Cats and Rats: Hold Your Breath

My new book “Pass the Nuts” is now available. Here’s a sample from the book—taken from Chapter 30.

I never had a problem with cats until a Siamese thought I was a hot lunch in 1970. I was visiting friends on Lake Avenue in Lakewood when I noticed a Siamese cat in the corner of their living room staring at me, giving me the evil eye. “Here’s something to stare at,” I thought. I scratched the back of the chair. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. His glare intensified. I smiled to myself. That will drive the cat crazy, I mused.

I turned back to the conversation with my arm draped over the back of the stuffed living room chair and I forgot about the cat. I neither saw that feline creep toward me nor heard its velvet paws glide across the Oriental rug. Suddenly it struck like a viper. I snapped my head around to see the cat clinging to the back of the chair by its claws with its four incisors dug deep into my flesh, through skin, through muscle, almost to the bone. The attack lasted only a cat-like wink. He let go and bounded away, licking the blood off his lips.

My hosts were horrified. “No need,” I said. “It’s just a little nip.” I took out my handkerchief and wiped away the blood from the four puncture wounds in my arm. I kept dabbing at them until they stopped bleeding. The holes in my arm healed quickly and I forgot about the attack.

Several months later I was visiting my sister, who was excited to show me her new kitten. It was a Siamese.

“Give your Uncle Dan a kiss,” she playfully said, holding the kitten against my face.

It was as though that cat was radioactive and I was a Geiger counter. I broke out in hives. My nose started to run like a spigot. My throat tightened up. I couldn’t swallow. From that moment I was allergic to cats. The medical diagnosis was that the saliva from the Siamese cat had entered my bloodstream and activated a latent allergy.

For the next 40 years I could walk into a house and within less than a minute tell you if they had one cat or multiple cats. Indoors or outdoors, it was the same. I could talk to somebody on the street and I knew. Their cat’s dander would be on their clothes.

At an Indians opening game I turned around and said to the woman behind me, “You look like a cat lover. How many cats do you have?”

“I have three cats,” she said proudly.

I knew that. That’s how it went for four decades.

On May 20, 1976, the Cleveland baseball writers honored our Indians’ Man of the Year at a small dinner party with a couple of informal speeches at Swingo’s Keg and Quarter at E. 18th St. and Euclid Ave. Considerable drinking was involved. I went at it pretty good that night. When the party broke up it was off to the Theatrical Grill for one more. I persuaded our sports cartoonist Dick Dugan and his wife, Jean, to join me.

So we had one more at the Theatrical and when they blinked the lights at closing, I insisted that we needed another one. Across the street a cheap joint called The Seven-Thirty Lounge was still open.

The Seven-Thirty Lounge turned out to be a dirty go-go bar with a tired, disinterested dancer gyrating on a raised platform behind the bar. We had barely sat down at the bar when my throat got tight, I couldn’t swallow and my nose started running.

My computer-like mind, fueled by Budweiser and Drambuie, solved this case in a wink.

“Do you have cats?” I asked the bartender.

He ignored me. I asked him again.

“Do you have cats?”

He paid no attention.

I knew they kept cats in the bar and I knew why. They probably had rats. They probably had rats as big as cats. So I moved on to the next question.

“Do you have rats?” I said.

I was polite. I merely wanted confirmation. I knew he heard me but he said nothing, which annoyed me. Even the go-go dancer was now listening. I was out of patience. I turned sarcastic.

“Hey, Mr. Katz,” I said. “Do you have rats?”

I asked him twice more. “Mr. Katz, do you have rats?”

Now he was annoyed and he started to make a move toward the end of the bar. I knew what was happening. He was going for a gun. Many downtown bartenders working alone late at night had guns stashed behind the bar. If he got his gun, we were all in danger because he was one angry bartender. I had lured Dick Dugan and his wife into a shootout. I had to prevent the bartender from reaching his gun.

In a flash, I was off my stool, on my feet and around the corner of the bar. As he reached for it, I grabbed him and dragged him from behind the bar out into the open where we began fist-fighting. I was down. He was down. We were bouncing up and down like tennis balls. The go-go dancer stopped dancing. Dick Dugan and his wife watched in awe. They had never been out drinking with me before and they certainly would never make that mistake again, if they lived. This entire plan was not going well. He broke loose. He ran behind the bar. He got it and he let loose. “Crack. Crack. Crack.” I threw my right arm up defensively and it stung my hand and forearm.

But it wasn’t a gun. It was a whip. He kept a whip back there and he knew how to use it. He came out like a lion tamer flailing away with the whip. I tried to get inside and lay a few punches on him, but the whip kept me away.

I picked up a chair, a cheap, old-fashioned cane chair. The chair was light and I could use it as a shield against the whip and I also tried to hit him in the head with it. But he was more skillful with the whip than I was with the chair. Blows landed were probably two to one in his favor.

This couldn’t go on all night, him with the whip and me with the chair. It was time to go. I motioned for Dick Dugan and Jean to go for the door. They made their escape. I threw the chair at the bartender and followed them out into the warm May night. I didn’t really expect them to say, “Thanks for a wonderful evening,” but I didn’t expect Mrs. Dugan to be crying like that. I’m sure she felt better in the morning.

The next day I had to throw away my light-colored tan sports coat and pants. Dirt from the floor was permanently ground into the knees and elbows. I guess I was up and down a few times.

I never went back to that bar. It was out of business and vacant a year later. I wasn’t surprised. It was dirty, it had rats, the bartender was rude and the customers had to fight their way out of the joint.

Excerpted from the book Pass the Nuts, copyright © Dan Coughlin. All rights reserved.

This excerpt may not be used in any form for commercial purposes without the written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.

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