Smiling to the bottom

Smiling to the bottom

Smiling helps us get to the bottom of things.

Smiling helps us to deal with the things at the bottom.

Smiling carries us in warm, strong arms to the sun-kissed surface.

Actual comments made about my own personal smiling:

  1. You need to smile less. People don’t trust you.
  2. You have the best smile in Pine Bush High School.
  3. You smile like an idiot most of the time, but don’t stop doing that.

Leaving aside the question of whether any smiling can be considered “idiotic” (I would venture that smiling is among the most wisdom-soaked actions we holy fools can accomplish), smiling is serious business.

This is all the more accurate when the smiler in question is three breaths away from being crushed like a Frito, five thousand six hundred fifty four miles away from a dream destination, a dozen ringworm dips away from dignity.

Which is to say, Charly.

As a member of the coolest crew on seven continents, Charly came to our attention just before she came aboard a big steel bird. You’ll recall that Tabby’s Place has a tender, longtime relationship with a band of angels in Beirut. When time and space and miracles permit, we take a kindle of cats from these braver-than-Batman beloveds.

Our latest Lebanon List included such luminaries as Hector and Mousy and Nemo and Noire. As always, our Beirut buddies provided a bit of detail on each cat. When it came to Charly, the annotation was anything but smileworthy:

Charly: She is super sweet and friendly. Loves to cuddle but not so good with other cats. Was found sick in the rubble of the explosion.

Minor detail. And, yes, that explosion.


Just picturing Charly at the bottom of the brokenness, wheezing under blocks of buildings that wept and shuddered until they could stand no more, was enough to steal our smiles.

Surely, one would be an idiot to smile in the face of such horror. Surely, the best thing to do in the face of total breakdown is to have a total breakdown, to go grim-faced and grieving, to don the black and beat one’s fists against any walls still standing.

But cats can’t clench their fists, curse their births, or stare into the abyss. They can only get on with getting on, let themselves be carried into the light, and stubbornly smile against all sense.

We’re busy hiding and howling and raking our own spirits raw with anguish. It falls to cats and children and saints and angels to save our brokenhearted world.

Charly, who arguably falls into all four of those categories, came through the sickness and the shattered pieces. She soared across the sea with inner smile fully intact. Upon meeting her, it was all we could do not to grin like the Conquering Brigade of Buffoons, which is an accurate description and also an excellent name for a band.

Charly did not want to talk about the rubble.

Charly did not want to go back to the bottom.

Charly had zero interest in unearthing muddy moments, detritus, and/or despair.

Charly just wanted to show us her hand-painted, technicolor, eat-your-heart-out-Etsy toes.

Charly just wanted to run for the door every time we opened it: “I live! I run! I have beaten the bottom and I am free!”

Charly, in fact, wanted to flaunt every facet of her freedom…even when that freedom re-entered jeopardy.

The twinkle-toed grinmaster’s bottom-trawling days weren’t quite over. No sooner did Charly make it to the promised land that is New Jersey, than she tested positive for ringworm. Longtime readers will recall that this foul fungus, while not particularly harmful, is, in scientific terms, gross and grody and growing everywhere if you don’t stop it in its smarmy simpering tracks.

(A slimy simper is not the same thing as a smile, and anyone worth their teeth can tell the difference, regardless of species. Even a polywog can identify a leering lie of a curved maw as something less than a smile.)

And so Charly had to be dipped — and not in water, or Cherry Zero, or Magic Shell, but in a diabolical dunk tank of lime sulfur, the only thing that can rout ringworm. (And here, kittens, we pause and grieve the limits of science. We can put rad little rovers on Mars and clobber COVID and untwirl the double helix…but we cannot find a sub-revolting way to treat ringworm. We also can’t make edible vegan cheese or figure out how to make every human a little more like Dolly Parton, but I hope we’re working on these matters.)

Lesser beasts might mute their merriment. Charly cooked up fresh charm.

OK, so she did also bite and fuss and foil human smiles here and there. (Minor detail.) She enlisted the full force of her many colors to blind us, in the interest of getting us to loose her on the world she loves so much. But never, no never, did this conquering calico give in to the grey.

There’s a reason she rose from literal rubble.

Maybe we could learn a thing or twelve here.

Meantime, now that Charly has been liberated from the indignities of Casa Ringworm, everyone’s smiling a little more merrily. Everything Team Lebanon told us was true, primarily Charly’s supersonic sweetness.

Charly wants to know your favorite musical. Charly wants to show you her toes (yes, again, and no, this never gets old). Charly wants to commiserate with you on the fact that ranch dressing is horribly overrated, and 19th century Russian literature is horribly underrated, and why have we never had a cat named Fancy Cake?

If there’s just one moment when Charly’s smile seems to bottom out, it’s in the presence of those unfortunate neighbors known as “cats.” Charly simply doesn’t have time for peons like Elijah and Wilbur. She knows that cats know enough about smiling and overcoming already; her labors are needed elsewhere, and glunkheads with tails get in the way of the larger mission. Charly Of The Toes is a sovereign creature at the height of her powers, and she will focus her beam on the beings who need her most.

That’s us, humanbeans.

Every once in a great while, one of our species waxes catlike in smiling wisdom. Shortly before writing this blog, I found myself in a delightfully endless clot of traffic. Cars tried to turn around; cars tried to become airborne; fists were shaken out windows; people started offering half-eaten granola bars to God for mercy.

Except one man, who is obviously a cat.

This man — small in stature, mountainous in grandeur — calmly exited his vehicle. He placed his hands upon his hips. And he began, with whirling abandon, to dance.

And dance.

And dance.

Fingers jabbing the air, kneecaps dissolving into soulful gelatin, a birdlike bonanza of victory, he was the living embodiment of song and survival and smile. He did not look around to see if he was seen. He wasn’t doing this for us. Spin by shake by swivel, he beat back the boredom and the blithering and the bottom itself.

I swear I was just about to join him when the cars started chugging.

But I will never forget him, and I hope I will remember to smile like an idiot every single chance I get.

Smiling is serious business, kittens.

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