Saturday, April 16, 2011

John Harold and the Cats

 John Harold Allen was and still is one the nicest and most easygoing people I will ever know. He is over six feet tall with a stocky build. To look at him one would never think he would be afraid of any man or domesticated animal. Wrong! When I think of a snake it sends shivers up and down my spine. John Harold would get the same feeling when he encountered the sneakiest and most worthless of any species: the cat. As a result the rest of his "good friends" never passed on an opportunity to arrange a meeting between John Harold and an unsuspecting cat.
During our sophomore year at Stephen F. Austin Paul and I shared a trailer while John Harold, Eugene and Charlie rented one in another trailer park a few miles away. We saw them almost daily and stopped by their trailer several times a week. With the three of them under one roof something was always going on.
I remember driving up one day to discover Eugene and Charlie laughing uncontrollably. John Harold was cussing and threatening them. The evening before Eugene had grabbed a neighborhood cat that happened to be strolling by and took it inside the trailer. Naturally John Harold was disturbed when Eugene walked through the door holding a cat. Eugene stroked the cat and said he had found them a new pet. John Harold told him there was no way in hell they were going to have a cat. Eugene kept it up for half an hour just to irritate him. He would take the cat to the door like he was going to put it out, only to change his mind and bring it back inside. John Harold was getting more nervous and upset by the second. Eugene finally put the cat out, but he said he might go get it again after John Harold went to bed. John Harold finally went to bed with Eugene and Charlie threatening to go get the cat.
Early the next morning Charlie got the water hose from behind the trailer and brought it inside. He managed to push one end under the couch where John Harold slept without waking him up. It was a two bedroom tornado magnet, so John Harold slept on the couch, which was at least a foot too short. He took the other end of the hose down the hall and into his bedroom. He began making weird cat noises into the end of the hose. The noises coming from under John Harold's bed were strange to say the least. It took a couple of minutes for him to wake up. Charlie and Eugene weren't sure what his reaction would be. Eugene was in the hallway trying to sneak a peak. About the time he was close enough to see into the bedroom the door flew open and John Harold came running out at top speed with a wild look on his face. Eugene jumped back and avoided a collision. John Harold continued his escape and went out the  door and into the yard. Eugene followed him out, asking him what was wrong.
John Harold was still wild eyed and shaking. He yelled, "May, I'm going to kill you! That damn cat is having kittens under my bed!"
Charlie came to the door and asked what was going on. John Harold told him about the cat having kittens under the couch. Charlie asked John Harold to show him, but John Harold refused to go back in there until the cat and the kittens were thrown out. After a few minutes they finally coaxed him back in the trailer. Only then did John Harold notice the water hose running through the door and under the couch. He glared at them and made a few threats, then returned to his room.
The following fall Paul transferred to Texas A&M. Eugene, Charlie, John Harold and I rented an apartment together within easy walking distance of the campus. There were two bedrooms. John Harold and I shared a room. After living with Eugene and Charlie for two semesters he didn't want to room with either of them.
For the first three or four weeks John Harold caught a break. We were all busy getting used to our classes, and with our varying schedules we didn't see one another much except at night. The apartment manager and his wife lived in the apartment below us, so for a little while we tried to take it easy and not get off on the wrong foot with them.
When we first moved in we went down the street to Krogers for some groceries. The store was located at the bottom of a hill and we were parked at the top of the lot. We bought our usual supply of Mission Cola and TV dinners. We unloaded our stash into Eugene's car and then argued over who would take the cart back down the hill to the store. The cart corrals were all near the front of the building. As we were discussing it, the cart started rolling down the hill on its own. There were no cars in the immediate path. We watched as it sped down the hill, hoping to see it crash into the side of the store. Three-quarters of the way it took a turn to the right and headed straight for the one car in the immediate vicinity. Just as the cart slammed squarely into the driver's door we jumped into our car and sped away.
