Beloved boy cat of Penelope Reider and Gilles Thomain and adored by all who met him, Massimiliano passed on to his next life at 9PM on Monday, September 13th, 2010 in Paris, cradled in Penelope’s arms.
Also known as "Buddy", "Le Gamin", "Maximum Max", "Max la Ménace", "Maxou", "Bad Boy", "Baldie" , "Milk Mustache", "The VP of International Operations", and formerly known as "Captain Yellow Balls", Max was born on a farm in rural Georgia sometime in 1996 and picked out of a litter of six especially for Penelope as a gift from her then-husband, Fernando. Having been needled for several months about getting "a striped orange boy", he finally gave in. Pretending his car had been broken into yet again - as happened with annoying frequency at the time on North Avenue and Myrtle Street in Atlanta - he asked her to come outside and see what had happened. Pointing to the car, he said, "Look what they did!" Penelope could see no visible damage, but as she approached the passenger side to look inside for broken glass, sitting on the seat was a spritely orange striped kitten who looked up at her, cocked his head and meowed. She immediately dissolved into tears.
Seeing the "M" marking on his forehead, she decided to name him Massimiliano, after an Italian friend from Trieste whom she had met years earlier in France.
Max immediately took over the apartment on Myrtle Street and the hearts of all who met him. As a kitten, he would start to purr the moment he was touched even if it was just the tip of a finger, and was therefore constantly teased for his habit of purring "on contact". One memorable day, Penelope had taken him along with her to exercise, and as she did a sitting leg lift, Max the kitten climbed up her extended right leg and curled up in a ball on her hip. Exercising had never been more fun. That same day he also performed a death-defying leap from the top floor, scaring the shit out of Penelope, who had no idea what had just dropped from the sky.
Back at Myrtle Street, Max soon began to terrorize Fernando’s poor girl cat, "Ceci", eventually driving her into depression to the point where they would come home to find her sitting atop the sofa facing the wall. It was decided to house her at Atlanta’s famous "Cat Camp", aka Penelope’s mother’s house on East Rock Springs, where cats went to recuperate, recover, and rediscover their feline roots. Ceci was forever transformed, and Max became the sole cat on Myrtle Street.
After five years of antics and love on Myrtle Street, Max moved to Montgomery Street, where his dream of being able to live together with Ceci and go outside was quickly thwarted by several suspicious "accidents" he suffered, making his vet declare he not be allowed outside as his injuries appeared to be purposefully inflicted. The neighborhood was apparently not cat-friendly.
Max and Penelope then moved to a studio apartment on North Decatur Road. It was in Decatur where Max learned to walk on a leash. He started out humiliated and terrified, grazing the wall of the apartment building hallway in dread of what awaited outside, but quickly figured out that a quick dart into a bush and a pull on the leash while he was secured in the right position meant Penelope was left holding an empty harness as she yelled at him to get the hell back here, godammit. Many escape attempts were made; none were successful.
During Penelope’s many business trips, Max was lovingly looked after by his two faithful cat sitters, Penelope’s mother Daphne and Penelope’s sister Tatyana.
It was also in Decatur where Max forever left an impression on a group of Penelope’s friends. As they sat on the sofa waiting for her to come back from letting a friend in the building, he boldly walked in front of them, stopped at the front door to stand up on his hind legs, reached the doorknob, turned it with a flick of his paws and went out the open door, leaving them all sitting there mouths agape.
It was in this studio apartment that Penelope made him a promise: if she someday made it to Paris, she would take him with her.
At Christmas in 2003, Penelope received a gift that would forever attract attention – the famous cat bag. Originally designed to carry a small dog, it is a red backpack that converts to a rolling suitcase and a small bed. It was in this bag that Max would make his many voyages, be they to the vet or to foreign lands. Wherever they went, people would ask where to buy that bag.
In summer 2004, Penelope and Max moved to Paris. It was Penelope’s particular delight to make the surly passport control agents at the Roissy airport laugh by presenting them with a miniature passport she had created for him, complete with photo and paw print. She did not know at the time that Max would indeed have a passport in the future, European this time, with no bureaucratic wait of three months. She would be green with envy when she saw how easily he obtained European citizenship.
After a year of studiously ignoring and occasionally tolerating a series of men no good for Penelope, Max finally met his lifelong buddy and partner in crime, Gilles, in 2005. Originally not particularly fond of cats, Gilles was conquered by Max’s charm and charisma, especially touched by a display of affection full of heat butts and purring while being assisted by Max with a complicated IT intervention on Penelope’s ancient laptop.
