Tennessee Williams Revisited
By Gary Michael Smith
The meowing was incessant when Brenda and I arrived
home at 9 p.m. on Father's Day. One
could tell that the distressed feline wasn't in pain;
it was more like a being-locked-outside cry.
Brenda and I ignored it, and Fuffy tried to ignore it
as he lay on our deck staring into the night
sky. After all, it was his species howling loud enough
to wake the entire neighborhood.
I couldn't see the source of the pleas and figured it
simply was next door on the other side
of our 6-foot wooden fence. But the sound really
projected and could still be heard as we retired
for the evening at 10. By 11 we tossed and turned to
continuous cries. Then, we heard voices
outside and figured that the kitty was causing some
sort of neighborhood commotion. We got up,
threw on some clothes, turned on the deck lights, and
went outside to find the cat.
No sooner was I outside my gate that one of four
twenty-somethings in the street called
out, "Dude, do you have a ladder?" I did, indeed --
even a 20-footer -- but a few steps later I
realized my ladder wouldn't work. There was a "cat on
a cold tin roof," on the second floor of
the duplex apartment building. So I told the kids,
"Uh, yeah, but it won't reach that high."
The roof where Mr. Gray was
We were stumped. The kitty evidently had climbed up a
nearby water oak, jumped to the
roof, but now could not figure out how to get back to
the tree to shimmy down. Instead, he was
attempting to jump, putting himself in the gutter,
then out, then back in, then out. The six of us
were like a group of fire fighters without a net,
looking up and yelling "Don't jump."
With best, albeit clichéd, intentions the girl in the
group -- and the owner of the cat --
asked if she should call the fire department to
retrieve her "Mr. Gray." Well, they do have very
tall ladders, but I don't know if they'll find this an
important enough emergency to rouse a crew
at 11:30 at night. She called anyway but was told that
they don't do that kind of work. It's a
shame, too, because their station is only a few blocks
So we were left to our own devices. I went to the tree
and tried to coax Mr. Gray to jump
back to it and shimmy down. Right. He all but shook
his head and waved off that idea. Then I
went to the other side of the apartment building and
noticed that there were two other buildings
next door. One was a shed of sorts, about 8 high, and
it butted up against another building with a
roofline about 4 or 5 feet higher.
The way up to get Mr. Gray
At first sight, I figured he could actually jump from
the highest rooftop to the second
highest one, then spring to the lower shed roof where
we could reach him. I started calling him
and he actually ran up the roof, crossed the peak, and
came down the other side. I tried to
indicate in my best cat mannerisms that he should jump
to the lower roof. But in true animal
manner, as I pointed to the next tallest building Mr.
Gray just stared at my finger. Even though
he did glance at the second rooftop a few times, it
was obvious that he thought the jump to be too
risky. I kept looking at the roofs, Mr. Gray, and the
kids. Then I had an idea.
They watched as I went back next door and got my
smaller, 6-foot ladder. I put it against
the shed and looked back for a volunteer. A kid (also
named Gary) came forth, and I suggested,
"Climb up on the roof of this shed, then jump up on
the roof of the building next to it. I'll hand
the ladder up to you. Stand it up and see if you can
reach the roof of the apartment." Before I
could ask, "Got it?" he was already up the ladder and
on the shed roof. He pulled himself up to
the second rooftop and reached down as I handed him my
He stood the ladder up on the second roof and gingerly
reached for the gutter of the
apartment building. Contact! The others watched in
anticipation as he called to Mr. Gray, who
willingly came to him. But as he grabbed hold of him,
claws seemed to magnetically attach to
the shingles. Gary pulled and tugged but fearing for
his own safety let go. If he lost his balance it
would mean an instant 20-foot drop onto a concrete
sidewalk, although his fall possibly could be
broken by a spiked metal hurricane fence.
Gary let go, and Mr. Gray bolted just out of reach.
Gary called more, "Here kitty, come
here. Come on, boy." Still out of reach. "Here Mr.
Gray! Come here! GET OVER HERE!" It
was nearly midnight, the mosquitoes were in full
force, and the cat was not cooperating in his
rescue. "Stop yelling at him," another boy called.
"You'll just scare him!" Gary told us that he
couldn't get the cat to let go of the roof, and that
he didn't want to fall tugging on him.
He kept calling, in a nicer tone and Mr. Gray came
back to him, obviously wanting to be
saved, but in a gentle manner. Gary grabbed the first
thing he could reach -- a leg (bad idea) --
and started pulling. Like a spider on a fly, Mr. Gray
clung to the gutter and no amount of tugging
was going to release him. Gary evidently didn't know
about the mother-carrying trick so I told
him, "Grab the scruff of his neck and he'll be
paralyzed." He looked at me in confusion until
someone else explained, "The back of his neck." Kids.
The next time the cat got within reach Gary grabbed
him by the scruff and sure enough,
Mr. Gray balled up as if he were being carried by his
momma. In obvious amazement, Gary
handed Mr. Gray down the ladder to the girl who owned
him, then threw his arms up Rocky-
style and gave a brief victory dance. They jumped down
to the second rooftop and handed me the
ladder. I positioned it on the ground for them, and
then climbed down with an obviously thankful
and strikingly beautiful young Korat, similar to my
As we all walked down the street, Mr. Gray bounced and
pranced along with us -- tail high in the air, and quite a spring to his step.
Mr. Gray, relaxing and fine after his rooftop adventure
Gary Michael Smith is a writer,editor, publisher and
cat lover in New Orleans. He can be reached at
a URL that translates into Cajun French as "gray cat."