Misson Cola was so cheap it became one of the staples of our diet. We had a large bare wall in the dining room of the apartment. Immediately after moving in someone decided to start stacking the empty cans along the base of the wall in the dining room. We all followed suit, and in no time there was an impressive tin-can wall starting to form. We all started drinking more colas just to have more cans to put on the wall. Before we had been there a month the wall was completely covered with cans. We began to notice people stopping outside of our window and staring at our can tin-can mountain.
One evening after the wall had been filled up the apartment manager came to our door to complain about noise. That particular night we had no idea what he was whining about. We hadn't been playing music and the television wasn't on. Eugene answered the door, and for some reason he was in a bad mood. The manager started to bitch when Eugene cut him off and told him we weren't doing a thing, and he had better leave us alone. The manager noticed the wall of cans and asked him what it was. Eugene said, "It's a bunch of tin cans! What in the hell does it look like?" The manager nervously walked away.
A few minutes later we filled the oven with a variety of TV dinners for supper. Shortly afterward smoke began to pour from the oven and fill the apartment. John Harold had forgotten to take his dinner out of the cardboard box and it was on fire. It was pulled out of the oven and the flames extinguished. Things then returned to normal.
When the dinners were done we all cracked open a can of Mission Cola and sat around the table to eat. John Harold was sitting in front of the wall of cans. After a few minutes he yawned and stretched his arms above his head and backward. He accidentally dislodged one can and it hit the floor beside his chair. We all looked up to see what would happen next. Slowly at first, one can after another began to fall from the top of the stack near the ceiling and crash to the floor. After a minute they began to fall more rapidly, then finally they fell in large groups. The last thirty seconds produced some loud crashes.
Ten seconds after the last can hit the floor the apartment manager was banging on our door. Eugene opened it and glared at him. He looked past Eugene and saw the rest of us sitting at the table eating supper with tin cans piled all around us. Before he could get out a complaint Eugene got in his face and asked, "Didn't we give you our phone number?"
As Eugene crowded him even more he said, "Yes, I have it."
Eugene scowled and said, "If you have anything to say to us you can use the phone. I don't want to see you up here!"
The manager slinked out the door and down the stairs. He never complained to us again.
John Harold probably thought his days of feline torment were over. Charlie and Eugene seemed to be too busy to bother him, and I never liked cats either. That all changed one night when I returned from the library.
I opened the door and saw Charlie carrying a large cat down the hall toward the room I shared with John Harold. He looked back in shock until he saw it was me. He had been walking across the parking lot when he spotted a cat. He grabbed it and was about to toss it in our bedroom. I wasn't crazy about having a strange cat in my room, but knowing it would freak out John Harold made it worth it.
Eugene got home about that time. We all sat down and waited for John Harold to return. The cat was roaming around the room and would occasionally scratch on the door and meow loudly. It was getting more upset by the minute. I hoped it wouldn't crap on anything; especially anything of mine.
John Harold walked in with an armload of books. We were all watching as he walked down the hall. The door to the bedroom was normally left open, so when he found it closed he looked back suspiciously. "There better not be a cat in here!" he said.
When he opened the door the frightened the cat screamed and flew by him. John Harold yelled and jumped straight up in the air. Luckily Charlie had opened the front door a couple of seconds before John Harold opened the bedroom door. The cat sped past us and out the door. It almost didn't make the turn on the balcony.
John Harold came stomping out and he was as mad as a hornet. I didn't say a word as he started in on Eugene and Charlie. Since we roomed together I didn't want him to know I knew anything about it.
With a final threat he went back to his car to bring in some groceries. Eugene walked to the door as John Harold went down the stairs. I heard Eugene say, "I can't believe it!" Then he came back inside carrying another cat!
Since John Harold was still mad, Eugene didn't want to risk getting his ass kicked. He asked me to get John Harold to go with me to Shipley's Doughnuts while he decided what to do with the cat. I met John Harold in the parking lot and said I was going to get some doughnuts. John Harold would never turn down an invitation to the doughnut shop. I didn't know what the plan was, but I knew it would be a good one.
