Since Washington, D.C. and all the political parties have gone to the dogs, I’ve decided to write about dogs…except I’m going to write about cats even though I’m more of a dog lover. Whatever. It’s a political relief act and pets are now known as stress relievers. Any pet will really do: rabbit, mouse, snake (not much personality), rat, monkey (doubt that it fits as a stress reducer, however), goat, pig, turtle, iguana, ant, spider, duck, goose, chicken, and, of course, dog. All those mentioned, including the monkey, have been a pet at one time or another of someone in my family, or at least a close acquaintance. If that’s a truth stretcher, it’s only a little one, and I am absolutely certain that at least one reader could fill in the blanks for exotic or unusual pets.)
The Cat House and How I Became A Hero
Ours was the only newspaper that had a cat house on the third floor. Don’t get me wrong. There was nothing illegal and nothing lewd going on on the third floor, at least not that I knew of. The third floor contained the news room in a small daily paper in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania where a group of about 10 or so men and women- and a cat named “Tissie”- worked daily and sometimes nightly to put out a newspaper.
This was the days before computers and no smoking and desks were cluttered with manual typewriters, ashtrays, cigarettes and pipes, “in” and “out” baskets, and books and stacks and loose sheets of copy paper which was cut up newsprint from the rolls of newspaper on which the paper was printed. It wasn’t a large room. In fact, it was more than cramped with desks butted next to each other and passageways between them just wide enough to pass through without getting hit by the typewriter carriage returning after each printed line. No one there wore an eye shade.
Off that room was a small nook or hole in the wall, maybe 10 X 10, where three photographers worked in their “office” and dark room. Beside that room was a spacious 12 by 12 large windowed space occupied by clip files, old photos, and filing cabinets and old furniture. There were big windows and a nice view of the town. That was “Tissie’s” room.
Not that she stayed in the room. She had the run of the entire newsroom. And, she used it. Sometime for a litter box. Sometimes even mistaking, or on purpose, a typewriter for the litter box. Other than that, she was friendly enough, at least most of the time.
Employes didn’t complain openly because the principal owner and publisher was a cat lover and had 25 of his own cats. The owner’s son, Jimmy, a working photographer, was also a cat lover with several cats of his own. “Tissie” was a stray he’d picked up off the streets. This was her home and fellow reporters and photographers probably felt fortunate that she was the only cat.
That’s the scene I walked into in 1959 as a young “outsider” reporter (not from Beaver Falls). I, too, kept my mouth shut, just doing my job, trying to fit in, and keeping out of the line of fire of a somewhat cantankerous publisher and always picky editor (a woman: we were ahead of our time).
It was a late night. I had just finished covering a council meeting in a nearby town, and came into the office to write my story. “Tissie” was sitting on the editor’s desk when I walked in and flicked on the lights. I was no stranger to her by this time and I reached over to stroke her on the head. “Tissie” must have been in a bad mood. She hissed and swiped at me scratching my hand. That made me in a bad mood and I picked up a yard stick (everyone had a yard stick then) and whacked her lightly. She scooted off the desk. I didn’t hit her hard. I really didn’t. There was at least one witness. Then I forgot about it.
For the next few weeks whenever I came in the room “Tissie” stayed warily on the opposite side of where I was. I didn’t make an effort to pet her either. We just kept our distance. Then “Tissie” died. Jimmy, the owner’s son, was upset and sad. His fellow reporters were not, but nobody said anything, at least for a week or so.
Then one day, our sports editor, a short, rotund, stereotypical Italian, cigar and all, sidled up to me. “Way to go,” he said, jabbing me softly in the ribs. “About what?” I replied. “Hey,” he said, “you don’t have to be shy. We weren’t sure about you, but you’re in. They chose me to tell you.” Still puzzled, I said, “What are you talking about?” “Tissie,” he answered, “Heh, heh. Yeah, way to go.”
No amount of denial worked and eventually I accepted both the blame ( I WAS blameless. I didn’t hit her hard) and the staff acceptance and near hero status. Our family editor whose typewriter had been abused was particularly grateful. Jimmy never said a word – maybe they never told him about the incident. “Tissie” was laid to rest in Jimmy’s pet cemetery near the county park. “Tissie’s” room became an archive room and eventually an office.
However, we lost our status of having a Cat House on the third floor.