Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
“What are you counting down to?” someone asks.
They’re pointing to the calendar page stuck to my fridge, the one with big Sharpie-written numbers – 15 through 1, backwards – and the day after the 1 has an exclamation mark in it. The first half of the numbers have been crossed out. Only seven days until … whatever.
“Oh, that’s the cat countdown calendar.”
Ugh. I can’t believe I just said that. Out loud. Voluntarily.
Because making a “countdown calendar” to tick off the days until my friend Arman drops his cats off for our annual cat-sitting gig seems like a perfectly normal and well-adjusted thing to do. Until you say it out loud. In front of others.
“Cat? Countdown? Calendar?” the person repeats, making it even worse.
“Uh, yeah, I, uh, we, ha ha, um …”
That’s the best response I can muster. And it’s actually preferable to going into detail about my history with cats and obsessive behavior. It just seemed like the wrong place and time.
This, however, seems like the perfect place and time.
I can still remember the day – it’s the summer of 1978, and I’m at my grandmother’s house. She and my grandfather live in a small town in Mississippi, so they have the big-city paper delivered to them – the Commercial Appeal, published in Memphis. I like the Commercial Appeal because it has the best comics. I’m 12. I still judge papers by their comics.
On that day there’s a new face on the comics’ page. A very fat cat introducing himself as “Garfield” and announcing that he loves lasagna.
I know that this is a special moment. I’ve never seen the very start of a comic strip before. All the ones that I read seem to have been around since, well, forever, I guess. Marmaduke, Family Circle, Beetle Bailey, I can’t even imagine them having a starting point. So this is something momentous.
I cut out the Garfield Genesis and put it on my grandmother’s fridge. The next day I cut out the second one and it joins the first under a magnet.
I have a revelation on the third day. If I cut out every one of these Garfield comics from this point on, then I’ll … have every one of them! Hey, revelations don’t have to be huge when you’re 12.
And so I have a purpose – to collect every Garfield. I get some of those ’70s photo albums with the clear sticky film that holds your pictures in place and I start down the Road to Garfield Obsession.
Problem is, we didn’t get the Commercial Appeal at home, so I have to count on my grandmother to save each day’s paper for me. I visit her often in the summer, at least every other weekend, so I’m able to keep the pile of papers in control. And I never lose steam with this project. With each visit I cull the latest feline hijinks and put them in the book. In order, of course.
I was never was into baseball cards or matchboxes or anything that came with the marketing suggestion to collect ’em all. But I made up for lost time with Garfield.
I’m not proud of this, folks, I’m just telling you what happened.
Inevitably my grandmother would forget to save the paper every now and again, and I’d have to go next door to Miss Dolly’s house. Miss Dolly saved everything. She was my redundant backup plan.
And I did this for a few years.
Yes, a few years. About eight photo albums worth.
Then they published the first Garfield collection, “Garfield at Large.” Get it? ‘Cause he’s fat.
I see this book at the bookstore and realize that all my work has been for nothing. Worse than nothing, actually. It’s been a frittering of precious life energy. Now anybody can have a collection like mine by simply buying the book.
Over the years I reused most of the albums – peeling out the yellowed Garfield strips and replacing them with pictures. The rest I threw away. One of the few things I’ve thrown away that I don’t regret.
The cat countdown calendar, though – I’ll probably hang on to that for a while, even after the cats are gone.
Nothing weird about that.
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