P.S. Your Cat Is Dead: A Novel

P.S. Your Cat Is Dead: A Novel

by James Kirkwood

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It's New Year's Eve in New York City. Your best friend died in September, you've been robbed twice, your girlfriend is leaving you, you've lost your job...and the only one left to talk to is the gay burglar you've got tied up in the kitchen... P.S. your cat is dead.

An instant classic upon its initial publication, P.S. Your Cat is Dead received widespread critical acclaim and near fanatical reader devotion. The stage version of the novel was equally successful and there are still over 200 new productions of it staged every year. Now, for the first time in a decade, James Kirkwood's much-loved black humor comic novel of manners and escalating disaster returns to bewitch and beguile a new generation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312321208
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/15/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 603,613
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)

About the Author

James Kirkwood was a prominent figure in the theater world as well as the author of several novels. He's best remembered as the co-author of the long-running musical A Chorus Line and for P.S. Your Cat is Dead.

Read an Excerpt

P. S. Your Cat is Dead

By James Kirkwood

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1972 James Kirkwood Trust
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7635-0



My home was a fine oddball top-floor (third) loft-turned-apartment on Cork Street, a block-long cul-de-sac in the West Village, an easy dog walk from the Hudson River dock area. This apartment, inherited from an actor friend upon his marriage to an older and much wealthier lady two years previously, was a cocoon, an oasis of sanity in the midst of New York, a city for whom my love affair was on the serious wane.

One immense 40 x 36 room with brick walls and planked doors, plus a separate bathroom and two closets. The room was divided into three areas: a splendid kitchen with a free-standing butcher-block stainless-steel sink unit, built-in wall oven and cabinets; a sleeping area with a comfortable king-sized bed which could be screened off on two sides or not, as desired; and the main living area, sofa, easy chairs, rolltop desk, built-in bookshelves, stereo, and a working fireplace. Two small skylights, no more than two feet by two, broke up the expanse of the beamed ceiling, one over the bed, the other over the kitchen area.

The rent: $126.00. A steal at twice that.

On the evening of September 9, Kate and I returned to find the apartment thoroughly burglarized. The front wood door had been cut through, a hole punched out, and the lock slipped. The feelings upon being robbed I'd read about or heard from friends all applied. After the initial shock, a lockjaw rage at this invasion of privacy, more than distress at the loss of the articles in question: TV, stereo, typewriter, camera, a selection of clothes, cuff links, etc. A dirtying of my home, my place.

After the police had been called, had come and gone with such ill-concealed boredom that one almost felt like apologizing for having been robbed, Kate and I managed to squeeze a laugh out of it.

Pete Williams' wife had just that day given me a large bunch of fresh dill wrapped in white paper. I had placed it, still in its wrapping, in a large glass of water on the butcher block. Kate, who would put dill on ice cream she loved it so, noticed its absence. "Hmn," she said, "maybe we should find out what Julia Child was doing this evening."

Although insurance covered this first robbery, the investigator notified me I was hereby dropped — that year's policy was up in seventeen days — because the building was now a bad risk. The bakery on the ground floor had gone out of business, the aging hippie couple who made jewelry on the second floor had moved to New Mexico. The building had been sold and there was a rumor it was to be torn down. There was no one living there but me; if I were not home, a burglar could have a field day, he could hammer and saw to his heart's content, could even throw a hand grenade at my door and there would be no one to interfere.

Kate went shopping with me for replacements and my Aunt Claire sent a check which helped make up the difference between the current price of the items in question and what I received from the insurance company.

So I was robbed. Not too bad. Except for the nasty taste left by the experience itself. The apartment was no longer Safe Harbor; it had been violated. Whenever I went out I wondered if I would come home to find the door knocked in or ripped off. The hallways were eerie and not kept clean now that the building was empty except for me. Light bulbs by the stairs were not replaced unless I replaced them.



Pete Williams was my closest and dearest friend. Bright, witty, talented, warm, feisty, and, even better, complex. He was rarely without surprise.

