Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gus: The Theatre Cat

When I was little, I used to love hearing my dad read poems from T.S. Elliot’s collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  These are the poems the musical, Cats uses as its text, but in my opinion, they’re much better read as bedtime stories, particularly when it’s my dad doing the reading.  We especially loved to recite “Macavity, Macavity there’s no one like Macavity...” Dad would put in funny voices for all the characters that spoke (his old man voice is hilarious) and the illustrations by Edward Gorey (if you watch Masterpiece Mystery, you’re familiar with his work) are delightful. 

What has this to do with anything?  Well, one of the poems is called “Gus: The Theatre Cat.”  And when I adopted a cat from the shelter yesterday, there was only one name suitable for him.  Asparagus, or Gus, for short. (In the poem, you see, Elliot explains that Gus’s real name is “Asparagus” but that’s such a fuss/to pronounce that we usually call him just Gus.)

My Gus, the theatre cat even has a bit of an air of an Edward Gorey illustration about him.  He’s all black except for striking yellow eyes and two white whiskers on the right side of his face.  The whiskers, in particular, give him a certain... Gorey-ness.
Gus: The Theatre Cat

I have been contemplating adopting a cat for a long time.  I started thinking about it almost as soon as I found out I had been accepted to UT Austin.  I had to do some real thinking and planning, though, to make sure I could financially and emotionally support a cat.  Now that I have, I already couldn’t imagine life without him (I’ve had him for two days.)

The final deciding factor was finding out about the program Austin Pets Alive!, an animal rescue service that takes cats from the local shelters’ euthanasia lists, boards them in kennels and foster care, and adopts them out to worthy families.  Pets Alive! is an incredibly supportive adoption facility, and as a new pet owner, I feel so confident knowing I can contact their animal behaviorist with questions free of charge.  They even pay for all of Gus’s shots, his neuter surgery, a microchip, and a month’s worth of pet insurance (which will be useful, as I was considering getting pet insurance, and this will be a great way to try it out.)   They are a really, really great adoption service and I’m proud to have supported their efforts. 

Gus is adjusting extremely well to his new home.  So far, there has been an almost suspicious lack of problems.  He uses his litter box just fine (even manages to be a relatively tidy litter user in spite of the fact that he has to spend 15 minutes interior decorating before each poo), he hasn’t scratched the furniture, doors, walls, or floor, and he isn’t too much of a nuisance at night.  He likes to be near people, following me around the house (occasionally yowling to let me know I’m not paying proper attention to him).  He’s not a lap cat, but he’s sleeping right next to me while I write this.  He’s absolutely wild about chasing bits of string.  I bought him one of those sticks with a feather at the end, and we happily played with it together for a solid hour and a half (and only stopped because I got tired.)  I think my strategy to keep him entertained while I’m doing homework will be to balance his feather toy on the couch next to me so it dangles down and he can bat at it to his heart’s content without feeling neglected.

That's all for now. I’m sure in the future there will be many more Gus stories.  He’s the only thing I talk about right now.  I’m trying hard not to be annoying about it.  Maybe this will get it all out of my system... Probably not.

Gus: The Theatre Cat
Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before,

Is really Asparagus. But that's such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.

His coat's very shabby, he's thin as a rake,

And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.

Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats--
But no longer a terror to mice and to rats.
For he isn't the Cat that he was in his prime;

Though his name was quite famous, he says, in its time.

And whenever he joins his friends at their club
(Which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub)
He loves to regale them, if someone else pays,

With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days.
For he once was a Star of the highest degree--

He has acted with Irving, he's acted with Tree.
And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,

Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.

But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,

Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.

"I have played," so he says, "every possible part,

And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.
I'd extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,
And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag.

I knew how to act with my back and my tail;

With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.
I'd a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,

Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.
I have sat by the bedside of poor Little Nell;

When the Curfew was rung, then I swung on the bell.

In the Pantomime season I never fell flat,

And I once understudied Dick Whittington's Cat.

But my grandest creation, as history will tell,

Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."

Then, if someone will give him a toothful of gin,

He will tell how he once played a part in East Lynne.

At a Shakespeare performance he once walked on pat,

When some actor suggested the need for a cat.

He once played a Tiger--could do it again--

Which an Indian Colonel purused down a drain.

And he thinks that he still can, much better than most,
Produce blood-curdling noises to bring on the Ghost.

And he once crossed the stage on a telegraph wire,

To rescue a child when a house was on fire.

And he says: "Now then kittens, they do not get trained

As we did in the days when Victoria reigned.

They never get drilled in a regular troupe,
And they think they are smart, just to jump through a hoop."
And he'll say, as he scratches himself with his claws,
"Well, the Theatre's certainly not what it was.

These modern productions are all very well,

But there's nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,

That moment of mystery

When I made history

As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."

note: If you like this poem, be sure to check out Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats!


  1. You could go on about him forever, and I'm pretty sure most of us wouldn't mind. Nay, we *expect* it. <3

  2. Aw...thanks for the shout-out. I love reading those poems. And if I were to read "Gus" now, I think I'd add a thoroughly outrageous Scottish brogue to the last line of each stanza...with a good long trill on each of the Rs.

    The old man voice (I tried to make him as feeble and toothless as possible) came into play for "Old Deuteronomy."

    I hope Gus lives up to the glory of his name. He's off to a good start.