Cat’s on the Roof and He Won’t Come Down

My father told two jokes that I remember, though he was devoted to the practical joke as an art form, with particular fondness for April Fools’ Day. One of the jokes he liked to tell, or told once, or I’m pretty sure he told once, maybe, was about a guy who went out of town on vacation for the first time in a long time, and left his brother as a house and pet sitter.
After just a couple of days, the guy on vacation calls his brother to check in, “Hey, how’s everything?” or something like that.
The brother’s like, “Oh, shit, man, your cat died.”
“WHAT!?!” says the guy. “Died! What are you doing, going and ruining my vacation and telling me the cat died?! Now I’m gonna be upset the whole trip, I’m gonna have to tell the wife and the kids why I’m upset, and they’ll get even more upset, and it’s all because of you! First vacation I’ve taken in years and you’ve ruined it! Man, you gotta learn to manage the information, you know?”
The brother, he doesn’t know.
“Manage the information! It goes like this,“ says the guy. “It makes no difference if I know exactly when the cat died. I’m on vacation! You can feed out the bad news a little at a time, see? Like breaking it to me slowly, like that. I call today, you say, ‘Oh, the cat’s on the roof and he won’t come down.’ I worry, but not a lot. I call back in a couple days and you say, ‘Cat fell off the roof, he’s at the vet, we don’t know if he’ll make it.’ Like that, see? You tell me the news, it gets worse bit by bit, and then right before I get back you tell me he died. But you don’t ruin my whole vacation over it. Jeez.”
After a pause the guy asks his brother, “So, how’s Mom?”
And after an even longer pause the brother says, “Uh, Mom’s on the roof, and she won’t come down.”
So last night when I tweeted, “The cat’s on the roof and he won’t come down,” my brother recognized the old joke as something he knows I like to tell, and he had to text me to ask, “…are you joking around or did something bad just happen?”
By the end of last week, the weather was cold enough at night that we were waking up at the farmhouse and finding it was 55F in the kitchen. Time had come to take the AC units out of the windows, store them in the basement and turn on the heat. This was accomplished by the Bacon Provider, doing his gender-normative best to uncomplainingly lift heavy objects and carry them downstairs.
The next day, after a long drive back from our youngest son’s school’s Parents Weekend (that included both a bank of overwhelmingly positive teacher conferences and a very sunny autumn soccer game where the youngest son was observed running, participating in defense, and kicking the ball), the Bacon Provider found that the sun into which we had been squinting in Connecticut had heated our Dutchess County farmhouse bedroom to an uninviting stuffiness, and opened the windows (including the one that had previously housed the AC unit, and had no cat-restraining screen). When Schwartz walked into our bedroom, he did not hesitate to jump up onto the windowsill, and did not further hesitate to disappear out the window into the dark night.
When you are sitting five feet away from a particular window and it is completely dark outside and it is a house you know but don’t know especially well, you are not immediately sure if–when your cat leaps out of that particular window–he lands on the roof of the porch below or if he falls to the grass, two stories down. I suggested, as one such person, sitting five feet away from the particular window, on my tired butt (worn out completely by a barrage of teacher conferences, by witnessing an athletic spectacle completely ordinary to parents the world around but actually quite out of the ordinary for me, and by driving back the two plus hours from the Connecticut school), and pretty determined not to move, saying aloud, “Hey. The cat just jumped out the window,” in the least alarmed voice I have, given that I haven’t actually been practicing sounding unalarmed. The Bacon Provider got out his tactical flashlight (which he carries at all times just in case, because you never know, and I might have a history here of rolling my eyes about it), peered into the darkness and assessed that the cat was already far from the point of his initial roof access from that particular window.
The cat, having left through the particular window in the dark, was, I felt, responsible for getting himself back in.

