Maxwell Silver Hammer Smith, 1987–2008

   Max in profile © 2007 by Leah A. Zeldes. All rights reserved.
After a brief but valiant battle with cancer, Max departed this world on April 4, 2008, a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday. A long life for a cat — much too short for so beloved a friend and companion. He is sadly missed.

This page, created for his 20th birthday, stands as a memorial.

But we must travel onward,
Outward, then outward again,
Exploring the uttermost reaches
Far beyond the realm of men.

My heart turns home in longing
Across the voids between....

May his way be forever planted with catnip, and each new day begin with gentle brushing.

Image by ed 2 Maxwell Silver Hammer Smith. © 2007 by Leah A. Zeldes. All rights reserved.

Maxwell Silver Hammer Smith, age 20

Max's Birthday Party

Welcome to Max’s birthday party!

Max is either a 20-year-old birman cat or a furry alien from another planet. We’re not sure which. He looks something like a seal-point Siamese, only with a stockier body; longer, silkier fur; and wacky white feet.

We are having a virtual party because Max has terrible company manners. So curl up in a chair, have a nosh (Pit’r Pats are Max’s new favorite cat snack) and a drink (Max drinks only distilled water) and listen to some music.

“Like most cats who live under the same roof with but one or two humans, he had always been more sagacious than cats of a common household.... He acted, that is, as nearly like a small mortal dressed up in a hairy coat as one could expect a cat to act. He was what is called an ‘intelligent’ cat.” — Walter de la Mare, “Broomsticks,” 1925.

Max has never exactly been a regular cat. A lot of the time he acts like, “Well, this is dumb, but cats are supposed to do it, so I guess I have to.” As he has gotten older, this happens more and more.

We hoped to interview Max for this web page. He’s normally a very talky cat. He meows, chatters, yowls and demands constantly ... until we got the recorder out. Our friend Leigh lent us a nifty digital recorder, but Max was convinced that little black box was going to capture his soul. We did manage to record a few words and some purring, though.

Max says: Feed me!   Now!   More! more!   Hear Max purr.

Cat Women: Female Writers on their Feline Friends (Seal Press/May 2007/$14.95)

You can read more about Max’s otherworldly habits in “Planet Catnip: My Life with an Alien Cat” by Leah A. Zeldes, part of Cat Women: Female Writers on their Feline Friends (Seal Press/May 2007/$14.95), a collection of touching, thought-provoking and often humorous stories written by women about their beloved cats. The book features more than 25 personal essays, from the heartwarming story of how a stray cat saved a friendship to speculations about Max:

For years, I’ve suspected that my cat, Max, is an alien. I don’t know what planet he beamed down from, but he’s definitely Out There.
For one thing, he likes to follow us around the house, watching intently, as if he’s taking mental notes on all our doings to report to someone later. I work at home, so his favorite observation spot during the day is my desk. When he’s not staring unnervingly at my computer screen while I type, he’s sitting on my papers — he has a sixth sense of just which one I need at any time, and that suddenly becomes his favorite resting spot.
But anyone could argue that those are “normal” cat traits. The biggest hint I have that Max is not from this world is his abnormal reaction to catnip. Most cats, when exposed to this herb, become excited, euphorically sniffing, rolling around, shaking their heads, and rubbing against things. Even lions and tigers have this catnip response. Not Max....

Hear Max in a Podcast!

Max had an exciting ride to a local Culver’s for a birthday treat of frozen custard and ChicagoScope recorded it all. You are there.

Geriatric cat stuff

Although more cats are living to older ages these days, felines are considered to reach “senior” status by age 7 and average lifespan is about 14. So 20 is a fairly remarkable age. Experts vary on how this translates to human terms, but it’s the equivalent of somewhere between 96 and 100 years old.

Max is strictly an indoor cat, which, of course, has contributed to his longevity. Free-ranging cats, on average, live only between three and five years. Most die in car accidents. However, the oldest cat ever recorded by Guinness World Records was 38-year-old Creme Puff (1967–2005) from Austin, Texas, so Max has a ways to go.

In his old age, Max has slimmed down from his former Big Cat status. In his heyday, he weighed 15 pounds. Five years ago, though, he started to have a little thyroid trouble, a common condition in older cats, and he lost a few pounds.

“Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want.” — Joseph Wood Krutch, “Twelve Seasons,” 1949.

The biggest weight loss has been in the last couple of years, since he became a finicky eater. For years, Max was perfectly happy with dry food from Science Diet for his main meal. He’s always had a yen for whatever his people are eating — including such surprising foods as watermelon and ratatouille (although not coffee) — but he’d eagerly chomp down the kibble, too. Then one day he turned up his little brown nose, and hasn’t really gone back to it, since. We were frantic.

Eventually we managed to get him eating again with Gerber baby food -- his favorites are chicken and ham. Yuck. It’s hard to believe that we ate that stuff as babies. But then he stopped eating that, too. We’ve learned that the key is variety and strong flavors. One day he wants 9Lives liver and bacon or “Super Supper,” another Meow Mix Market Select chicken and liver (although he usually just laps up the gravy and leaves the rest); then it’s back to baby food. Sometimes only fresh roast chicken will do. Our vet says this is common in older cats, too, but we think he might have snuck online and seen a Morris commercial.

“A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat — may be a home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?” — Mark Twain, “Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins,” 1894.

Max drinks distilled water because when he was a few years old he had a bit of trouble with urinary tract infections, a typical male-cat problem, and we thought our hard water might be contributing to the problem. We switched to distilled and it seems to have done the trick — he hasn’t had any such trouble since. Since his kidneys now need a little help, we encourage him to drink more with a Bubbler to aerate his water.

You can’t see Max’s eyes very well in the picture — taking pictures of cats without getting that “devil red” glow is very tough! They used to be pale blue, but they have darkened with time, due to a condition called lenticular sclerosis, a normal progressive change of the eye lens in older cats. It appears as a dark, bluish-gray haze, but it doesn’t seem to affect his vision much.

Max’s typical day

Fun with Max

Max also likes to play “Leaper,” although he doesn't leap as high as he used to. When he was younger, he could jump 5 feet after a wand toy (he likes the kind with mylar ribbons best). He probably still can, but he can’t be bothered.

He has been known to play “Fetch” with a rubber ball, too, though he tends to drop it farther and farther away as the game progresses, so that ultimately the human winds up doing most of the fetching.

In honor of his birthday, Max is learning to count to 20 in Japanese. So far, he can say “ichi.” He likes the action and the duckies, but otherwise, he thinks this video is all wet....
Kazoe Uta by Mini Moni

The Martian cat test

Here is the reason we first suspected Max might be an alien. He flunks this test.

More than 20 years ago, before Max came to live with us, we read about this test in an article by Jeanne Gomoll. The simple test involves a length of nonstretchy fabric. Starting behind the front legs, wrap the cat, encasing its torso, until you reach the hind legs. Wrap tautly enough that the fabric stays put, but don’t pull so tight it hurts your cat. Place the cat on its feet.

An Earth cat will fall over, giving you a pained look.

Max, on the other hand, gives a little wriggle, escapes from the wrapping and bites you.

Alien cat sites (not very convincing, really)

Max’s favorite music

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by the Beatles
There you have the explanation for Max’s full name. He was feisty even as a kitten.
Max was disgusted to find out that Max is the number-one male cat name in the U.S., based on pet-tag orders at However, his tag doesn’t have his name on it — it says: “If I’m outside, I’m lost!”

“You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does — but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.” — Mark Twain, “A Tramp Abroad,” 1879.

Left-click arrow to play. Right-click song name to download.

Me-ow by Mel B. Kaufman, played by Jaudas’ Society Orchestra
Source: The Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Library

When Cats Take Over the World by Jamie Anderson

Kitten on the Keys by Zez Confrey, played by Paul Copeland

’Long About Midnight by Ed Bogas and Desiree Goyette, performed by Lou Rawls
Source: Here Comes Garfield at Way Out Junk

Tom Cat by Charles Williams, performed by Muddy Waters
Source: Uppity Music

I Wanna Be a Cat by Nobody
Source: (scroll down here for translated lyrics)

Stray Cat Strut by the Stray Cats

Max has all these parts, too!


Max’s people: Hire them and keep him in cat food!