Stinkbomb? We always had dogs when I was a kid. It was tradition in my family to have German Shepherds. Big male German Shepherds with powerful sounding German Shepherd type names - Fritz and Wolfgang and Helmut. Solid sounding names without a doubt. Once when our family took to an extreme its preoccupation with giving names which were fitting for such a majestic breed, we named a particularly clever family dog who continuously made up his own rules after the World War II German General Erwin Rommel. Obviously, we called him Rommel and not Erwin. And while you might question the sanity of naming a dog after a German general, it's tough to question that Rommel was a serious sounding name. "His name is Rommel." It just flows off the tongue, especially if you have even a hint of German ancestry in you and can add the right Germanic guttural inflections. Any guy could proudly say it with the appropriate puffing of the chest and squaring of the shoulders. Stinkbomb? It just doesn't flow the same way.
So when my wife suggested we get a cat, generations of family tradition came to a grinding halt. "A cat?" I started to argue, ready to launch into the virtues of having a dog -- loyalty, friendship and the virtues of having a big male German Shepherd dog in particular - security, roughhousing in the backyard, naming him a serious name which I could say proudly. But before I got much past saying "a cat?" and grimacing a look of combined disillusionment and disappointment, I was handed my coat and gloves, not to mention my hat, and we were on our way to the local pet shop.
I normally don't lose arguments so quickly or so soundly. Actually, I lose arguments this quickly and this soundly pretty much everytime I argue with my wife. But I always win in the end and this time I was going to win because I got to choose the name. It may not be a German Shepherd but it's going to have to live with a serious sounding German Shepherd name whether it likes it or not, I grumbled under my breath the entire way to Petworld.
My grandmother had a cat. I always wondered how she talked my grandfather into that. But in the car on the way to Petworld it was all starting to make sense. Grandma's cat didn't listen to her. It didn't sit. It didn't stay. It didn't come unless it heard food being put into its dish. So I knew it didn't matter what you named a cat because no matter what, it wasn't going to sit, stay or come and hell would probably have to freeze over before a cat would roll over on command or fetch the ball. I knew from Grandma that her cat did what it wanted, when it wanted. It made up its own rules and used Grandma's weakness for some affection and cuddling-time to its advantage to get more food.
The rule in my family was never to use the same name twice for its pets. That rule applied regardless of how far back in the family tree you had to go to find that a name already had been used. Great Uncle Karl's shepherd "Baron" would be the only Baron in our family. Uncle Rudolph's "Hunter" would be unique. It was like the retired number on a professional athlete's jersey after he reaches greatness. You just didn't use the same name twice. And after all, even though I was on my way to Petworld to buy a cat, I refused to break with tradition. Too bad the name Rommel already was taken. That name seemed to epitomize everything I knew of cats. Cleverly planning skirmishes to the minutest detail in a way that would rival the greatest military thinkers all in the pursuit of outsmarting Grandma for more food. Patiently hiding under a chair and waiting until the last second before digging a claw into my ankle when I went to visit Grandma. Rommel would have been a good strong name, even for a cat.
Manfred and Otto were the two leading contenders on the way to Petworld. Although I knew I'd have to see this cat before I could decide whether it seemed like a Manfred or an Otto, I knew those were good solid sounding names. Even if they didn't fit exactly, I knew I'd come up with the appropriate name. Whatever I did, I knew I wasn't going to give this cat a "cute" name or a name that captured some obvious physical characteristic. Grandma did that. Her first cat, a big Persian with hair seemingly growing out of its own hair was named "Fluffy." Besides that it was a name any self-respecting German Shepherd would cringe at having, it wasn't terribly creative. And while I loved my grandmother dearly and still can't figure out how she convinced my grandfather to get a second cat, she bottomed out on the creativity scale when she named the new all white Persian "Snowball."
While I'm not a cold-hearted person, I just didn't find myself melting with emotion when we walked up to the cage in Petworld housing the latest litter of gray and white kittens. My wife said "oh how cute" enough times for the both of us. I was still running through the list - Dietrich, Friedrich, Gerhard, Konrad, and even Schultz, despite the Hogan's Heroes images it conjured up, all seemed like names that would work.
