You’ve seen this scene in almost every crime movie: The hero is walking down the street when he passes a parked car with a crooked cop and his muscled sidekick and they invite the hero to “Go for a ride” so “We can talk to you.” Then, after traumatizing him with threats while circling several city blocks, the crooked cop and his muscled sidekick drop off the hero in the exact same spot where they picked him up.
One very hot summer day, John and I were walking through our neighborhood on our way to lunch when we passed a utility pole stapled with the usual Lost Pet flyer. I did what I always do which is to stop, study the picture, learn the lost pet’s name and characteristics (“Cuzco is very skittish and may scratch” ”Lily is excessively shy and may bolt” “Buttons is deaf in one ear” “Arnold takes anxiety medication”). The personality portion of the flyer always begs a few questions: Maybe Arnold needs medication because he doesn’t exactly enjoy your company? Is Cuzco “skittish” or trying to claw his way to freedom? And why, seriously, do you want this pet back when the whole relationship just sounds like a 1950s prison movie with Susan Hayward?
It turns out that this Lost Pet was non-neurotic young tabby who was simply new to the neighborhood and somehow slipped through the door.
Later that same day, my teenage son and I were driving about a dozen blocks from the posted flyer when we came upon a group of young girls on a sidewalk, playing with a young tabby that was the exact image of the Lost Pet Cat. I say ‘playing’, but the scene more accurately resembled a dinner party of dissolute French aristocrats months before their unfortunate introduction to the guillotine, as they sat around ridiculing someone who had just left the room to use the chamber pot. That is to say, they weren’t handling the little cat as much as they were carrying on a kind of running commentary. I’m guessing that some think tank is studying this tendency of Children in the Computer Age right now.
Now I’m disinclined to involve with seemingly unaffiliated animals because of the possibility of the encounter turning into something like an adult version of Hot Potato at the moment when the music stops. I dread an adorable cat following me down the street, or making eye contact with some friendly dog on the loose. For some reason, ‘acting like you don’t care’ is kind of a cross-species turn-on; nothing says pursue me like pretending to check the gum on the bottom of your shoe.
It was with great resignation to the vagaries of life and loss that I leaned out my window (but compromised by keeping the engine running) to ask about the little cat. I am no expert when it comes to nine year old girls, but their excitement at being asked about the cat was pretty impressive. They all spoke at once. They didn’t know who it belonged to; it just showed up. Why did I want to know? Where was the pet flyer? What was it’s name? What was my name? Where did I live? Did I have any cats? They liked Persians. Didn’t I think it should have a collar? A diamond one, in purple. They told me their ages and pointed out their houses. This cat had a home. Was I looking to steal this cat? Someone used to have a cat. Could this be their cat? Could they have the phone number on the flyer? It was an exchange that made little sense, offered no concrete information, was frequently contradictory and was full of more than a little informational one-upmanship.
In short, they so exhausted me that when they offered to return the cat, I said, good and started to leave. Wait! They cried. Where was the flyer? Trying to follow their conversation was nothing next to trying to give them directions to the flyer. It was like talking to aliens. (“Walk up the street two blocks.” ”What street?” ”This street.” ”This street?” ”Yes.” ”What about that street?” ”That street is the wrong direction.” ”But I live on that street.” ”But the flyer isn’t in that direction.” ’Which direction is it?” ”Up that street.” ”Can I go down that street?” And so on, culminating with my favorite comment, “What’s a flyer?”)
Their final remark to me, as I tried to pull away from the curb was that they wanted me to return the cat for them. Actually, they were quite emphatic about it. In popular parlance I believe this is known as “acting like the boss of someone.”
My son retrieved the young tabby, bringing him back to the car, where I had rolled up all the windows despite the blistering hot day. We had just begun our search for the flyer when the cat, docile up until now, let out a yowl and leapt from my kid’s hands while demonstrating a claw dexterity on par with Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. All I could think was please,not the eyes.
If you have never been in an enclosed car on a very hot summer day with a really angry cat, then you really haven’t experienced the dual discomfort of cat pinball as all its hair is now being transferred to your sweaty self. And, as with most highly charged moments involving two or more human beings, someone is yelling directives (“Hold on to it!” ”Keep it away from the accelerator!!” ”I said, hold on to it!”) while the other is saying, “I’m trying” but really thinking, Don’t you think I would IF I could, if only to smack you with it. You have like, twenty seconds before everything devolves into petty criticisms that have nothing to do with the current situation.
We found the flyer. I got out to read the phone number, leaving my son in the car. Okay, before you judge, hear my reasoning: He’s young. He’ll heal faster.
No one answered.
The end of the story is that I brought the cat back to the place where I snatched it. A neighbor, who also knows me, explained that the little cat belonged to her neighbor and why was it in my car? This was when I realized that the answer was, Taking it for a ride.
All I could think about was the little cat telling its other cat friends, “Yeah, I was hanging around, you know how I like to do my business at the green house, when this blue car pulled up. I didn’t think anything of it, until this kid picked me up and there I was—in the car!!”
“No way!” said the other cats.
“I was cool with it until the car started moving.”
