taxi Driver.

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By the time I was 19, his scene was my scene. I was practically living at 688, crashing on couches in Pershing Point, Atlanta’s short-lived East Village, and occupying space with punk artists at the Blue Rat Gallery. By then, David’s intimidating persona had given way to a kind of Catcher in the Rye character, benevolently keeping the scene in line and true to its ethos, occasionally corralling renegade punks like Billy Asshole and Malibu back into the fray. As a budding mod socialist and non-drinker, I had many after hours debates with him about the benefits of Marxism verses anarchism, with some four-piece band bashing in the background. Me in my Air Force parka, he with a ton of hardware clanging on his body. He was super-smart (not a dumb punk) so I was forced to raise my pee-wee game.

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David died a couple of days ago in his sleep. His heart just stopped. Apparently he’d had heart troubles and a recent gall bladder removal. As the word spread on Facebook, the heart of the scene stopped as well. Many of us had reconnected with the David through social media and he was still a warrior for freedom, ready to debate liberals and conservatives. I was glad to have him back in my world. The night before he went to bed for the last time, he posted a picture of a rich man trying to enter his grave with bags of cash, writing, “Like the man said … there’s a reason you never see a hearse pullin’ a U-Haul.” Maybe he knew.

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The news hit me harder than I expected. I found myself sobbing. Not because we were such close friends. It was because I never got to thank him. His persona was larger than life and as soon as I saw him, I knew I didn’t have to go to London or CBGB’s to find my tribe, it was right there. He could’ve looked at a little suburban punk wannabe like me and said, “Fuck off, you poser!” But instead, he said, “Come on in, kid.” I’m sure he died having no idea what an influence he had on so many of us misfits. He gave us permission to follow our unformed bliss and not be afraid to pay attention to our internal compasses.

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In 1977, George Harrison recorded a great song called “Pure Smokey” because he didn’t want to die without thanking Smokey Robinson for his wonderful music. George is gone and Smokey Robinson is still touring (and producing a Motown-based cartoon my kid loves) and knows how the George felt. I never got to say that to David. “David you gave me permission to be me. Thank you.”

As I get older, the rate of friends and comrades passing away will only increase. It’s time to start saying, “thank you.” David Dickens, thank you for letting me in.