When the cutest of the "oh how cutes" was picked out, he seemed to tremble so hard with fear that I thought he was going to break himself in half. It was a big world and he was a pretty small guy. I could almost smell his fear when the 16-year-old kid behind the counter lowered the newest addition to our family into a cardboard box with a lid that closed tightly over the top. "Don't want him to escape" the kid said as he taped the box shut with about a yard of two inch wide packing tape. Except for some pin-sized holes that gave him enough air, the box was dark. We were told that he'd be fine. This is the way all the cats get sent home. And besides, they just ate before we came in, we were reassured. I wasn't sure what that had to do with being unceremoniously pulled from what had been home for the past few weeks and being put into a box that was taped shut with enough tape to hold back wild horses, but at least he had a full stomach and should be fine for the short trip home.
My wife and I both were still in school when we bought this cat and our car didn't betray our bank account. Although it was holding up pretty well for its 10 years, some of the noises it made should have been used as the sound effects track in a horror movie. But the squeals and screeches it made were nothing compared to the piercing noise coming out of the tightly covered box I held in my lap. That noise was unhappiness personified. If was as if the box was signing harmony with the tires as they furiously spun trying to get traction on the icy ground. With each gear shift and on each shady hill where the road was still frozen and traction was nearly nonexistent, as if on cue, the box sang its song.
Mileage wise, home wasn't that far from Petworld, but this was turning out to be one of the longest trips of my life. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the car thinking that same thing. Over and over, the same thoughts kept working their way through my head - are we there yet, please stop making that noise and I bet if we had bought a German Shepherd he wouldn't be acting like this. If it hadn't been for generations of tradition and the fact that I had made fun of my grandmother for picking obvious names, I was thinking about calling him "cry baby."
The longest part of the trip came when we were only about a mile from our house. I knew making it through a series of stop signs on a steep downhill grade wasn't going to be easy in winter road conditions, but we had done this same trip weekly coming home from the supermarket. When you slide through a stop sign at which you intended to stop, things become somewhat surreal. Things happen quickly and slowly at the same time. Your heart races but you stop breathing. Sound seems to get sucked up in a vacuum. Even the box in my lap was silent as we gently floated into the intersection. Then just as quickly as time stopped, it started again. The fishtail that the car seemed to be working its way through for hours ended as the tires found solid ground, abruptly lurching the car straight. And the blaring of the horns of the cars who narrowly missed smashing us become distinct. I picked the box up from between my feet where it had landed after a slow motion three hundred and sixty degree tumble out of my hands.
To say this scared the wits out of us would be an understatement. We breathed a sigh of relief, except for the box, which didn't make any noise at all. As I rolled the window down a few inches for some refreshing cold air, I tapped the box. I knew he couldn't escape with all the tape around the box, but I also couldn't open the box to look in. Like sonar on a submarine, one meow pinged back at me, signaling that he was still with us.
Thirty seconds later we were home and we raced up the stairs from the garage, practically abandoning the car in an effort to put the trip home out of our minds. I put the box on the kitchen counter and looked for something to cut the tape away. Naturally, I chose the most inappropriate tool I could find and started at the tape with a 12-inch vegetable knife and popped the top of the box off. What happened next was even more horrifying than skating into oncoming traffic.
I dropped the knife after being hit with fumes so noxious they could melt steel. I didn't see a cat in the box. All I saw was a brown mound in one corner. Then the mound turned and opened its eyes. Apparently digesting a full meal didn't mix well with an adventurous ride home and had gotten the best of his intestinal track. Combine that with a thoroughly shaken box, and there wasn't a hint of gray or white to be seen.
My wife, never at a loss for words, shouted "what a stinkbomb." He wasn't a German Shepherd. He wasn't even a dog. And on top of that, I didn't even get to name him. But, at least I can feel confident that no one in my family will break with traditional and use the same name.
Greg Meyer lives with his wife and two cats - Stinkbomb and Chiefy Rou Burger.
(Messages are forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)