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Sunday, Feb. 4, 2001

JAPAN LITE

Life is too short, even when you have nine!


I used to think I knew how to bury a dead cat. Then I learned the Japanese way.

It happened yesterday, when I noticed a strange cat lying next to the house. It was as if the cat had been chasing a bird when suddenly, the bird took revenge by casting an Evil Bird Spell that froze the cat in mid-air. Then the cat fell over in that position.

Perhaps he's just stunned, I thought, trying to be optimistic.

When I realized the spell wasn't wearing off, I went to my next-door neighbor's house and said, "Ueda-san, what do I do with a dead cat?"

Ueda-san didn't miss a beat, and went straight to work as if she had buried a few hundred cats this year already. "Get some gloves." she instructed. I came back with rubber gloves. "No, no," she said, "throw-away gloves." I came back with cotton throw-away gloves. "No, no." She shook her head and disappeared into her house.

I wondered if she had special "dead cat" gloves approved by the Society for Dead Cats and "inspected by Don." But she came out wearing clear plastic gloves. I decided I'd better be the assistant in this operation.

"Next, we need a cardboard box," she said. I brought a box from the house. "Don't you think that's rather large?" she said. I told her I didn't have anything else.

"How about an old towel?" she suggested. She was either responding to an innate Japanese sense or she had gotten an A in Dead Cats 101.

I ran into the house and brought out a pink, flower-print towel I had always disliked.

"No, no," she said and disappeared again into her house. I pictured Ueda-san going through her impeccable towel closet: beach towels, bath towels, "sento" towels, free post-office towels, pre-packaged "omiage" towels, pre-packaged omiage towels with quaint, French sayings, hand towels, dead-cat towels. She emerged with a white towel sheared on both ends.

I couldn't stand the thought of picking up the fuzzy kitty and arranging him properly on his death towel. But of course, Ueda-san would do it for me.

She picked up the cat, "He's stiff!"

Now, I'm sorry, but when a cat is that hard, it's not a cat anymore. A cat should not be stiff. In the same way a cat should not be soluble, a cat should not be stiff.

Thus, having lost all the favorable qualities of catness, we now had an almost two-dimensional, cat-shaped placard. This put me at ease. I would not be burying a cat, just something shaped like a cat.

Ueda-san wrapped the towel like a kimono, leaving the head and whiskers visible.

I didn't have a shovel but Ueda-san didn't ask. She disappeared into her gardening shed. Perhaps, I thought, she is going to retrieve a Panasonic "Guraibu Digga" that, when switched to the "cat" setting, cuts out a grave in the shape of a cat, complete with imprints for head, whiskers and tail. Turn on the motor and it sucks out the soil and empties it into a neat cone-like pile next to the hole.

I was relieved when, instead, she came out brandishing a shovel.

Together, we carried the placard cat up into the mountain. We dug and dug, through stones and tree roots, until finally we had cleared a large enough hole.

Then, with the tenderness of a grandmother who has buried far too many cats in her lifetime, Ueda-san laid the kitty down in the hole. We covered the grave and marked it with a flat stone and a frond. I gave a little prayer. The rest was up to the Mountain God.

Our placard cat might not be a cat anymore, but he will always be a kitty.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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