Claude The Cat, 2004-2023
It might seem a bit out of the ordinary to write a feline obituary. Then again, Claude was no ordinary cat.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a human who cared more about baseball than I do. So it’s only fitting that I’ve never met a cat who cared more about baseball than Claude did. And he was around for half of my 38 years so far on Earth.
From March to November every year, he’d join me on the couch for my evening wind-down, hooking a paw around my elbow like an old friend throwing an arm around your shoulder. Sure, Claude got a feline thrill watching the scores scoot across the bottom of the screen. But I think baseball was a secular religion for him, as it is for me: hearing the organ music at Dodger Stadium, listening to the bleacher chants in the Bronx, watching the high-angle shots of cathedrals like Wrigley and Fenway.
Claude passed away on Thursday afternoon (his 20th Opening Day), surrounded by those who loved him most. And it feels unusual to write an obituary for a cat. But then again, Claude was an unusual cat. His accomplishments included editing several business books, founding a grassroots political movement, trapping some behavioral neuroscientists inside an experiment of his own—and being a terrific uncle. So here we go.
Back in early March of 2004—A-Rod’s first year with the Yankees—a wide-eyed gray kitten was abandoned in the parking lot of a Gold’s Gym in Yonkers. His story might have ended there, but a friendly stranger whisked him away in a silver 1964 Porsche 356C. When I came home after my freshman year of college, Claude had ensconced himself at my parents’ house in Hastings-on-Hudson. By my final spring break, he was already a veteran editor, curling up atop my books as I completed my senior thesis.
But Claude was bored in Hastings, where very little baseball was viewed and his only feline company was a squadron of graying crankpots offended by his athletic sparring tendencies. When I moved into a Manhattan apartment with my now-wife, then strictly a dog person, we received a feline housewarming gift: Claude!
He quickly converted Danielle, becoming the resident hit-man for cockroaches and small rodents, with a power-speed combo reminiscent of Bo Jackson and an elegance befitting James Bond. To this day, we’ve never found a mouse more than a little bit alive in any abode we’ve shared with him, nor a single mess left (007 preferred bloodless deaths).
Claude soon graduated from overseeing my papers to editing my books, starting with Empire State of Mind. In 2012, he was joined by Oedipus (a fitting name for the cat of a budding psychiatrist and a writer), and the two became inseparable. As much as he loved his adopted brother, though, Claude was happy to leave his shy pal to his own devices at parties. He relished his role as a host, developing a particular affinity for visiting doctors and startup founders, occasionally donning bowties at New Year’s.
When the 2016 election turned our world upside down, Claude inspired a group to convene once a month at our apartment to support the resistance. He insisted on being a part of the action, though rarely the center of attention (always listening more than he talked). He’d sit atop the accumulated pizza boxes to supervise the meetings for the group, which was dubbed Concerned Claude—ultimately inspiring hundreds of volunteer door-knocking hours, generating thousands of political postcards and raising tens of thousands of dollars for progressive causes.
Claude’s parents liked to travel, often for a week or more, sometimes to see baseball games in places like Japan. So Claude cultivated a cadre of highly accomplished caretakers who’d host him and his brother for as much as fortnight, or even leave their homes to cat-sit for just as long. The crew included baking influencers and tech executives, professional opera singers and photographers, Ivy League MBAs and berry-foraging mixologists. And then there were the neuroscience Ph.Ds. Normally accustomed to experimenting on mice, they were no match for Claude: by the end of their time with this cat, he’d developed a method to make them fetch treats for him on demand.
As Claude got older, his fur grew softer, and ever so slightly rust-colored on the top of his head. He started purring more, and differently—sounding less like a cat and more like an old diesel Mercedes-Benz. His sporting tastes expanded, too, coming to include not only baseball, but Olympic ice dancing (he managed to turn on the television and find it on multiple occasions).
Perhaps Claude’s most meaningful role, however, was being a companion to my daughter, Riley. He was always tolerant of kids, once taking a beach ball to the face from a rowdy toddler without a hint of retaliation. But when Riley arrived last May, he took his patient mindset to a new level, never uttering so much as a single hiss when she’d yank his tail or pull his fur.
Claude seemed to find watching over Riley while she slept just as fulfilling as watching baseball. And as she grew, she came to adore him, bursting into a smile and yelping with delight every time he sauntered into a room. Riley has no biological uncles, so we started referring to him as “Uncle Claude.” And even as his condition worsened over the past couple weeks, he’d curl up on the couch and they’d stare affectionately at one another, no matter how much she jiggled his cushion.
A couple days ago, Claude’s decline began to accelerate rapidly, the product of various ailments adding up for a 19-year-old cat. By Thursday, it became clear the end might be near, and we summoned the veterinarian for an emergency house call. I stroked Claude’s head as he lay on the bathroom floor, both of us watching the Yankee game on my laptop screen while we waited. Neighbors and friends stopped by to pay their respects, as if he were a revered head of state in his last moments.
The vet arrived and quickly concluded what we’d feared: Claude’s situation was terminal, and his body was already shutting down, his paws growing cold. We brought Oeddie in to say goodbye. Danielle and I held Claude in our arms as he took his last breaths.
Riley was at daycare when Claude passed away, and though we tried to explain what had happened with pictures and gestures, there’s only so much a ten-month-old can understand. But, in the years to come, perhaps I’ll be able to sit on the couch with her—maybe watching baseball—and tell her about the fabulous exploits of her Uncle Claude: the cat, the myth, the legend.
Zack O’Malley Greenburg is the author of five books, including the Jay-Z biography Empire State of Mind. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Forbes, where he served as senior editor of media & entertainment for a decade.
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