Laura Yuen
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The signs stapled to telephone poles in northeast Minneapolis had the no-frills feel of a homemade flyer advertising an upcoming garage sale.

But the words were anything but utilitarian. They were raw, vulnerable, slightly profane and flowed from a man who, to quote Wynonna Judd, was both broken and blessed.

The sign was an obituary. For a cat. A female, one-eyed cat named Steve.

"Steve ran the Sheridan neighborhood of NE Minneapolis with an iron fist-paw," the obit began. "Steve only had one eye but don't let that fool you, she could still see the stupit [sic] sh— you were up to. Steve only bit one person."

The tribute went on to say that Steve was the best cuddle-kitty of all time. That she loved being vacuum cleaned. And that she "was a girl with a dude's name because I'm a dude with a girl's name and we were in this together."

The obit wasn't signed, but thanks to help from the staff at the nearby Knight Cap bar, I was able to track down its author, Kelly (the dude with a girl's name) Loverud.

"Did you read the way I spelled 'stupid' wrong?" he said with a laugh. "I noticed that after I did it, but I was crying at the time." (He also acknowledged that in hindsight, "stupid" was a hilarious word to misspell.)

The error can be forgiven, even though Kelly, 48, earns his living by creating high-end content that exudes polish and panache. A gifted photographer, he has amassed a portfolio that includes portraits of luscious food, smoky cocktails and men with enterprising mustaches.

Kelly explained to me that in his grief of losing his 19-year-old cat, he staggered around NE. 4th Street, devastated, stapling Steve's tributes to those phone poles. He didn't know if anyone would read them. But it felt good and cathartic to say goodbye.

About 13 years ago, Kelly helped care for the tabby, originally named Stevie Valentine, when his then-girlfriend moved in. At the time, Steve was not a good cat. She was peeing all over the house and was fixated on the world beyond her windows. Kelly was convinced Steve was not the typical housecat that contently lounged indoors all day.

"Steve had to get out and be a cat," he said. "She had this bloodlust that needed to be satiated."

Once he started to let her outside, Steve would return home, triumphant with sparrows. "A lot of people get really mad when they hear that, but she was just a cat being a cat," he said. "And from that point on, she was pretty much perfect."

Steve sauntered around the streets of Sheridan like everything was hers. She invited herself into various homes, and it wasn't uncommon for Kelly to get a phone call from a random neighbor reporting that she was sleeping on their porch. Once Kelly tucked Steve into his hooded sweatshirt and hopped onto his scooter. They motored their way to Jimmy's Bar, and Steve strode right in on her leash, as if it were just a regular night out.

Several years ago, Steve suffered from a painful eye disease and had to have her right eye removed. The vet replaced it with a black silicone implant that eventually turned to a cloudy gray. "It didn't change her life. It just made her look cooler," Kelly recalled.

As for how she came to love having her coat vacuum cleaned, Kelly first tested it out with a 30-foot hose and a Shop-Vac. She liked the feeling of it, so gradually he transitioned to a handheld vacuum cleaner. It was like a kitty massage.

"If I turn on the vacuum, she just comes running," Kelly said.

When I talked to Kelly, he was still in that fresh phase of mourning in which one speaks of the departed in both past and present tense. But it was a surprise when we finally connected. I had left messages with him — by phone, email and at the bar — and I didn't hear from him for many days.

I assumed he didn't want to talk, but it turns out he was at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. (Although heavy rains stranded tens of thousands in the mud this year, Kelly said he and his friends survived just fine, as they had plenty of food, water and alcohol to power through 12 days in the desert.)

During the festival, Kelly put on a three-piece suit and a pair of custom-made socks that, naturally, bore the image of Steve's face. He entered the Burning Man temple, a blossom-shaped sanctuary made of die-cut wood that provided a space for healing, reflection and renewal. Where others placed pictures and memorials of people they had lost, Kelly left behind Steve's collar and the obit he wrote for her. On the final night, he watched the temple burn.

That felt good and cathartic, too.

"She was the best cat a guy could ever want," he wrote in the last line in Steve's obit. "I loved her more than anything and I miss her tons."