Tony 2-Tone, Teacher
by Mike Hamer
What was I thinking? It was scary enough that I was going to be living by myself for the first time since my diving accident, but I was bringing along this wild, young tomcat. How on earth would this animal adapt to living in an apartment? How would I be able to live with a crazed feline?
Well, it turned out that I worried for nothing. My cat, Tony 2-Tone, adjusted just fine. He and I were already buddies, so he had that security. Since there were lots of apartments at Wilson Acres, Tony had plenty of stimulation for his bad self, between looking out for dogs and finding out where the other tomcats that he’d have to battle at night were hanging out. When he was inside he’d either nap, or run at full speed from one end of the apartment to the other. Tony made friends with all my neighbors; he’d jump up on their cars as soon as they parked and greet them. One morning he wasn’t around for his usual breakfast, so I wondered where he was. When I left for work he was sitting in the window of the guys’ apartment next door. It turned out they had partied with him the night before and tried to get him high, but I knew he just wanted to see what kind of goodies they had to eat.
Tony 2-Tone was a large cat with distinctive markings. He had the normal tiger’s grey fur with black stripes, but also sported a white crest on his chest. He had white slippers on his front feet and white stockings on his back legs. The soft fur on his belly was golden, and he had slight traces of gold and white on his face, down toward his nose and mouth. He loved it when people said, “Oh, what a pretty cat.” The two notches on each ear attested to the fact that Tony had had many battles in his life.
Tony and I bonded when he was a kitten. My housemate, Theresa, brought him home one day, and after only hours, he figured out that my lap didn’t move, so he crawled up my leg, nestled into my lap, and instantly passed out. That was after running around the house and attacking every piece of furniture in sight. Though he was Theresa’s cat, I named him after the rap group, Toni, Tony, Tone. When he was about nine months old, our wild teenager disappeared from the house for a couple of days. Theresa called the animal shelter, and sure enough, he was there. Tony had been picked up at Hardees for jumping into people’s cars and trying to steal their food! I inherited 2-Tone when Theresa got married; that’s when we moved to Wilson Acres.
Perhaps because Theresa had played roughly with Tony, he avoided women for the first seven or eight years of his life. Should a woman be foolish enough to try and pet him, he’d likely leave a long scratch down the length of her arm. When he hit middle age, he began to love women and would flirt with them and get some loving. I told my attendant that perhaps women should take note: find a man who was quite wild in the younger years and he’d like mellow out nicely in middle age.
Tony 2-Tone was smart. Not long after we moved into the accessible apartment that had door levers that made it possible for me to open doors from my wheelchair, Tony figured out how to pull the levers to let himself out. He never closed the door behind him, though. Once, a reporter from the local paper was attending a songwriting meeting at the apartment. Being the total ham he was, Tony opened the door and burst into the room and had a visit with everyone there. He ended up being the focus of the lead paragraph in the newspaper story.
When I moved from Wilson Acres to the house I’m living in now, I was worried because I’d heard stories about cats and dogs who would leave their new homes to return to their familiar surroundings. A friend who had more experience with cats told me to keep Tony inside for a full week before letting him out. We moved, and he slept the entire first day, his way of dealing with stress. The second day, Tony went to every window in the house and checked out the view. By that evening, I realized I wouldn’t be able to keep him in any longer, so I let him out, fearing the worst. Once again, I worried for nothing because 2-Tone had figured out the boundaries from inside the house and eagerly checked out his new terrain. After dark I went out by the large pecan trees to listen to the hum of the cicadas, taking in the fragrance of the gardenia bush. There was a board leaning against one of the trees, and Tony performed a humorous dance, complete with flips, on the board to let me know he liked the new place.
Tony 2-Tone died this past August. He was eighteen, around 100 in cat years. I’d known he wasn’t going to last much longer. Tony’s favorite place to hang out was always in my lap. I usually cross my legs when I’m in my wheelchair, and Tony always loved to snuggle in the nook of the crossed leg. This summer it took all this strength to claw his way up my leg, and when he got to my lap, he would keel over to rest. I learned a lot about aging from the old boy, besides the advantages of being nice to women. I learned not to sweat the small stuff. Tony used to be able to make a perfect jump from the ground to the bed in the back of my adapted van, as the doors were opening! And then, one day he knew he couldn’t make the leap anymore and waited for me to get off the ramp. He didn’t make a big deal about it. I learned that when you get old you take more naps. Rather than chase the birds and squirrels, as he formerly did, Tony seemed quite content to rest and keep an eye on the neighborhood. There’s a dresser in my bedroom that he loved to sleep on, but it involved a four foot jump that he couldn’t do anymore, so he found other places to snooze.
My attitude toward 2-Tone, which came from growing up on a dairy farm in northern Vermont, was to allow him to be as close to the wild state as possible. I let him stay out as much as he wanted. When he was young he stayed out every night, but in his last couple of years he opted for the comfort of a heated house. It was healthy for him to get chased by a dog every once in a while. Being in a wheelchair, I was glad that he always did his bathroom business outside, except for his last nine months. Even though he was old, he still had most of his wild nature intact. I believe that’s why he kept himself so healthy all those years. Tony did go to a vet once. Finding a mouth cancer, the doctor gave him a year to live. Tony cured himself of that cancer and went on to live another five and a half years. He died in a wild, natural way, too. In the TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING, the author explains that advanced Buddhists go off into the wild to die by themselves. That’s what Tony did, and I have no doubt he was an advanced being.
Tony’s ability to live in the moment is the quality I envy the most. I’m able to be in the present some of the time—I know it happens when I’m teaching, but I don’t find myself in that place enough. I wish 2-Tone could have given me some advice on this. If he had, he likely would have said, “Just watch me, Dummy.”