“Where did they take you?” Then one cat’s voice drops to a whisper, ”Was it the vet?”
“No. They drove to a far street corner.”
The cats said nothing.
“Then brought me back here.”
“Wait, I don’t understand,” said one of the cats. ”They took you for a car ride? On a ninety-three degree day?”
“Up by Cuzco’s house.”
“Then brought you back to where they picked you up?”
Then there is more discussion of what it all meant, with one cat saying that he hoped you released more hair than normal, and what a drag it is being domesticated, and how they don’t find people as amusing as people finds cats entertaining, which led to the obvious theories of evolution and wondering what’s for dinner.
Here is what I wrote in an earlier blog about our former Manx, JB:
…[she had] an alarming, rather creative anal issue that would’ve been funny had it been happening to someone else’s cat. We were told it was a “Manx thing” but I really must call bullshit because I’ve since had another Manx and there was no alarming anal business with him.
All true—until yesterday when it seems the gods were screwing around at their desks, halfheartedly checking out bad plastic surgery on the Internet, while lamenting the inability to “discover anything new online” (a fundamental flaw with being all-knowing), that they stumbled across the above statement in my blog. Hmm, they said, perking up a bit, Doesn’t she have another Manx? And isn’t that Manx in possession of an anus? Then someone called out for martinis and tacos and the next thing I knew, I was headed back to the vet with our little Manx, Otis.
Now here I must digress. I’m currently in the second month of a Self-Improvement Program where, among other things, I’m trying not to mix-and-match my waking and sleeping wardrobe, while make an effort to get out more. I happen to be one of those people who gives the impression of being more social than I am because I’m cheerful and chatty and tend to enthuse over the prospect of “getting together.” I am sincere about wanting to see people; I’m just equally sincere about wanting to stay home. Socializing is one of those things where the more you do it, the better you do it, and the less you do it, the more you gaffe, which makes you not want to go out very often, which makes you more gaffe-prone when you do go out. In short, you become your own social problem.
For example, a couple of months ago some friends of ours, who live in a large and lovely Victorian that had once belonged to something like the richest guy on the block, invited us to a dinner party. Their house is a nice blend of a couple of centuries: The structural elements of their beautifully remodeled kitchen includes 19th century wooden columns salvaged from a razed school house, and a gorgeous, repurposed wooden beam rescued from an early 20th century barn, alongside shiny restaurant-style appliances. They also removed the wall between the dining room and kitchen, playing with the whole formal/casual thing, then added a pair of French doors opening onto a deck, secluded by landscaping that looks untouched by a human hand. The entire effect is actually transporting.
The main floor bathroom, located at the end of its own small, dedicated hallway is in keeping with the elegant-modern Victorian vibe. The vintage wooden door is inset with a large sheet of glass. A bathroom door. Sheet of glass. My first thought was This is kind of crazy. Then I considered the close attention paid to the rest of the decor and thought, Or is it crazy like a hip, happening decorator? Here I must digress from my digression for a minute—I had been in a very groovy downtown restaurant a few years ago and the one-room restrooms had sliding glass doors that, when the light came on, blocked the interior view from the people waiting outside. I could see them but they couldn’t see me. It was like peeing while observing a police procedural at HQ.
So here’s the inherent problem with a bathroom that resembles something in a design magazine: I’m not quite sure what is meant to be admired and what is meant to be used. Which brings me to the fancy drapes, held back on either side of the door by what I believe are called “holdbacks”, and pooling artfully on the floor. I stood inside the bathroom, examining the drapes as if I were one of the 2001: A Space Odyssey apes puzzling over the monolith. If my hosts wanted to obscure the view, why didn’t they use textured or frosted glass? And wouldn’t some sort of window shade indicate its purpose in a way that a pair of heavy, perfectly arranged floor-length drapes using holdbacks, do not?
Then it occurred to me that this wasn’t glass glass but trick glass; a kind of wink and a nod within all this Victoriana. After all, it wasn’t as if the toilet was tucked discreetly behind a set of thick Turkish towels on a heated rack, or a refurbished locker from a colonial men’s club that now served as a linen closet. The drapes were merely the frame for the cool window.
I should add that the only illumination in the bathroom came from strategically placed lit candles, lending the interior a soft, romantica glow. Having decided that the glass was the sort of trick glass that was activated by flooding the room with light, I knew the candles were inadequate for the task and flipped on all the lights.
There I was, using the facilities—attempting to use the facilities—panicking a little over a sudden attack of pee-shyness brought on by the sense of being on display when a male guest, who I had yet to be introduced to, came to the door. I didn’t panic because I was in a well-lit bathroom and I knew, per the groovy restaurant restrooms, that I was invisible to the exterior. When the guest reached for the no-lock doorknob I called out, “Someone’s in here!” not wanting, of course, to be walked in upon.
His response was to make eye contact before offering me a little “didn’t mean to disturb you” wave as he disappeared down the hallway.
