Memoir Nonfiction

Cal Meets Leon Phelps the Cat (When the Lights Go Out at 10:16)

Jeremiah had this cat named Leon Phelps, named, yes, after the character from the movie The Ladies Man of the same name. This is the story of when Leon introduced himself to Cal Adams, Jeremiah’s new roomie (from “When the Lights Go Out at 10:16: A Memoir of Life and Friendship”)

When the Lights Go Out at 10:16: A Memoir, is a story of life and friendship—when innocence is lost and reality is confronted—that began the day I learned one of my childhood friends and next door neighbor was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I was 21 years old at the time I began writing this story; my friend, Jeremiah Hamlett, was 24. It was the summer of 2003.

Note that what you are reading is a draft. Think of it as a behind-the-scenes view of the story as it is being written. At times, it will be structured and follow a linear path. Other times, it will be unstructured, out of order, and fragmented, and you may think to yourself, “What in the world is going on here?” That’s because I am not editing myself as I go. I’m slinging everything against the wall and will step back in July 2017, the time I have given myself to complete this draft, and see what sticks and what won’t make it off the cutting room floor. As a reader, I think you’ll enjoy this approach, and if you do, consider sharing the link with a friend or family member so they can read along too. For me, this approach is very liberating and allows me to focus more intensely on writing as well as tap into memories I thought long forgotten. It’s been a very long time since I last pulled this story from its desk drawer. I wasn’t ready to finish it then. I’m ready now. Enjoy.


Preface and Introduction

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In looking back at my email from years ago, 2008 to be exact, I ran across a few stories a mutual friend of Jeremiah’s sent me. His name is Cal Adams. Cal is a great storyteller. The worst speller I’ve ever known in my life, but a great storyteller. After all, he titled the email subject: “ramdom thoughts sorry about the spelling.” Perhaps you noticed ‘random’ is spelled incorrectly. And maybe you’re thinking, oh, geez, stop ribbing the guy; but that’s what friends do—even friends that write. We rib.

You should hear about the time Cal was drunk and tried to ride a donkey in a suit and tie in the middle of the night following a wedding party; or, the time my cousin Gary listed Cal’s phone number on a California craigslist ad selling Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs and he started receiving random phone calls at all times of the day and night. Or, the time he backed into a gas line outside an apartment complex, which in turn triggered a pilot light to flame inside, that in turn burned said apartment complex down to the ground resulting in millions of dollars of property damage. Don’t worry, no one was hurt. As I write this, I realize Cal needs to write his own memoirs for a humor collection. Move over Chelsea Handler. I just texted Cal as much to say so. He said he’d like to title his memoir A Confederacy of Dunces if that hasn’t been taken. Since it has been grabbed up, I told him I recommended A Confederacy of Double Deuces.

Cal Meets Leon Phelps the Cat

In the email Cal sent in 2008, he notes the first night and next day after he moved in with Jeremiah in Charlottesville in January 2005. It was a year and a half after Jeremiah had been diagnosed with brain cancer and had undergone multiple surgeries. The below transcript has been adjusted to include commas, periods, capitalized words when starting a new sentence, and to correct spelling errors such as tavle (table), nad (and), and chocolett (chocolate, though Cal may know French and I’m not aware).

“When I arrived at Spring Court, it was late afternoon,” Cal writes. “Jeremiah finally got me there after an hour of wrong turns. My sense of direction is [schlit]. When I knock on the door, Jeremiah says come on in, and when I open the door, he’s sitting in his recliner wrapped up in a 49ers blanket with Leon (d—khead) on his lap. After a Miller Lite, he shows me around the apartment. I can’t help but notice how well he kept it up. Everything had its own place. Blankets on the backs of the furniture, one for the couch and the other for the chair. Coffee table with ash trays and coasters. Books and magazines are organized underneath. The entertainment center with Playstation and controllers are in their proper place with games and DVDs aligned one by one inside. Magazines are all organized neatly on the shelves. The kitchen is the same way. Countertops clear, dishes done and put away. Nothing in the sink. In the cabinet, two big boxes of Frosted Flakes and enough chocolate Nestle Quik mix to last years.”


That night, after a few cold beers and video games, Cal inflates an air mattress and goes to sleep in Jeremiah’s office, which he couldn’t help but notice that in here, too, everything has its place and is well organized, including Jeremiah’s comic book collection.

Perhaps you noticed a few paragraphs back that “Leon” was sitting on Jeremiah’s lap. Perhaps you know Leon. Well, if not, Jeremiah had this cat named Leon Phelps, named, yes, after the character from the movie The Ladies Man of the same name. Leon was sometimes known to cause a little mischief.

The next morning Cal wakes to a deflated air mattress where his body is sunken into, and the sheets meant to keep him warm in the January cold are soaking wet. He walks into the kitchen where Jeremiah is eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes and drinking chocolate Nestle Quik, and relays his theory as to what happened.

“I guess Leon popped a hole in your mattress and pissed on you,” Jeremiah said. “He beat me to it.”

“What’s it going to do, give me cancer?”

Later that day, Cal goes back into the kitchen to make a Steak Umm sandwich. You know Steak Umm—like eating a leather baseball glove on a sub roll? Anyway. So, Cal opens the refrigerator to grab a beer and that’s when he spots a giant tub of mayonnaise—but not just one tub, multiple tubs, all from Sam’s Club. When he sees Jeremiah, and I’ll casually substitute the curse words here, Cal says, “You shouldn’t eat that schlit, it’s bad for you.”

To which Jeremiah replies, dropping the F-bomb (that’s right, “funk” with an –n), “You eat what the funk you want to eat, and I’ll eat how the funk I want to eat. Besides, what’s it going to do, give me cancer?”

He smiles.

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