February 29
I've worked for a big multi-national, lived abroad for several years, travelled a lot, now in politics. Married once but separated; no kids. Generally utilitarian except for minority rights.

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AUGUST 24, 2011 8:26AM

Life Before Quitting - Out of the Cathouse…

Rate: 18 Flag

NOTE: This was getting too long so I’d broken into two parts.  Then I got stuck on the "after" part.  And since this had been hanging around for several days...


          I needed a break after second year.  University was passing too fast, I wanted to move to another campus and live in residence and I needed money.  So I quit college, but the quitting of the Open Call comes later.

          I would have taken anything.  And that’s what was on offer.  A groundskeeper at this huge mansion (is there any other kind?) and feeding the cats.  I could start right away and the pay was OK (take that! Poetess Scarlett).  At least it would put bread on the table and beer in the fridge while I looked for something better.

          It didn’t take long to sense I was walking into something weird.  There was already a groundskeeper but five minutes into my arrival, Mrs. M confided that she planned to fire him later that week.  As I got to know the soon to be departed Ralph, he told me she’d already fired three before him that year and it was only June.  If he realized the writing was on his wall too, he kept it to himself.

          The outside job was OK; plenty of fresh air and some exercise.  Inside was something else, and those cats!  They were some special breed similar to Persians.  Mrs. M put them in shows.  All 18 of them.  I had reckoned that feeding the cats would be about 5 minutes a day.  You know, open a can of something, slop it in a bowl or two and get back to mowing and raking.  But nooooo.

          There were three bedrooms in the basement.  One housed two cats and the others three.  These cats were not allowed out except for shows.  So their kitty-litter boxes were part of my job.  Another five had the run of the ground floor.  That was more liberty than I was allowed as the living room was off-limits to me.  Another three lived in Mrs. M’s upstairs bedroom and two more lived in an upstairs bathroom.  I wasn’t allowed on that level.

          And forget about the cans.  These cats needed chopped up beef hearts, kidneys and liver.  Mrs. M showed me how.  She could dissect those organs into little kitty bits in the time it took me to slice an apple.  As she noted.  And remarked upon.  Rather too scornfully and excitedly if you ask me.  But no way in hell did I want those little beasties to acquire the taste of human fingertip.

          So it was half a day in the yard and half tending to the cats.  That was half tolerable.  Mrs. M was always on the lookout for things that went wrong, once had gone wrong, could go wrong, or went wrong in the parallel universe she alone had access to.  Outside I got rebuked for my lazy lawn-cutting ways.  By doing one strip north-to-south, and following it by a parallel strip couth-to-north, I was causing alternating strips of grass to grow in different directions.  What would the neighbors say?  Not that she’d know as she had suspicions of them all.  But they might think.  To forestall that vexation it had to be north-to-south all the time.  Which meant dragging the mower back 50 yards after every strip.

          To liven up things indoors, one day I accidently left ajar one of the three downstairs bedrooms.  Fortunately Mrs. M was out.  But so too were three downstairs cats.  I immediately realized my error when I got upstairs and found seven, or was it eight, cats roaming around.  YIKES!!!! 


          And I’d defy anyone aside from Mrs. M to tell them apart.  Steady now.  Two were slightly smaller.  One of them came from downstairs.  So I had a 50% chance on the little guy and, let’s see, a (5x4)/2, yikes again, a 1 in 10 chance of getting the precise configuration on the big guys.  Altogether, a 5% chance of guessing right.  Versus a 100% chance of shrill vilification should I confess my sin.  As a philosophy major with a B+ in Symbolic Logic and Statistics, I couldn’t help pondering the moral and logical possibilities of the situation.  But I never arrived at a conclusion as Mrs. M’s return interrupted a most promising train of thought.

          She suddenly opened the door and a cat (one of those newly liberated basement varmints I guessed) bolted.  “Chisholm” she screeched.  (I should have mentioned that the cats were thematically named.  The basement critters had a Western motif – Dodge, Abilene, Clementine, Chisholm and a couple of others, plus one Beatrice.  Was she the lone survivor of a near extinct troupe of Benedick, Malvolio, Shylock, Falstaff?).

