Fri 05/27/05 at 11:33 am

I’m as yet unwilling to call myself a writer, but I think I’ve progressed far enough in my craft to call myself a wordsmith. I have a decent vocabulary and the ability to string words together in such a way as to communicate some meaning to others via the printed page. But when I start to think about what it would take for me to consider myself a writer, my thoughts usually turn to Jensen. A writer would be able to use words in such a way that a reader would “get” him — would capture his essence and convey the wonder of him. And who is this Jensen? The Linnaean hierarchy categorizes him as a member of the kingdom of animalia, the phylum of chordate(vertebrata), the class of mammalia, the order of carnivore, the family of felidae, the genus of felinae (profelis), the species of felis catus, the breed of Cornish Rex. In a word, Jensen is a cat.

According to Encarta, the first Cornish Rex, a cream-colored male, was born in a litter of five barn kittens in Cornwall, England, in 1950 — hence, “Cornish.” “Rex” because of the rabbits the owner once had raised. Every Cornish Rex in existence can trace its origins back to this anomalous boy-kitty, named Kallibunker. See, e.g., Rexes have certain distinguishing characteristics. They only have under fur (no guard hairs), so their coat is exceptionally soft, with mercel-like waves. The lack of guard hairs also means their body temperature is as much as 10 degrees higher than what is otherwise normal for cats. They have large ears and roman noses. They like to talk, a lot. They look delicate, but in truth they are strong and sinewy. They are tiny — Jensen, for instance, has topped out at 7 pounds.

Jensen was born on October 20, 1992. His registered name is Beaconwood Desert Chief, but he was known around the cattery as Beaconwood. Like his ancestor Kallibunker, he is a cream tabby with orange eyes. My brother got Jensen as a 40th birthday present. John and his then-partner Jim drove up to Connecticut one April weekend in 1993 and brought Jensen back to reside with John in his East 52nd studio apartment with a breath-taking view of the East River. As they drove down 7th Avenue, John spotted an old painted sign on the side of a building that read “Jensen Lewis Awning Company.” And the kitten had a name.

I first met Jensen shortly thereafter, and, for me, it was love at first sight. Jensen was fairly feral in those days. He didn’t mind being petted, but forget about holding him. Any attempt to do so would be met by a fierce struggle that ended with him leaping out of one’s arms and running for cover. He was, however, extremely fond of playing fetch with his little toy mice. John would throw one and Jensen would go careening full speed after it and pounce on his prey. He would then pick it up in his mouth, walk over to my brother, and deposit the mouse in front of him for another throw. He never tired of this activity. Given his penchant for fetch, I sometimes refer to him as “dog-kitty.”

When next we met, John had moved to a one-bedroom apartment on 14th between 5th and 6th. As noted above, Rexes have a need to communicate their presence often and loudly — especially in the early hours of the morning. For that reason, the kitchen served as Jensen’s bedroom, and a blanket atop the refrigerator as his bed. I would awaken in the morning, stumble into the kitchen to start the coffee, and there he would be — staring at me from his perch. I would melt, every time. John and Jensen lived contently in Manhattan for the next few years. In 1997, circumstances made it difficult for John to keep Jensen. He asked if I would take him. I readily assented, and so he and Jensen boarded a jet plane for Albuquerque. I met them at the airport, and I will never forget when Jensen’s Kennel Kab finally emerged through the flaps on the oversized luggage conveyor belt. He was wide-awake, lying on his refrigerator blanket. We took him home, and my life (and his) has never been the same.

Suddenly, everyone and everything looked like Jensen. To this day anyone who knows me well knows the answer to my inquiry, “What does he/she/it look like?” is, “Jensen!” Everything he did was a delight. I still love to watch him drink water from a slowly streaming faucet or gobble up his hairball pounce. When I’m home, we’re inseparable (unless he is being a carnivore and catnapping or communing with his fellow feline siblings). He follows me from room to room, and sit-sleeps on my keyboard shelf when I work on the computer. In the beginning, if he stayed asleep too long, I would go over to him and ask in a loud voice, “Are you SLEEPIN’?,” so he would wake up and pay attention to me. A couple years ago he just went deaf one day, so that no longer works. I can now pick him up and hold him for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. It took a few years, but eventually I actually got him to sleep in my lap and to sleep with me at night. One other characteristic I failed to mention above is that Rexes incisors and canines are three times larger than other cats. A couple times a year, Jensen had a nasty habit of biting me, without warning, on the hand or forearm, inflicting deep puncture wounds. Hence, his nick/surname, Lestat. The last time he bit me, I ended up in the hospital for five days on antibiotic IVs. That’s when we finally pulled his teeth.

I could go on regaling you with stories of this creature. How at least once a day he becomes “thunder kitty,” pounding up and down the stairs at breakneck speed. How he adores his sleeping tent we dubbed his “yurt,” as he acquired it around the time we invaded Afghanistan. How he wanders around the house crying long and loud when he can’t find me. But that’s not the point of this entry. The point is that while I could perhaps tell you all about Jensen, I still don’t have the words to communicate what, exactly, Jensen is about. How, for instance, without ever meeting him you would understand why people always speak his name as though there is an exclamation point at the end.

Someday, perhaps, I will find the words and have the ability to arrange them in perfect syntax so that reading them will fire the neurosynapses so as to evoke the feeling, the music, the mathematical perfection (or whatever it is) that explains Jensen!. For that to happen though, I must be more than a writer; I must be a poet. Until then, a picture is worth . . .

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