Los Angeles, California

If you arrive for the weekend at Chris and Kory’s house on Windsor Boulevard in Los Angeles after 10:00 p.m., don’t expect this old married couple to greet you at the door. They’re fast asleep. But you will be greeted by Copycat, a Burmese cat who assumes that two dark figures pushing past the locked gate and through the front door in the dead of night are his new best friends. Copycat seemed to be expecting us. He stood on the wood stairs of this authentically restored Arts and Crafts house as if waiting to escort us to our assigned room. And that he did, helpfully standing on our bags as we tried to unpack and gently getting in the way of our attempts to sort out the bed for sleep. There’s no getting to know Copycat. He’s immediately all in.

Copycat earned his name by mimicking the behavior of two other Burmese cats, brothers, who had a year’s tenure when Copycat arrived on Windsor Boulevard 14 years ago. Gavin was named after Gavin Newsom, because before he was dining at the French Laundry during COVID-19, Newsom was handing out same-sex marriage licenses in San Francisco, making civil rights history. As I recall the story, Chris and Kory jumped in their car in February 2004 and drove from LA to San Francisco City Hall to get married, becoming one of just a few thousand couples whose marriages survived the legal challenges to Newsom’s defiance. Linus was Gavin’s brother. He was named after Linus Van Pelt, the emotive blanket-hugging, piano-playing member of the Peanuts gang. Linus apparently had a lot to express, mostly his opinions over not receiving the things he wanted at the very moment he wanted them. Linus died a few weeks before our visit. Tragically, his parents found him outside with indications that he may have died in a struggle with another animal–a difficult contrast to his peaceful existence.

There is no doubt cats rule in this house, but they are hardly alone. The first thing we noticed when arriving was the cacophony of frogs. I thought it was such a nice touch to pipe in sounds of nature in the middle of Los Angeles, but alas, there’s an actual frog pond by the entrance. While we were there, a neighbor handed a new frog he had just found over the fence and we coaxed it into the pond. There’s another pond in the back with three large koi. If you’re bored, you can make them think your finger is food. There’s also an enclosure for a turtle that was rescued from a glass aquarium. The enclosure kept getting more and more elaborate; now, this turtle gets treated better than Harry and Meghan. And there’s a beehive, which comes with a story of the cab of Kory’s truck filling up with bees unexpectedly on the highway. I would have steered into oncoming traffic to solve that problem. And all of these creatures are surrounded by a stunning growth of California native plants, stunning enough that Chris and Kory earned a spot on the local native plant garden tour years ago. I asked how they could stand having people traipsing through the house, but they love it. One year, Chris told me, a young woman brought her mother on the tour and Chris overheard her say, “see mom, this is what you could do in your backyard.”

One might conclude that all this is the byproduct of having too much time on your hands. That’s not quite right, but if your house isn’t on the local garden tour, it can make it easier to cope. Chris retired early a few years ago, and I have found that spending time with him provides abundant opportunities to pretend to be happy for another person. And Chris really rubs it in your face too. One moment you’ll see his feet dangling off a lounge chair while he reads in the sun; then later you’ll figure out he’s napping on the sunporch or doing barre work in the extra bedroom (that’s ballet; I had to look it up!). He’s always forwarding stuff he finds funny, starting at 5 a.m., and he thinks an open laptop means it’s time for conversation because you must be exploring something that interests you. I asked him what kind of wine we could buy to say thanks and at first he brushed off the question so as not to be a handful, but then he decided to explain, in case it would help, that they really like minerally whites (not buttery, not flowery, but minerally) from some country and some specific region I don’t recall. Ugh. Retired people. Kory at least has a respectable job and the common decency to spend time in his office on conference calls.

And then there are the friends and neighbors who seem so at home visiting Chris and Kory. We left one night to go to a birthday party just as the neighbors were arriving to sit outside for drinks. When we arrived back home around 11 p.m., the four of them were sitting at the kitchen table with enough Indian takeout to feed 20 people. What were they doing? We made fun of them, and they made fun of us, while Gavin and Copycat angled for some of the food. It felt good to be back in the kitchen with everyone.

A part of me wondered before arriving how Linus would figure into the weekend. While I saw the neighbors’ sad reactions when what happened was mentioned, mostly we talked and laughed about Linus and Gavin and Copycat and how quirky and entertaining and charming they are. But there was a moment when Gavin went missing during a gathering at the house (for like two minutes) and Kory took immediate notice, the calm urgency with which he searched for Gavin revealing the hole left in his heart. Every pet owner will one day feel the weight of their inability to ensure the immortality of these innocent creatures who become fixtures in our homes and our lives. As mere weekend guests, we were free from the burden of thinking about the circumstances of Linus’s departure and able to reflect instead on how he must have lived.

And oh boy, what a life he had for 15 years on Windsor Boulevard, side by side with his brother Gavin, his protégé Copycat, and his adoring fathers. If Copycat was aptly named, Tony and I know for a fact that every single day of those many years Linus sought out the warmth of the sun and the love and attention of people, all the while silently navigating the creaky floors as only a cat can do.

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