          Chisholm paused and looked as startled as a cat can be.  The fool had evidently failed to consider that a rabid banshee was about.  In his befuddled state he was easily rounded up, by Mrs. M.  She instantly identified Abilene and a sidekick and shooed them downstairs.  And then expounded on the near, yet still possibly extant calamity I had visited on their delicate feline psyches.  And observed that closing a door shut really wasn’t the difficult, WAS IT?

          I should mention the supporting cast.  Mr. M travelled a lot, mostly to Japan which was about as far away as I’d want to be in his shoes.  I only saw him twice in two months.  He was bald, fat, taciturn and always reading the paper.  Looked about ten years older than Mrs. M but I bet they’d started out even on their wedding day.  He and the cats kept a mutually satisfactory distance.

          Then there was Mrs. Stevens.  She was an occasional maid.  I had wondered why they didn’t have one.  In fact they’d had several but none lasted more than a few months.  According to Mrs. Stevens (call me Helen), the agency wouldn’t send any more.  Helen herself had been sacked a couple of years ago.  She was in her sixties, lived alone and I gathered Mrs. M. had implored her to return when the agency put up the No Sale sign.  Helen almost seemed to like the snide remarks as it got her out of the house.  She only got paid for a couple of half days a week but showed up for four (well, Mrs. M needs someone and doesn’t realize she’s her own worst enemy).  Hmm, they mustn’t have got to my ballot yet.

          And there was Wonderful Jimmie.  He was a rotund smoothie oozing sympathy for Mrs. M’s struggles in an uncaring, inept world.  He was the only groundsman/cat whisperer who’d never been sacked.  He wore his hair like Lumpy from Leave It To Beaver (and hey!  this was the 70s!) which probably contrasted with my putative Rick Wakeman look.  Wonderful Jimmie dropped in every couple of weeks to fuss over the childless Mrs. M and coo to her cats.  He'd always ask “And how is Princess (one of Mrs. M`s bedroom beasts)?” but only after he’d heard Mrs. M mention the creature’s name.




          rick wakeman


          A walk-on was an unnamed neighbour who was trimming her hedge as I turned off the mower to walk it back to the northern starting point.  We chatted briefly.  Back at the northern boundary Mrs. M was summoning me.  “Don’t talk to her” she admonished.  “She’s always spying on me.”

          I’d realized early on that my days were numbered, probably in double digits.  The blow-up came one Thursday when I was asked to clear out all the growth between the patio stones.  Easy enough, or so I thought.  Mrs. M demonstrated.  An hour later I was halfway through when Mrs. M came to inspect.  No worries; nothing remained between those stones.  Oops.  “You cleared out the moss!” she screamed.

          “You told me to clean out between the stones”.

          “You never remove moss!!!”

          “You didn’t say to keep the moss”.

          Ha! I was edging her in the argument but she was holding trump.

          “No one removes moss.  How about if I just write out your last paycheck now”.


          She looked startled and stammered around about how she didn’t have her checks, how she had to go to the bank etc etc.  I said I wanted the check.  “Can you come back Tuesday night?”

          Tuesday night I returned for my check.  I was invited in.  There were four young Japanese women sitting in the antechamber.  Mrs. M was all friendly and whispered that Japanese work very hard and she was interviewing for a maid+cat-carer.  Wonderful Jimmie had north-southed the lawn before I got there.  She’d almost finished the check when I heard that familiar screech.  One of the Japanese girls had blundered into the living room.  Keep that resumé handy kiddo. 

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I wasn’t so bold as it seems. A few days earlier I’d had an interview that went exceedingly well. While I hadn’t yet been offered the job, it came a day after I quit. And no offense to the OS cat lovers. But this must be why I don’t quite share your enthusiasm.
Seems like a dream job at first, right? Groundskeeper + cat feeder at a mansion. Perfect for a Rick Wakeman type of dude. Mrs. M was clearly a difficult woman. Funny line about Mr. M and her starting out at the same age!
This sounds like the beginning of a script for a new Bill Murray movie. Funny. How did you survive?

Thanks for this post.
Hah, great story! I used to do home improvement for older women and they lie and cheat and tell you they told you one thing when you know they told you something else. I had to get out of the business before I killed one with a vase or something!
Entertaining, clever writing! They are many odd people out there. The poor hubby--glad you escaped. I could only imagine the smell around the place, it had to have been unreal! This was fun to read.
You went to college and they never told you about moss???!!! Don't you remember Spinoza's famous dictum, "Always leave the moss"?