The cat’s on the roof and he won’t come down
The cat’s failure to promptly return was blamed on me. The cat’s ability to have left in the first place was blamed on the Bacon Provider.
I obtained a different flashlight, on principle, a large flashlight belonging to the owner of the house, for which I had recently purchased replacement batteries when I discovered that its had run down, changed the batteries, and went outside to assess the cat’s situation from the ground. I could hear the snuffling of horses in their overnight turnout paddocks, and then, the frantic call of a very frightened black cat, alone, in the dark, on top of the house. With the flashlight I revealed that the cat had ascended to the highest point of the roof.
The cat was on the roof, and he wouldn’t come down.
I may have tweeted this. Probably right away. Maybe.
Strategically chosen windows were opened, and lights were arranged to illuminate the cat’s easiest re-entry into the house, but no amount of our coaxing from these windows would persuade Schwartz to take even a single step down.
Bacon Provider made a persistent effort, sitting on the windowsill for a while, trying to reason with the cat, and finishing by telling him he was “a fucking idiot.” We went to sleep knowing that the cat was on the roof, and he wouldn’t come down.
Just after dawn, Schwartz had shifted away from the chimney and was demonstrating awareness of the illuminated window (you could see him from it). I pointed out to him (the cat) that I would be able to reach him if he would just take a few steps towards me. The cat tried to take a few steps, but the crumbly feeling of asphalt shingles and the steep-ish pitch of the roof was too much for him. Schwartz retreated to the peak of the roof.
Next, the Bacon Provider got up and gave the situation some serious analysis (this is not unusual behavior for him). Obtaining a towel to change the objectionable footing, and opening the top of the window so he was reaching across the gap to the top of the dormer, my husband thought he could grab the cat if he could get him do the unthinkable: to come to the edge.
The cat had come out to the dormer of the roof, but he still wouldn’t come down.
Well, dear reader, they don’t call him the Bacon Provider for nothing. He went to the kitchen and brought to the theater of cat rescue operations a bit of cat kibble in a cat dish, with that cat-familiar rattle and cat-enticing smell. This was all Schwartz needed to take the steps down the scary slope, just enough to be grabbed by the scruff of his fat, black neck, re-grabbed (and possibly almost dropped from a great height), and pulled, confidently, inside. Along the way, the entire enticement of cat kibble was scattered all over the roof. When Bacon Provider put the cat down on the carpet, the cat sat down and licked his shoulder as if nothing had happened—nothing at all.
I hope that crows find the cat food on the roof and enjoy themselves.

Not long after giving himself a temporary pass on self-coat-inspection, Schwartz joined me in my room, going directly– without pausing to say “Hello!” or “Look! I made it!” or even, “Meow!”  –to that particular windowsill where he made his initial escape, checking to see if maybe that particular window was still open so he could do it all over again.


There is a children’s book called “Six-Dinner Sid” about a black cat that lives in a neighborhood where he convinces every household that he needs to be fed. Soon, there are consequences for Sid, who gets very fat and then gets sick, but thanks to some advocacy and improved communication, all is well in the end.
I am a big fan of children’s books, from picture books to first novels. Up until I became an actual adult I really thought writing children’s books was what I was meant to do with my life. Well, maybe that or be a veterinarian. Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with “Things I find in my Basement,” and most of that is what is left from ten or so years of unfinished efforts to write stories for children. I am certain that some first drafts should never see the light of day, but a car that travels through space and takes you to a planet run by apples might be something worth revisiting.
I mention Six-Dinner Sid because our Schwartz, who might have modeled for Sid, loves routine as much as any house cat, and got into the routine of asking for kibble from every adult who frequented our house. When the boys were younger, we always employed at least one young woman to help with carpool, dishes and laundry, dog-walking, and homework supervising. Over the years we had excellent luck finding good babysitters, and one thing they all have had in common is a good relationship with our pets.  Schwartz makes the most of any situation, and managed to ask for breakfast from my husband, and then from me, and then from the babysitter, and so on. Each of us was filling his bowl to the top at least once a day. After a number of months of this, we found he weighed 17 pounds.
But Schwartz is a large cat, so we didn’t think much of it, until one day when Schwartz had to go for a long car ride. Like many house cats, Schwartz finds riding in the car traumatic. He howls and screams, and panics violently every few minutes. Even though the vet’s office is only about eight blocks away, he usually poops in the carrier on the way there. Longer trips mean he poops, pees, has diarrhea, and barfs. So after a long car ride, Schwartz needed a bath.
I have had cats since I was 5 or 6. I know how to cut their nails without losing blood, I know how to dose a cat with a pill, and I know how to give a cat a bath. That having been said, I also know that cats really don’t need baths very often, and I would only give a cat a bath that really, really needed one. After a long car ride, Schwartz needs a bath.
Isn’t a wet cat a pitiful thing? Part of a cat’s charm is certainly its fluffiness. Take that away, and add a pissed-off attitude, and you have a wet cat. With its fur clinging to its form, a cat is sleek and angular. I lifted wet Schwartz out of the water to dry him and noticed that his tail still looked fat. I put him back in the water, submerged his tail, and took him out again (mind you, we’re not talking about dunking a doll in water–we’re talking 17 pounds of furious predator). The tail was still fat. I felt it. It was wet.
It was then that the truth really sank in: Schwartz was so fat, his tail was fat. He was so fat his tail looked dry when he was wet. His next bag of kibble was the low-fat, indoor adult type. I also changed the scoop we use to a 1/3 cup measuring cup. Now, Schwartz can have four scoops of food a day, and he can have them one at a time. He maintains 14 to 15 pounds on this regimen, and he still thinks he is getting what he asks for.