John Harold and I spent the next hour at Shipley’s eating doughnuts and listening to the jukebox. He spent quite a bit of the time bitching about Eugene and Charlie starting up with the cats again and what he ought to do to them. He had been up since early that morning and was ready to get back to the apartment and go to bed.
I was a little hesitant to open the door when we arrived at the apartment, but things seemed to be pretty much back to normal. Charlie and Eugene were watching tv and didn't even look up when we walked in. John Harold said he was going to bed. He went into our room and shut the door. Five minutes later he was snoring.
As soon as he shut the door I asked, "What did you do with the cat?"
Eugene said, "I put the cat out half an hour ago. Let John Harold sleep about an hour and then we will scare the shit out of him." He wouldn't give me more details.
We finished watching the Cowboys and Redskins on Monday Night Football. Eugene reached under the couch and pulled out an eight-track tape. He and Charlie started laughing and finally let me in on the joke.
John Harold had a state-of-the-art eight-track tape player and recorder set up in our room. He had speakers positioned in all four corners, and when the volume was very much above the lowest setting it would produce enough sound to bring the apartment manager running and possibly the police. It would record better than anything the rest of us had, and the sound quality was excellent.
As soon as we had left for the doughnut shop Eugene brought the second cat into the apartment. When the cat realized it was in a confined area and couldn't escape it became very vocal. That gave him an idea.
While Eugene was on cat control duty Charlie found a blank tape and put in John Harold's eight-track. He hooked up the dual microphones and put them under the sheets on John Harold's bed. He then called for Eugene and the pissed off and frightened cat.
Eugene brought the cat into the room and tossed him under the top sheet on the bed. Quickly they tucked in the sheet all the way around the bed to trap the cat. Charlie hit the RECORD button on the eight-track. The cat was in the middle of the bed with very little room to move, and the two microphones were right next to him. Eugene and Charlie then began to shake the mattress violently and the cat began to scream. This continued for three or four minutes until they stopped for fear of the cat ripping the sheets apart and attacking them, or even worse, crapping on the bed. They turned off the recorder, wrapped the cat up in the sheet and took it to the alley behind the apartments and set it free. The cat left the neighborhood and was never seen again by any of us.
After John Harold was snoring loud enough to shake the walls, it was time to act. Charlie crawled into the bedroom on his stomach and made his way to the tape player. Quietly he inserted the tape, turned on the system and cranked up the volume. The first minute or so was blank to give him time to get out of the room before the commotion began.
We stood outside of the door and waited. All of us were back about three feet in case John Harold came charging through the door, so he wouldn't run over us or knock the hell out of us. In a matter of moments the tape started playing.
They had tried to tell me what an eerie and crazed sound the cat had made, but it was something that had to be heard to be fully appreciated. I can't imagine a more painful and anguished sound if they had put the cat's balls in a vise and started slowly clamping down on them. To someone with a deathly fear of cats it was sheer terror.
We heard John Harold's feet hit the floor about five seconds after the tape started. He was banging into things in the dark and we heard several serious crashes. He finally found the light switch. He turned the light on with one hand and grabbed a baseball bat with the other. Only then did he realize the screaming and moaning was coming from the tape player. He grabbed the tape from the slot and threw it against the wall as hard as he could. We turned and ran into the living room and took positions near the door in case we had to leave the apartment quickly.
John Harold never came out of the room, but he yelled several threats to Charlie and Eugene. He didn't find out until several days later that the cat had been under his sheets for several minutes. If he had known that at the time there would have been a fight. Just to be safe I decided to sleep on the couch that night.
This happened in the fall of 1973. Thirty years later I was living in Tyler, Texas. One morning I drove down to Crockett and stopped by John Harold's shop and visited with him for a few minutes. I hadn't seen him in years and he hadn't changed much. Naturally the subject of cats came up within the first five minutes, and I asked if he was still bothered by them?
He said, "Actually I have twenty-five cats in the barn to keep the mice under control. As long as they stay back there everything is fine. If they ever come up to the house I will shoot them." Same old John Harold.

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