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August 22, 2000

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The curious past life of a feline adopted at The Grand Hotel

by Debbie Lindsey

Phil returned home yesterday smelling of cigarette smoke and I was curious. You see, Phil is not your average cat. He adopted me at The Grand Hotel, a bayside resort where my father, Martin Philo Lindsey, spends eternity when not dining with Mom at Galatoire's. Dad had wanted his ashes to be scattered in the mountains, but the highest you get in New Orleans without an escalator is the levee and New Orleans was where I had to return to the next day following his memorial service. Therefore, a quick drive from Mobile placed Dad on permanent vacation. So it was on a Sunday, some years later, while enjoying one of my weekend road-trips to this hotel that I first met the personable gray tabby. I had visited Dad and was giving my regards to the hotel cocktail lounge when Phil spotted me. Convinced that Dad had sent this new feline best friend to me to help fill the void my beloved LuluBelle (a rather cranky cat companion of sixteen years) left when she passed last year, I quickly gave up my new found freedom from fur balls and fleas. I was adopted on the spot.

My boy cat was nameless for a couple of weeks upon returning to New Orleans. Was it respectful to give your father's name to the user of a litter box? Was it dignified to holler "Phhhhillll come and get it" while shaking a stinky bowl of cat food? And what about cooing your father's name to the creature you sleep beside at night? My sister thought "Ashes" to be more appropriate (guess she'd of suggested "Bones" in honor of Mom had the feline been a female). It was my ninety-nine year old Aunt Ethel who deemed it a gesture of honor to name such a fine cat after her favorite brother. And so "hey you" came to be named Phil.

When an adoption takes place curiosity of one's past is understandable. Phil had the advantage on me -- I told him everything about his new family, but he was not as forthcoming with his past. Meanwhile, he dazzled everyone with his wit, strength, and chipper personality -- always quick to extend a paw or lick your nose. He has proven himself to be fearless as he leaps (to my horror and the vet bill's advantage) through my razor wire laced balcony to herd the pack of hyperactive dogs in the apartment's courtyard below. He has also displayed considerable aquatic agility in the bathtub. These uncanny canine characteristics began puzzling me, with his past intriguing me more and more. As my curiosity grew so did "Phil Sightings." They were everywhere: the illustration on the Cat Chow-Down package was like a commissioned portrait of him; the feline star of some Stephen King novel gone bad in film; or the toe tapping, tail thrashing thug in the animated feature film "Catnip Capers." Could he have been an actor, burned out and looking for the simple life he once knew as a young buck?

About this time I met the love of my life, Philipe. It turns out Philipe is actually a Phil (you thought I had trouble sleeping with a cat named Phil). Funny that his mom should name him after a cat she'd yet to meet. Anyway, it turns out that Philipe claims to have known Phil back in the service. According to Philipe, in Phil's past life he was a tall, skinny, freckled redhead. They met in the Philippines (what is it with this name?) in a brothel. Story has it that young Phil saved his entire squadron from the courtesan's cantankerous contagion. A young navy nurse in the early stages of a crush on our fair young man confided in him about the brothel's sinister syphilis outbreak in the hopes of luring him into the safety of her bed and away from the other girls. Phil, being a patriot saw this as an opportunity to give back to his country before the girls did any giving back. Phil raced to the bordello, entered and exclaimed in an affected and shrill tone accompanying some mighty vigorous finger snapping, "Gee guys this is some gay bar you've got here!" Needless to say the squadron of hapless homophobics and insecure ensigns fled with their personal hygiene untainted. Philipe stuck around to toast the brave sailor who put his masculinity on the line for his men. They drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and spoke as though brothers until daybreak when Philipe had to ship out. And that was the last Philipe saw of Phil until now. Or so he believes.

Yes, there are many unanswered questions concerning Phil, but sometimes a man's past is his own. I only know that a cat has at least nine lives and perhaps sometimes a father who dearly misses his daughter can influence or request where one of those lives will be spent. As for the cigarette smoke, I think Phil has a part time job playing the clarinet in some smoky jazz club. If you doubt me just listen to him purr the next time I have Benny Goodman on the turntable.

The Harbinger