We met in 1966 when he directed the pilot for a proposed TV soap (that never got on) and we hit it off immediately. We began going out on double dates, later went to the same gym together, and soon we saw or talked to each other every day. He was engaged to a lovely girl, Didi Morrow.

One evening about three months into our friendship, after we'd taken our dates home, we stopped by a bar for a nightcap. We ended up having three or four and when we left and were walking down the street, Pete suddenly slipped his arm around my shoulder. He surprised me; there was extreme warmth and intimacy about the gesture. When I looked over at him, he grinned and said, "That bother you?"

"No ..." I shrugged, trying to be as casual as possible. "Why?"

He shrugged in return, then gave my shoulder a squeeze. "Ever since I've known you, you got me pretending I don't have arms."

This stopped me dead. (That line stayed with me; it was typical of the way he put things.)

Pete stopped walking, too. He took his arm from around my shoulder and we stood there on the sidewalk facing each other as he dropped the zinger: "You know something, Jimmy? I'd like to go to bed with you."

The level offhand way in which he spoke let me know he was serious. So I said neither What nor Come on nor You're kidding!

I was, in fact, caught so completely off guard I was unable to speak. My expression must have said it all. The look on my face fractured him. He reared back, howling in laughter. This sudden explosion riled me, made me feel naive and stupid. When he stopped laughing and saw that my confusion had turned to anger, he tapped me on the arm. Cocking his head, he said: "Listen, just because I'd like to make it with you doesn't mean I couldn't also beat the shit out of you. Kindly unglue the face."

When I told him I did not indulge, he merely shrugged and said, "Too bad, you don't know what you're missing." My face still had incredulity stamped all over it. "I know," Pete grinned, echoing my thoughts, "what about Didi? Oh, Jimmy..." He shook his head. "I can tell from your expression there's not much use talking about it. I love her, I adore her. I have, what shall I say, catholic tastes, I can't help it, so I enjoy them. The best of both worlds. Besides, if I didn't feel I had enough love in me for more than one person, I'd feel downright bankrupt!" Once again he looked at me and laughed.

We, of course, did talk about it. We talked about everything as our friendship deepened. He never made another overture. Oh, he kidded, but that was all.

I was best man at his wedding and am godfather to his son, Pete, Jr. His marriage to Didi was as successful and happy as any marriage I've witnessed. This fall, after directing a soap for three years and several off-Broadway shows, he directed his first Broadway play, Duet for Lemons. A solid hit, still running. He had just signed for his first movie. He was on his way, moving up fast. No one deserved it more.

On October 16th, eleven days after the opening of his show, sitting in a movie house on Forty-second Street catching a double feature he'd missed — he died. Just died, sitting there alone in the balcony.

Pete Williams had recently turned thirty-seven, had no previous history of heart trouble, had rarely been ill.

His death was, to me, brutal, obscene, completely gratuitous. I did not take it well. By that, I mean I took it selfishly, as a deprivation, something taken away from me.

At the funeral parlor, when left alone with him — Didi had stepped outside with his mother — I stared and stared at that cocky upturned face, that nose, it was a pugnacious nose, the shock of chestnut hair, hair that seemed so alive now, the most alive part of him. I had belted down a few raw, burning shots, and suddenly I absolutely begged him: "Come on, Pete, come off it! Pete, that's enough, up and at 'em! Bad taste, Pete! Pete, joke over!"

I stopped and looked closely at him, stood there staring down at him. There, that mouth, the lips pressed together suppressing his grin, just a slight tug over in the corner, as if acknowledging the secret of his deception.

"Jesus, Pete — come on now!" And I caught myself with a hand raised. An impulse — to what! Slap him? Yes, actually slap him awake. Or make him flinch, scare him out of it by the threat of my gesture.

The next day, the day of the funeral, some minutes before those slick-haired carnationed monkeys in their foul gray suits closed that murderous gleaming mahogany lid for all time, I had an impulse to lean down and whisper: If you stop it — I'll make it with you. I will!

