The Superman of Cats
“Good afternoon, San Diego,” says the radio announcer. “It’s three o’clock, and it’s been just over twelve hours since the city went dark.”
As I’m driving through what should have been a busy afternoon commute, the freeway is empty except for the occasional Highway Patrol car, emergency vehicle, or power company truck. Today I close another chapter of my varied careers. I’ve had two — teacher of disabled children, and cat show judge, but not just any judge. My name is Madison Collins and my colleagues and feline contestant owners know me as the “Superman of Cats” and today that moniker can and probably will be put to the test.
Exiting the freeway, I see the fairgrounds. I park my vintage 1965 white Cadillac and sit quietly collecting my thoughts. How many cats have I judged? How many ribbons awarded? How many “Best in Shows”? I shift my focus to the day ahead and wonder how the day will play out minus electricity. Cleaning my “Clark Kent” glasses, I check my appearance in the rearview mirror one last time. With briefcase in hand, I step out of the car, lock it up, and walk quickly toward the exhibit hall.
Inside the exhibit hall, a familiar group of vendors are busily setting up their displays. “Good afternoon, ladies. Thank you all for coming in spite of these challenging circumstances.” I smile, examining all types of toys, collars, beds, and grooming tools.
“Madison, where else would we be? This power outage has affected all of us in one way or another, but it sure beats sitting home trying to salvage food in the fridge, or wondering when the lights will come back on. Oh, by the way, all the vendors have selected a few trinkets to show our appreciation for your years of dedication and service. They’ll be waiting for you after the show.”
For a split second I find myself getting choked up. Navigating through the hall to my designated space, a member of the maintenance crew stops me. “Mr. Collins, it’s been a challenging few hours, sir, but we’ve located the only available back-up generator in the county, but I’ll be honest I haven’t had the chance to test it yet to see if it’s in good working order. We’ve also brought in as much extra lighting as we could borrow from other local venues for later this evening.”
“You’ve all done a marvelous job. Thank you.”
“Have a great show, sir. We’re ready to help in any way we can.”
When I finally arrive at my judging area, the other judges are waiting for me, and I can see looks of concern on all their faces. “Hello everyone. Looks like we’ve got a few challenges ahead of us today, doesn’t it?”
“Never in all my years have I had to deal with circumstances like this,” says Eunice, trying to hold back tears. “Yesterday was so grand! How are we supposed to do our jobs now?”
“Eunice, dear,” I say, “collectively we have nearly a half century’s worth of experience between us.” I smile reassuringly. “What we need to do is concentrate on making the cats and their owners feel as comfortable and secure as possible. I’ve already spoken with the maintenance crew, and I’m told a generator has been located, and as long as it works, today will be as grand as yesterday. Don’t forget, I’m judging Best in Show tonight so I’m counting on you to bring me some exquisite contestants.”
With that said, the group returns to their respective judging areas to prepare for the afternoon ahead. As for me, I’m taking it easy judging only one group — household pets, which I enjoy most of all because I’m judging strictly on beauty, playfulness, and overall health.
Cleo, the calico cat, has been my favorite contestant in this category since she was a kitten, and win or lose, like me, Cleo retires tonight.
“Good afternoon, Madison. What a day this has been,” says Cleo’s owner.
“Indeed. Hello, my beautiful Cleo. I swear you get prettier every year.”
Cleo mewed, swishing her tail as I looked into her eyes.
“Whatever will we do without you, Madison?”
I continue examining Cleo, keeping to the task at hand, hoping that my emotions will not get the best of me. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to keep me busy. Since I’m alone, now that my beautiful wife Linda is gone, maybe I’ll hop in the motor home and see the world. That would make her happy.”
“And what an extra special surprise it must have been for you to see so many of your former students in the audience.”
“I don’t who found them all, or how they got here, but it has made the day that much more special.”
I hand Cleo back to her owner, feeling the emotions well up again. “Bye, Cleo.”
Thankfully, the afternoon has gone relatively well in spite of a few sporadic glitches in power and I’m feeling confident that we’ve dodged a bullet. All that’s left is to judge Best in Show so while the staging is being set up, I step outside for a breath of air and to stretch my legs.
BANG! A loud explosion reverberates through the hall rattling the doors and windows. My water bottle drops to the pavement. As I run back inside, I turn on my wireless microphone and am greeted by a sea of glowing eyes of blue, gold, and green.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please stay calm. The judging of Best in Show will begin as soon as our generator’s power is restored.” But, I have my doubts. I may just have to judge simply by touch. “Please, you may be able to help by using the light from your cell phone, pointing it toward the center ring.” Within seconds a soft light begins to bathe the space. “Thank you.”
Minutes pass. Tensions rise. In the glow I see owners and their cats becoming more agitated. Rushing toward the center ring where seven cats and their owners should have been assembled, I see only six cats and Cleo’s owner consoling Mrs. Platt. My heart sinks because I know that Timber is missing.
“Gina, may I borrow Cleo?”
Taking Cleo from Gina, I address the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, timber, on of our contestants, has gone missing. He’s in the building, I just don’t know where. Cleo here is Timber’s playmate and she’s going to help me find him. Right now I need everyone to be very quiet.”
I put Cleo on the floor and she stands alert swishing her tail. “Let’s go find Timber.” I begin to hum softly as I follow Cleo’s lead, and then begin to sing aloud, “He’ll be comin’ round the mountain when he comes, he’ll be comin’ round the mountain when he comes.” Without asking, the audience joins in the singing which continues for nearly an hour. Cleo and I continue to walk around the nearly pitch dark room, me moving chairs and tables with the help of the other judges and maintenance crew, while Cleo leaps from place to place, sometimes crouching low to find her friend.
All of a sudden Cleo stops and stares into the darkness. “MEOW!” Next thing I know Cleo has left my side. I turn the flashlight I’d been given toward the direction Cleo has run. I realize that I’m standing in front of my judging area. “Where’s Timber, Cleo?” I look up and see Timber crouched on the top of the shelves against the wall. Cleo is climbing the shelves to reach her friend but the closer Cleo gets, the higher Timber goes. Reaching Timber, Cleo nudges him to the end of the shelf, as if she’s encouraging him to jump down.
“Come on, Timber, it’s your old pal Madison. I think you’ve had enough excitement for one day.” On cue, Timber jumps down into my arms and the audience erupts in applause, and then the lights come back on. “Ladies and gentlemen, contestants, judges and honored guests, this day has been most unusual to say the least, and since I’m retiring today I think it only fitting that it be my last act to award Timber “Best in Show” because he certainly was a show stopper, and “Best in Show” to Timber’s best buddy, Cleo, for her search and rescue ability.” The crowd once again erupts in thunderous applause.
“Excuse us, Madison.” Cleo and Timber’s owners have joined me at my judging area as I’m gathering up the last of my things, gifts I’d received from the vendors, taking pictures, and saying my goodbyes. “We’ve been talking and we’ve decided that we want you to have Cleo and Timber as a retirement gift.”
Overwhelmed and humbled by their generous gift, I accept, taking the two cat carriers from them. Walking to the parking lot, the sun is almost set, and the lights of the city are slowly coming back on. Unlocking the car door, I set the two carriers on the backseat. Driving out of the parking lot, Cleo, Timber, and I …. our journey continues.