When I quickly returned to the party (if I was absent any longer Mr. Nameless Bathroom Guy may have thought he interrupted a far more involved activity—forget that I didn’t even get to do what I originally had gone in there to do so I still had to pee but didn’t feel comfortable excusing myself again when I had only just joined everyone), all the guests were at the table. I took the one empty chair to find myself next to Mr. Nameless Bathroom Guy; yes, sitting next to Mr. NBG who had last seen me…sitting.
Though we talked all evening I have no idea what was said because all I could think about was that he had seen me where he had seen me, all the lights on, while I was acting as if I were invisible—I had called out to him when he was staring right at me, like a Mistress Obvious of Indoor Plumbing—and that for all I knew he thought I was some kind of golden shower aficionado who opted not to use the very conspicuous and copious drapes that were clearly to insure privacy, and that maybe he played into my little Dinner Party Toilet Fantasy that I like to indulge in during social occasions with strangers because he had never met me before and so had no way to judge my behavior.
Back to the cat. Last week, the Cat OD prevented us from going to a barbecue that we had been looking forward to attending.
This week we had to miss out on another party for a friend of ours who had been living in New York for the past six months—all due to yet another, serious Cat Problem that I won’t elaborate upon here except to say that it was creepy, unusual, serious, and involved an anus, as was previously mentioned. And it cost $400, which I’m beginning to think is the exact cost of some recreational activity someone at the vet enjoys.
On Sunday, I was reading the paper when our dog, Milo went into the backyard to enjoy the dusty dirt pit that she excavated for herself two summers ago. It’s shaded by the bay of a bay window with a depth that leaves her head at ground level. Even when you know it’s there, it’s still a little disconcerting to walk past a dog’s head, especially when the eyes are open. I’m tempted to blame the album cover of ”Goat’s Head Soup.”
Milo is a shortish, pleasingly rotund dog who looks a little like something assembled from the leftovers of other breeds, though she is actually an Australian Cattle Dog/miniature Australian Shepherd mix. Her mother, the Australian Shepherd, was a show dog while her father was the caddish opportunist belonging to the neighbors who commenced his brief romance with the show dog after the owner asked her TV watching teenage son, in what can only be described as an epic moment of optimism, to “watch Bunny while I take a shower.”
Milo is adorable, with her loaf-like body on short, slender legs, causing strangers to constantly say things like “Someone needs to put the food bowl down” and “Whoa, someone never misses a meal” and the ever classic “Hey, Fat Dog.” ( A woman even once said to me repeatedly, as Milo sat patiently outside a store, “Your dog looks like a pig!”) For the record, Milo has been on more diets and calorie-restricted food than a supermodel; the only things missing are the Marlboros and bulimia. Additionally, she has led an unbelievably active life that has included day hikes, camping trips, vacations at the lake, walks around the neighborhood, and two extended trips to the park every day. In short, she is like her own part-time job. But I have a theory about this: Dogs are like the Internet. People say all kinds of shit on the internet because there is no personal consequence. Insulting a dog is the same rude, cowardly behavior. I say this so you’ll know exactly what I’m thinking if you see me with Milo in the park and mistake insults for conversation.
Milo, being fourteen years old and on medication, decided to skip breakfast (as supermodels do) which I didn’t bother to pick up (as negligent pet owners do), thus providing the ideal opportunity for our seventeen year old cat, Otis, to grab a quick bite before racing out the front door as if being pursued by jackals.
But here’s the thing about Otis: along with his many idiosyncrasies is the one that I call Bowl Recognition. Bowl Recognition means that Otis will only eat, or drink, out of one of three bowls. To wit, no matter how enticing the food, if it is in an unfamiliar bowl Otis develops a food paranoia on the level of a double agent at the height of the Cold War. He’ll stare at the food, then stare at you, then back to the food. Except on Sunday when, he decided to dine out and ended up eating Milo’s codeine.
This was the moment where, for some inexplicable reason, I suddenly turned into Joan Collins, who when asked about the thirty-two year difference between herself and her significantly younger husband, said, “If he dies, he dies,” because I found myself considering handling the situation on a “see what happens basis”—even though my much-loved seven pound cat just ingested the amount of codeine calibrated for a forty-two pound dog. Incredulous almost—though not quite—covered John’s reaction, voiced with “You’d let him die?” (Side note: Seeing how your loved one handles the care and treatment of other living things is only a short leap to see how they will treat you, the biggest living thing their lives, so John’s distress may, or may not, have been limited to Otis). I immediately answered, “Of course not,” now switching it up as if John were the one to cavalierly suggest the Let’s Get On With Our Day And See What Happens School of Pet Care.
We ended up racing out to a far off animal emergency hospital where they told us that they would have to keep him on an IV for at least 8 hours, along with “giving him something to make him throw up.” Fun fact: It’s not that easy to make a cat barf. I wanted to suggest placing something of value nearby like a cashmere sweater or something in silk as an incentive. Failing that, they could always drive him down to the gas station bathroom I had to use one night December before last in the middle of nowhere in Southern Oregon.
In the end, Otis was fine. On the upside, his very terrible day of nausea medicine, constant IVs, and living in a hospital cage pretty much played into his near constant belief that we are but abusers waiting to gleefully abuse him. For all I know, this validation was a kind of gift for him. For $406.00. Happy Birthday, Oats.