Pete's death still haunts me.



The second robbery was notable for the loss of one item.

I had, about ten months before, started work on a first novel. Although there was one very special story I felt I had within me to tell, that was not the primary reason for beginning to write.

I started to write because at the age of thirty-seven, which I was when I began, I felt all sense of dignity slipping away from my life. When you are diving into middle age — and it happens that fast, no getting back up on the board — and you cannot get up in the morning and, at the very least, put in a day's work at your profession, this is pitifully sad. Suffocation is what it is. I could not act unless what amounted to a committee composed of agent, producer, casting director, director, writer — and sometimes even a star or two — agreed that I was right for a part and, in effect, said: Yes, you may now be allowed to work for — what? Two days on a television show, or three weeks in an industrial, or two weeks in stock. Or half a day on a voice-over commercial.

My hand was constantly extended, in full stretch asking for work. I was beginning to feel the cramp. Even when I was working, there was the certainty that in two days or five weeks I would go begging again. I would be back in that depressing unemployment line, the one that ended at a fat Puerto Rican lady whose face tightened when she looked at my card, as if the word "actor" read "shit."

When Kate, who was a successful fashion photographer, one of the few women in the business, got up in the morning to go off to work, I would often fix her juice and coffee as she hurriedly pulled herself together. She would peck me goodbye at the door and I would be left there in my bathrobe on the cozy end of a domestic scene. I would cringe when she would sometimes say, "Jim, you don't have to get up, go back to sleep for a while."

All too true, there was nothing to get up for. I could as well spend my time sleeping as sitting there awake waiting for my agent to phone with an appointment to read for a commercial, along with perhaps fifty other actors, vaguely my height, weight, and age. Often so many actors showed for one part, you knew whoever was doing the picking must be punchy from the pure swarming mass of them, all with charm stops pulled to out. It amounted to Russian roulette.

Even worse, there were many days when the phone didn't ring.

This next part of the problem is so basic one needn't even have heard of Dr. Freud. Lately, I was finding that the frequency and quality of erection diminished in proportion to the number of days out of work.

Bad deal. Not only for me but for Kate.

A good night's sleep was getting hard to come by. One night I awakened at three in the morning, cold and sweaty, clutched by a prickly fear that the job I'd finished twelve days before was undoubtedly the last I'd ever get my hands on. I made a pot of coffee, took a shower, cleaned off my desk, got out a lined legal pad, and actually wrote the first nine pages of my novel by the time eight o'clock rolled around.

The relief! The joy to get up in the morning and have something to do, something I could do without awaiting results from the Central Committee.

I worked slowly if not steadily. Because I did, of course, get other acting jobs, and then there are the appointments, the auditions, the singing lessons, the readings that take up so much of an actor's time. Pete's death put a stop to all activities for over six weeks. I would just stare at the page and think of Pete, sometimes even write down his name. And mutter to God, then curse him, then stop talking to him altogether. But — write, no.

Now the perverse part. Kate is an extremely inquisitive girl. I would not talk about the book, let alone allow her to read my scribblings. The story was my secret, the more I kept it to myself, the stronger the compulsion to write it down. A good feeling.

One night when Kate was high and happy, she mentioned to mutual friends that I was, in fact, working on a novel. "Oh, really?" "True, Jimmy?" "How great!" "What's it about?"

"Oh, he won't talk about it, can't get a word out of him," Kate said. "But it's good," she added, beaming a wide smile.

The way in which she said it, the way it slipped out, together with her smugly satisfied smile, made me suspicious. "How do you know?" I asked.

She made a bad attempt at quick recovery. "I mean," she said, "I just know it is. I know you can write."

"You've been peeking!"

Immediate anger. "I have not been — peeking! I haven't! How dare you —" But her reddened face announced she had.

