Monday, June 28, 2010
Room 8, The Cat with Purpose, Chapter 2
I figured that my next step in my quest for more information about Room 8 was to find a copy of his biography, A Cat Called Room 8. I looked for it on the internet, but found only a listing with no copy for sale anywhere at any price. That was unusual. Very often, even a rare book is available for sale, though likely at a price I would be unwilling to pay. There didn't appear to be anyone willing to part with their copy at the moment, so I'd have to look elsewhere.
Los Angeles recently built a new library just a couple of blocks from my house. I had visited this new library on it's opening weekend and one of the most remarkable things about it was how few books there were. I was so disappointed that I didn't even bother to apply for a library card, seeing no reason to do so at that time. Now, I thought it might prove to be a source for the Room 8 biography. Again, I used the internet and searched the Los Angeles Library for the book. They appeared to be copies available, though the ones that were nearest were in the reference section of the main library in downtown Los Angeles. There also appeared to be a couple of copies available for lone from a branch library in the San Fernando Valley. I thought I'd try the library "hold" system and attempt to get the book delivered to my nearby branch. To do that, I'd need a library card, so I walked down to the new library, applied for and received my card. I took the card home, and using the number thereon, put in a request for the Room 8 book.
Over the next week or so, I'd check the status of the book through the library's website to see if and when it might arrive. The status never changed from "pending." I decided that I would now have to drive out to the San Fernando branch and get the book myself since the hold system didn't seem to be working. I got back onto the library website to make sure the book was still at that library. It had disappeared from that library and was now back to being listed at only the downtown location. Okay, I thought, maybe the Glendale Library has a copy. I found their website and, yes, they did, indeed, have a copy. There, too, the book was only available as a reference book. Well, I'd just have to go to Glendale and read the book right there in the library.
With a pocket full of quarters to pay for parking, I drove over the Glendale. I asked at the Reference Desk for the Room 8 biography. Yes, they had one in their Special Collection. The Special Collection areas weren't open that day, but the gentleman at the Reference Desk told me that he would go get the book for me and showed me where I could sit and read it. He also told me where the copy machine was and that I could make copies from the book if I need to do so. A few minute later, he came back downstairs with the book. I recognized the illustration on the cover as he was approaching the desk. At last, I had in my hands A Cat Called Room 8.
I took the book over to a nearby table and sat down to read. What I found was a beautifully illustrated and well-written children's book about the first fourteen years that the cat had lived at and near the Elysian Heights Elementary School. The book was only sixty-one pages long and it had a illustration on every page, so it took only a few minutes to read it. When I came to the end of the story, I was quite touched by how much this big, gray and white alley-cat had come to mean to the staff and students of the school. One of the great honors for students at the school was to be chosen to be Cat Feeder. Interestingly, the cat spent his nights somewhere other than in the school building. When everyone left school for the day, so did Room 8. In the morning, when school started, Room 8 was there in attendance just like everyone else. He would spend the day roaming the halls and taking cat-naps on various desks, sometimes having to be removed from a student's desk when he was preventing that student from working. There was even a designated Cat Mover that would be called in when needed. What a delightful relationship they had, this group of people and this cat.
It was rare enough for an entire school to adopt a cat that Room 8 became rather famous, world-famous in fact. In 1962, LOOK magazine ran a three page spread on Room 8. There was an article about him in the Weekly Reader, and he even appeared on Art Linkletter's "House Party" television program. This was quite an accomplishment for a formerly homeless cat who, some years before, had wandered into the school looking for something to eat and safe place to take a nap. It's no wonder there is a concrete memorial in the sidewalk outside the school. This was a remarkable cat, but the staff and students at the Elysian Heights school are no less remarkable for sharing their lives with Room 8, taking him into their hearts and, occasionally, their homes, and giving him a long, rich life he wouldn't have had as a homeless street cat. Not surprisingly, Room 8's memory lives on in the hearts of those who knew him. I discovered one of his old friends on another round of internet research. We'll explore that in the next chapter.