"The boys", as they came to be known, would go on to become the best of friends and accomplices; watching countless action movies - nicknamed "boy movies" - solving numerous IT issues as a crack team, going on unauthorized walks, eating unapproved-of foods, taking luxurious afternoon naps and other scandalous behaviour typical of partners in crime.
In May 2008, Penelope, Gilles and Max moved in to the apartment they bought on Boulevard Ney, which incidentally, Max helped them buy. Known for opening doors, both figuratively and literally, it was the mention of Max to Mme. Couty, a formidable Parisian real estate professional working for Penelope’s company, which broke the ice and provided the proverbial key. A passionate lover of cats, it was with her incomparable help and through her powerful influence that they were able to negotiate a good price and get fair loans.
Penelope and Gilles became accustomed to being upstaged. Wherever the three of them went, Max was the center of attention. Friends and family would ask after him before inquiring about their welfare. Countless children would call for "Mask". Wherever he went, whoever he met, he left an impression.
Renowned for his remarkable intelligence, Max’s accomplishments ranged from being able to open almost any door, immediately understanding that a laser pointer was not a physical object able to be caught (he straightaway looked at the dot on the floor and up at Penelope’s hand holding the pointer, and then walked away, miffed), raising the alert that his dry food was moldy by knocking over the bag so its contents would spill on the floor, and, upon seeing a big screen TV for the first time (set to the Animal channel), he walked up to the screen, pawed at the bugs, and then looked below and behind the screen to see where the images went.
Max was particularly fond of very loud bouncy rubber balls, green beans, any food made of starch, Gilles’ clothes closet, and being rubbed on his belly. Shaved for an ultrasound, it remained thereafter pink and hairless due to constant belly rubbing "love sessions." It was the ultimate sign of distinction and affection to be on the receiving end of his "paws of love," one, two or even four of his paws placed on the face or chest of the person rubbing his belly. He never tired of a good can of freshly-opened tuna, or a kiss on the nose.
His dislike of vacuum cleaners, dancing and being teased about his "rabbit legs" never abated.
In May 2009, after a couple of mysterious health issues, Max was diagnosed with diabetes and kidney disease at the age of 13. His diet was completely revolutionized from dry food to organic wet food imported from Germany, and he began undergoing twice-daily insulin shots. He taste-tested a wide variety of wet foods from around the world -diabetic cats being particularly finicky and capricious in their tastes - one minute chicken aloe vera was the tastiest thing ever, the other minute only rabbit with veal would do.
After an initial round of treatment, Max showed all the signs of being cured from diabetes, a phenomenon unique to the feline species. Max would go on to be "cured" a total of four times, the last being in March 2010. Throughout the management of his diseases, Max remained upbeat, loving, curious, and incredibly brave and charming during all his clinic visits, shots, pills and ear pricking. Vets and vet techs alike enthusiastically greeted him whenever he came through the door. He had an international team of veterinarians working to solve his health issues, from Atlanta to Paris to Italy. He had even been selected to become a case study in Paris’ renowned veterinarian school in Maisons Alfort.
Max is widely believed to be the only American cat to have travelled to both Slovenia and Southern France, so far away from his native rural Georgia. He also travelled to Aix-en-Provence, Angoulême, Le Rimbert, Périgueux, Limoges, Venice, Dubrovnik, Opatija, and Trieste. He had travelled by plane, car, train and boat. It was his particular relief to have never been subjected to the helicopter or the submarine.
His last voyage in the famous cat bag saw him through Italy and former Yugoslavia. In Venice, an elegant lady on the vaporetto declared upon seeing him, "Che bello! Che bravo! Che buono!" After two and a half weeks of sun-filled balconies, local fresh fish, and local bugs caught with brio, he suffered a setback while in Opatija, Croatia, causing Gilles and Penelope to race him back and forth through Slovenia to a veterinary clinic in Trieste, of all places, where the raven-haired veterinarian declared him to be a "fighter".
Upon his return to Paris, unable to walk or feed himself, he was put to rest. His body was interred in Le Rimbert, home to Gilles’ now cat-loving parents.
He is greatly missed. He taught us much : how to love selflessly and unconditionally, how to be patient, how to comfort and ease sickness, and how to let go of the unimportant. He leaves an enormous void. May he rest in peace knowing he changed us for the better.