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- BYU v. Wyoming Poinsettia Bowl Preview
- BYU v. Boise State Game Preview
- Boney Fuller Week in Review: West Virginia
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- Boney Fuller Week in Review: Utah
- BYU v. Utah Game Preview
- 3rd Down With the Clown: At the Gathering With Swoop
- Boney Fuller Week in Review: Arizona
- By the Numbers: 2016 Season Preview
- A Boney Fuller Interview With Wilbur Wildcat
- Boney Fuller’s Season Preview 2016
- Boney Fuller’s 7 Cougars You Should Know
A Boney Fuller Interview With Wilbur Wildcat
- Updated: August 30, 2016
“We chat about Tucson, about basketball, about upcoming prospects on the football team and Saturday’s match-up with BYU. Then suddenly, the English-toothed grin that has been plastered on his visage since I arrived breaks down and he puts his face in his paws. He sobs. I ask him if he’s alright and he looks up at me, his eyes desperate and pleading, the eyes of a broken cat-man.”
It’s closing in on four o’clock in the afternoon, but it’s midnight inside the Cadillac Escalade that picked me up from the airport as we roll through Catalina Foothills, an affluent Tucson, Arizona suburb where people have just enough money to afford living somewhere besides Tucson, Arizona. The mountain of a car pulls into a driveway that must have been modeled in scope and style to be some kind of hacienda version of the Champs-Élysées. The car door opens and I step into a sun that beats down on me like an NFL cornerback on date night. Through my scrunched eyelids I see a big-haired blonde who is, at first impression, completely naked beaming at me with a set of high-beam teeth that only serves to exacerbate my sudden blindness. She’s not naked. She’s wearing a red, white, and blue bikini with “UA” patches sewn onto the cups and what might be a re-purposed 1960’s era airline stewardess cap.
“Welcome to Wildcat Manor,” she says in a voice so chipper and hollow you can practically hear existential bleakness echoing into the oven hot air. She stares into my eyes with the fierce, thoughtless intensity of the professionally beautiful. “Wilbur will be down in just a moment. Oh, there he is now.” She gestures artfully up a flight of stairs that I’m just now seeing as my pupils try desperately to wink themselves out of existence in the relentless sunlight. Coming down the steps like an Aztec god in an Egyptian cotton bathrobe, I see the person I came to meet in the first place, Wilbur Wildcat. His swagger is such that I check to see that he’s walking down sandstone steps and not the prostrate backs of shirtless worshipers.
“Hey, bro. I’m Wilbur,” he calls out as he comes closer. My first impression, to be honest, is that of a half-starved house cat whose cruel owner dressed him in the gear of her favorite football team in one last fit of mortal dementia. He has crooked teeth with big black gaps between them and tufts of white hair shoot from the sides of his dead like dead desert milkweed. But he exudes a certain friendly arrogance that’s hard not to like, the cocky joviality of the damned. “Welcome to the manor. Come on up! Chelsea will carry your things.”
I move to object but I’m too late as Chelsea, the bikini-clad greeter, has already hefted my bags with astounding ease in her well-oiled arms and started carrying them up the steps ahead of us. We follow after her and all I can think is how grateful I’ll be to get out of this heat that feels like I’m a cupcake in God’s own Easy Bake Oven. We walk up the steps through a rocky garden of local plants to the massive pueblo manor house that lies astride the hilltop like a centerfold model looking down on the valley below. Chelsea leads me to my rooms and I’m astounded by the decadence of the accommodations, and the house’s fixtures in general. Seeing my slackened jaw, Wilbur gives me a wink. “Pac-12 money, bro.”
I’m told to make myself at home until the party starts. Apparently, the parties ensue nightly. We’ll do the interview tomorrow. What follows is the most astounding display of debauchery I’ve ever witnessed. I understand that coming from BYU, my naivety is assumed, but I’ve been around the world and I’ve seen a lot of things. Nothing could have prepared me for this. This was an 18th century bacchanal with 21st century technology and every abusable substance that man has ever conceived. All the while, the phrase “Bear down!” was being used to cheer on every kind of lascivious activity you could imagine and many you never could. I’d go into more detail, but the truth is that it is neither appropriate for any audience nor do I really remember everything that happened. The night passes by in a neon blur, despite my best efforts to keep a journalistic distance from the proceedings. I wake up the next morning (I think it was morning) with a headache that violates several nuclear arms agreements and a mouth as dry and bitter as Logan after a November loss to BYU. I was certain I hadn’t drunk (I don’t drink), but I must have absorbed something through the air. I go to flip the light on in my room. Nothing happens. It’s disconcerting.