We had a dandy argument, during which I accused and reaccused her of looking into the desk drawer where I kept the pages. Infuriated and still denying, she snorted: "If you're so nervous, if you're so untrusting, buy a safe and keep your goddamn book in there. No, I'll buy you a safe!"

She didn't buy a safe, I didn't either. I did buy a small metal cabinet with a locked drawer and after that I kept the pages in there.

On November 14th, two days after I'd haltingly started back to work on the book, I came home to find my cat, Bobby Seale, in the downstairs hall of the building. I picked him up, climbed the stairs, and found the door pried off its hinges. Not only had the new television set and stereo been taken but the metal cabinet was gone.

The metal cabinet, by this time, contained nothing but my passport, a set of twelve dirty pictures Pete had given me, and two hundred and twelve pages of my novel. The only copy of the two hundred and twelve pages.

It is hard to describe my emotions. Anger? Rage? No, more like apoplexy.

Or insanity.

For the first week or ten days I harbored, sloshing around inside the mess that was me, the shaky hope/prayer that the burglar, once he'd discovered the total uselessness of the contents of the metal cabinet, might somehow return my book to me.

As the days passed it was apparent the book had been simply thrown out with someone's trash or left lying in an alley to be rained upon and blown away.

I was victim, not of burglary, but of kidnaping. My child had been taken away and destroyed.

The fantasies I had of catching the unspeakable bastard would fill a twelve-volume set of Gothic horrors. Oh, the scenes of torture, of bloodletting, that crammed my head, awake and dreaming.

This latest misfortune hit hard. I was inconsolable and miserable to be with. Miserable to be with myself, and miserable to be with Kate.

She was not really devious; she was curious and high- spirited and she'd finally admitted reading approximately one chapter. She loved it, she said she also promised she would not attempt to read more until I made an offer. Still, I had bought the metal cabinet. The pages had merely rested in my desk drawer, undisturbed, during the first robbery. But now that she'd forced me to keep them locked up, well, naturally Kate came in for her share of the blame.

I blamed myself, too. I even blamed my cat, Bobby Seale, whom I loved, berated him for sitting idly by while the burglar made off with my book.

"Can't you attack! Are the claws only for the furniture? Jesus, I ought to trade you in for a police dog, you rotten no-good black bastard, you!"



A few days after that, I received notice of eviction in the mail. I expected it, it figured, I shrugged. I was still numb from the loss of the book and not feeling any too happy about the apartment along about this time anyhow. Still, Kate persuaded me to contact a lawyer, Mr. Weisscoff, who assured me I would be able to remain in the building another six months at least. He made me promise not to talk to the new landlords or their lawyers, to refer everything to him. He assured me we could eventually expect a cash settlement if I did not panic.

Then, as I was feeling this was the most outrageous, the longest-lasting, record-holding, prize-winning enema of all time — there came a consolation prize.

Two weeks after the second robbery my agent sent me to read for a play, Married Alive, to star the current generation's answer to Debbie Reynolds, Miss Bebe Peach. I read three times in five days and to my surprise ended up with one of the three leading male roles, that of Tommy. I was to get featured billing, $450 a week, and rehearsals were to start January 2nd.

I knew that eventually I would get around to redoing the book. It would be hard, harder to try to re-create what I'd written than creating it in the first place. It was too soon to launch back into it, but I knew I would.

Kate and I celebrated that Friday night. We painted the town, used up all the primary colors, then stayed in bed almost all weekend. I was extremely virile.



This did not mean things were fine between Kate and me. We were undoubtedly at the end of our year-and-five-month affair, but no one knew how to yell "Uncle!"

There were many strikes against us. Kate made more money than I did, she was more extravagant, more open, more adventurous, more opinionated, more — almost more than I could handle. In every way except one.