Very funny and well told. I love the Lumpy and Wakeman pics as well. I feel your pain.

from a noted cat, dog and generally any animal greeter
I cannot believe you did not know about the moss. I am going to look it up. At least, you kept your sanity. Funny post. R
This was just great! Love the line too about Mr. & Mrs. M starting at the same age. I can laugh at extreme cat people, because I know I will never be one :) I hope. If I keep rereading this, I may be saved. The Lumpy & Wakeman photos are icing on a very yummy cake here, Abrawang.
Scarlett – You said it, or under-said it about Mrs. M. Direct evidence that money can buy exotic cats but neither guarantees happiness.

Mary – I’ll let you know if Mr. Murray’s representatives contact me. Like Billy Preston, according to Mick Jagger, I’m not up for grabs but am open to offers. Survival was aided by being able to tell my pals that I was getting paid to work in a cathouse. They must have been relieved when it came to an end.

Hey scanner – you didn’t go by thename of Ralph back in the days? Looking forward to your blog on the same.

Dr. Spud – Thanks for the comment. It would have smelled worse had I not been so diligent with the kitty litter.

blu – I didn’t get to Spinoza till junior year. Live and learn as they say. I still cherish his Mossman Prophecies.

dunniteowl – thanks for the comment. Can you actually get cats to greet you back? The ones I fed never even greeted me with anticipation. More like a “What kept you?” attitude.

Seer – It was one of those life episodes much better enjoyed in retrospect.

Thoth – Ever since I avoid moss like others steer clear of cracks in the sidewalk.

dirndl – I’m relieved that you’ll never become one of those cat ladies. While I was aiming for Wakeman’s locks, the gaudy cape was never quite my style.
Oh, this is a most delightful post! I am most amused by the "thematic naming" of the cats, and Chisholm in particular. No offense taken - as a cat lover. :o)

Hi Fusun. Looks like we just cross-commented. The theming was but one of Mrs. M's many quirks. I wish I'd taken notes at the time as I'm sure there are other oddities forever lost in the mists.
While I unquestionably loved this, Abra — and was weeping with laughter over the Lumpy/Wakeman contrast, both visual and textual — I was also shuddering through big chunks of it too, as this type of behaviour is unfortunately all too familiar to me. Not in the specifics of the situation, of course, but in having to work for a clearly mentally unhealthy person who makes the lives of those who work under or with them a daily gauntlet of soul-destroying stress and horror. Unfortunately for me, I really needed each of the jobs, and simply walking away would have meant giving up a whole future career path, although I did shift someone more sane at my earliest opportunities and in several cases enacted revenge in the process when I could.

While these stories are hilarious to tell well after the fact, they are anything but funny while you’re living them. You may not have set out to do so, but this story crystalizes the lose/lose dynamic of a situation wherein someone has mental distress that is not being addressed, which can’t make for a very happy life for said person, while innocent people around them receive heaps of abuse, taking its inevitable toll (i.e., the 10 years older husband).
Various - you make me blush. I hadn't thought of Mrs. M in terms of mental illness but these days I'm sure she'd be diagnosed with something. You're right about its taking a toll. I've often wondered what the neighbors thought. I was only there for a couple of months and in the full resilience of youth so didn't suffer greatly. But i was glad to get out of there. Great pic of Wakeman isn't it.
Hahahaha! This is quite a cast of characters! You could really write a great fiction story based on your experience. They are all larger than life!
Thanks Susie. There's a more ambitious TRUE STORY I've been chipping away at for months. But it keeps sprawling around and I expect I'll be struggling for a few more.
ONL - idle, true enough. But they kept me and many others employed for brief periods of time. Then there's the unquantifiable societal benefit of enabling 18 exotic cats to enter shows. You don't get that from the working poor.
Comic gold. I've always wondered what goes on behind mansion walls, and suspected it was something like you describe. Some real messed up stuff!
Glad you enjoyed it Bellwether. I had tons more fun writing it than living it. An illuminating glimpse at the other side.