I walk out of my room and into an eerie, discomfiting silence like you’d normally only get at a funeral or when someone makes a joke while crying during fast and testimony meeting. The whole house is dark. I make my way toward the vast, chandeliered foyer which has been transformed into an endless landscape of garbage and the stiffened, corpse-like bodies of incapacitated revelers. There in the middle sits the hunched over figure of Wilbur Wildcat, and I can see through the dim light that filters through the stained glass windows that he has his head in his hands. He hears me approaching and quickly looks up, flashing a ready smile. I can see that the fur on his face is matted and wet.
“Oh hey, bro,” he says thickly. “How’d you like the party?” I tell him my impressions and ask why the lights aren’t working. “Yeah, must be some utilities work going on down the street or something. Happens every once in awhile.” I ask if he’s ready to do the interview because I’m flying out that afternoon and we pick our way through the beer cans and twisted limbs until we find a relatively untouched room where we can sit in the darkness and talk.
We chat about Tucson, about basketball, about upcoming prospects on the football team and the match-up with BYU. Then suddenly the English-toothed grin that has been plastered on his visage since I arrived breaks down and he puts his face in his paws. He sobs. I ask him if he’s alright and he looks up at me, his eyes desperate and pleading, the eyes of a broken cat-man. “Bro, can I tell you something off the record?” he asks. “Yes,” I lie.
“I can’t live like this anymore, man. Everything you see here is a sham. This house is a foreclosure that I’ve been living in illegally. I guess they finally cut the power. These girls? Man, they’re not UA girls. Have you been on campus? It looks like the fairy godmother went on a drunken joyride through a Cabbage Patch Doll factory. Nah, they’re all a bunch of ASU communications majors I found wandering the streets a couple weeks ago. I let them live in the basement off a supply of whey protein I found down there.” He bawls into his paws, now wet with the tears that feel like a desert rainstorm.
“It’s just…ever since Wilma kicked me out…” He goes on to tell me about Wilma, his estranged wife, who apparently made him leave the real Wildcat Manor recently after he decided to stop wearing his trademark pistols and cowboy outfit. “There’s no such thing as a neutered ‘wild’ cat, Wilbur,” she’d said to him derisively as she threw his half-packed suitcase down the stairs. “Come back to me if they ever grow back.” But Wilbur, ironically, has stuck to his guns, medicating his pain with these drunken all-night ragers and spending the day curled up in a ball in a warm, sunny spot by the window, crying into the lush carpet.
For a while we just sit there while he looks at the floor and cries. I check my watch. I’m not wearing a watch. I check my cell phone. How many hours before takeoff do I need to be at the airport? Six? Six seems right. I tell Wilbur my flight’s leaving soon and I need to get to the airport. He begs me to stay and have breakfast but I think I’d rather use one of these beer cans to cut my wrists open at this point. If I stay much longer I’ll be watching Wilbur do the same. He eventually gives in. “I’ll have Chelsea pull the Caddie around,” he says dejectedly. It’s the best sentence I’ve heard since I arrived in Tucson.
Wilbur hugs me for a long time under the harsh morning sun, an explosive burning ball of middle fingers hanging in the pale blue sky. The bright light and open landscape of the desert valley hardly seems the appropriate venue for Wilbur’s grief and I hope he’ll go back inside to his coffin manor and let me head into town to find a breakfast burrito. Eventually, he does, and I whisper a silent prayer of thanks that he didn’t think of coming with me to the airport. I canter down the stairs at the fastest non-insulting pace I can and climb into the air-conditioned cave of the Escalade while Chelsea loads my luggage. It’s a different Chelsea, I think, but it’s astoundingly difficult to tell.
I gaze through the tinted windows at the rocks and cacti as we make our way out of Catalina Hills and into the valley. I’m a changed man for this experience. Maybe not worse. Maybe not better. But changed, nonetheless. I wish Wilbur the best. For all his faults, he’s certainly sincere in both his principles and his grief. It’s hard to say how much longer he’ll survive his lifestyle, though. Chelsea presses the gas pedal and I fall asleep to the hum of the engine and drift away from the strangest 18 hours of my life.