Excerpted from P. S. Your Cat is Dead by James Kirkwood. Copyright © 1972 James Kirkwood Trust. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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P.S. Your Cat Is Dead 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
kitkats More than 1 year ago
Not the kind of book I usually pick up but the title caught my attention. Once I read the first page I jumped right in. I laughed and was shocked and wowed! I mean we all can relate to having it really crappy at times but this takes the cake! Really glad I read it and would tell anyone to give it a try. Hope you enjoy it!!
gina-magini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Such a clever, ironic, and at times funny book. It seems things couldn't get worse when his apartment is broken into. Oh, but they can. And such a weird ending! Loved it.
presto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jimmy Zoole is a none too successful actor in his late thirties, never having really made it. Then his best friend dies, he is burgled twice in succession, his girlfriend is leaving him, he loses his job in a leading role on Broadway and he has to vacate his flat . . . and his cat is dead. When on New Year¿s Eve he catches the burglar making a third attempt in his flat maybe things are about to change. After a struggle he has the burglar tied up and secured minus his trousers over the kitchen sink. What to do with him now? They talk, he learns his name, Vito, he is something of a loser, and he swings both ways.A brilliant and bizarre story, two potential losers come together in extraordinary circumstances, maybe it marks a change for them both. It is beautifully written and very funny; the two appealing main characters are complete opposites yet manage to bond. They story becomes more absurd and equally more gripping by the minute; impossible to put the book down.
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This book had me laughing! It is a very fast read, doesn't take long to finish it but I could see this being a movie, it would be funny!
Bandon More than 1 year ago
This is probably the only book I have ever read twice. I read this once in the early 70s, then again this summer after I bought it online. I had forgotten what it was about, so I really enjoyed it again the second time. Its a short, easy, funny, poignant read which is not like anything else I have ever read. I remember being saddened when James Kirkwood passed away many years ago at a young age. I had read all of his books and loved them all.
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yum More than 1 year ago
P.S. Your Cat is Dead was an enjoyable read. I read it within a few hours one day when I was bored and it caught my attention chapter after chapter, just when I wanted to take a break, it kept me going into another crazy chapter. The books plot was interesting, and I enjoyed the characters, but I kept wanting more towards the end. The ending was okay, don't get me wrong, but I expected something more. Still, I would recommend reading the book.
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WaterlillyWillow More than 1 year ago
While reading this book, I was constantly laughing! I really enjoyed it... until the very end. Once I was done, I had the strange feeling of "What was the point of that?" I hate that feeling, but it was so hilarious that I'm not sure why I felt that way! In certain parts of the book, I felt like there were 'inside jokes' that I wasn't privy to, so that added a bit of confusion and hilarity mixed in. All in all, I would say it's at least worth the read just so you can laugh!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Well, I'll be the first to say (at least on here) that this is a very funny and sarcastic book. Murphy's Law, in a way. Anything that could go wrong, will, and thats exactly what happened in the book. I LOVED the characters and the personalities throughout the book. Very very funny. Dirty in places though. Cussing, etc. You should still read it though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kirkwood is entirely too talented a writer to not currently be in print. Two of his books have been made into movies; There Must Be A Pony (which starred, if I remember correctly, Liz Taylor & Chad or Rob Lowe) and Some Kind Of Hero which starred Richard Pryor. They were both excellent books, as were Good Times, Bad Times and Hit Me With A Rainbow. The best Kirkwood though, one of my all time top 5 books, is P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. Kirkwood takes an extremely unlikely situation, makes it progressively less likely and yet makes you believe it as real, all while laughing so hard tears are streaming down your face. The characters are vivid, believeable and memorable. It's one of those books you just have to share with friends so the few remaining copies left out there are likely tattered. Personally, I found myself reading it once a year (sometime around newyears)for over 15 reads until finally I loaned it out a few years back and have never seen it since. If only it was still in print. If it were available I'd buy myself a much desired copy & about a dozen others for friends. It saddens me that I can no longer get the work of one of my top 6 all time fav writers. If you get a chance to get yourself a copy of this book, do yourself a favor & don't pass it up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It's one of my favorite books. I have never found a book as funny as this one. It's definitally worth taking a look.