October 2, 2013
An Otisian Mystery

Actually, there are two mysteries.

One:  Why am I still writing about this cat?

Two:  Why is Otis, who is looking particularly youth and spry these days— more like nine years old instead of eighteen—slinking into our bedroom every night, in the middle of the night, to walk—not run—around and around our bed, as if he is doing laps, then leaves?

September 5, 2013
The Second Summer of Otis

Our little Manx, Otis.  Again.

There was the accidental OD last summer that resulted in a near-death experience that segued into another issue where Otis ended up being shaved from the hips down, revealing his previously disguised lineage to a pterodactyl, accentuated by his prehistoric bone structure and lack of a tail. He also looked a little one of those carpet covered armatures that the sadistic behavioral scientist, Harry Harlow, pawned off as mother figures on infant rhesus monkeys in order to illustrate something completely obvious while torturing small animals.   (I’m not saying that some mothers don’t resemble carpet covered armatures, but that’s another story.)  My eighth grade class was forced to watch one of Mr. Harlow’s films where confused, motherless baby monkeys clung fearfully to a little piece of low-pile shag, too afraid to hope for anything better.  I realize now that this was simply an educational film preparing us for our future work lives.

Back to Otis who decided that it wasn’t enough to get us up twice a night to let him out, then back in (and, for anyone suggesting that we ignore his loud, insistent meowing when inside the house and out, let me just say, “Gee, we hadn’t thought of that”); he added to his nightly repertoire by demanding to be fed at two am, every night, like he owned an iphone with a preset alarm.  And it wasn’t enough to feed him—no, he wanted me to watch him eat, as if he is suddenly a dinner guest at Downton Abbey.

(Side note:  I have a friend who had a cat that got her up at 2:15 every morning to turn his food dish a little to the left.  I used to laugh at this story.)

This was around the time I added cursing to my repertoire, since refusing to feed, observe, and open the door was not an option (Otis possesses the single-minded tenacity of a toddler in a grocery store.)

Then one day, about six weeks ago, after his observed two a.m. meal (clearly the inspiration for Taco Bell’s “Fourth  Meal” ad campaign) and exit from the house, Otis did not cry to be let back inside at five am.  John and I didn’t even notice his absence until later that night—something I can only chalk up to the short-term memory of the chronically sleep deprived.

Otis was missing for thirty hours and when John finally located him under a bush.  It turned out that he had a punctured lung, front claws ground down to nubs (the vet said, they were probably dragged across concrete or asphalt), and six broken ribs.  And, Reader, he survived. Otis was Hit By A CAR, then went without any medical attention for THIRTY HOURS, and is EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD.  (FYI:  Most outdoor cats are lucky to make it to five years old, especially if they live in a city; Otis lives in a city on a well-traveled street so his life span in pretty impressive.  If only he were a lottery ticket.) To put his age into people terms:  If Otis were human he would be graduating from high school and making bad decisions in Cabo.

Here is the abridged version of Otis’s last year:

Spring 2012:  Diagnosed with bone cancer.  Prognosis:  seven months.

Summer 2012:  Despite the cancer prediction, Otis is Otis.  As a matter of fact, his appetite is so healthy that his food isn’t enough.  He eats the dog’s food and, in the process, swallows enough codeine for a 42 pound canine.  Prognosis:  ”We’ll know is a couple of days.”

Summer 2012:  Diagnosed with failing kidneys.  Prognosis:  Seven months, with regular fluids.

Summer 2013:  Car accident.  Prognosis: Death within forty-eight hours, or he will survive.

And he’s never been on regular medication, nor is he now.  The fluids?  He’s received them twice.  Unless by fluids you mean our bank account.  Maybe next year we can take a vacation…

November 22, 2012
Life Imitating Art With a Cat

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?"

"Yes."

"How far?"

"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. 

September 29, 2012
Pablo Picasso
Apparently, assholes with dead birds in their mouths is actually a classic painting motif.  

Pablo Picasso

Apparently, assholes with dead birds in their mouths is actually a classic painting motif.  

September 29, 2012
The Asshole With The Dead Bird in It’s Mouth

Today’s cat story, “The Asshole With a Dead Bird In It’s Mouth,” was related to me—breathlessly, I might add—by John.image

It seems that John and our friend, Camille, were on one of their usual afternoon dog walks with Gomez (Cairn Terrier) and Doug the Dog (Pit Bull mix), when they noticed a nicely groomed white cat, with a dead bird clamped between its (satanic) little teeth, as it stood on the porch of a neighborhood house.  Camille asked John to hold Doug’s leash so she could take a picture of the white cat and it’s lunch, using her iPhone.  One picture.  One.  

No sooner did she turn her back, post-photo, holding out her hand for Doug’s leash, when the white cat dropped the bird on the Welcome mat in the same manner that certain scrappy  girls at my high school would remove their hoop earrings before pummeling someone, then taking off after the four of them like it was go-time.  When John said taking off he meant that the thing was moving like a Concorde leaving London Heathrow because the white cat was racing toward them, its front legs flailing wildly, claws out, in a full-on furious one-cat elevator fight.  He said it looked like Steven Segal doing his best spastic faux martial arts moves, so much so that John fully expected the cat to snarl, “That’s right!  You want some of this?”

John also said that he didn’t know a house cat could “run on two feet.”  And, that “this must be how the paparazzi feel when they try to photograph Alec Baldwin.”  Of course, he was thinking all this as he tried to protect himself and Gomez using the patented Single Leg Kick While Also Trying To Not To Turn His Back On The Attacker And Watch Out For On Coming Traffic maneuver since he, Gomez and the white cat were all in the middle of the street.  As he turned to run he was thinking What sort of cat abandons its kill to pursue a grown man, a grown woman, a terrier who specializes in killing rats, and a pit bull?  Wondering if the white cat had some sort of on switch activated by the appearance of an iPhone?   

Further down the street, he said that the white cat was still chasing them on it’s two skinny legs, still ripping at the air with it’s front legs.  Not only was it still in hot pursuit, it seemed that running away from the cat had the effect of pissing it off more, something it illustrated by delivering a claw-bitch slap across Gomez’s surprised face when it caught up to them.  Camille and Doug were already across the street and halfway down the block.

It finally gave up quite a distance from the porch and the dead bird.  John said he was going to go back the next day and see if it was there, like he was suddenly Riff in the original Broadway cast of West Side Story , itching for a turf war.  Gomez, on the other hand, was more like the little Jewish candy store owner lecturing the Jets about violence after they pulled off Anita’s shawl (so we’ll know she’s Puerto Rican) and started tossing her around (so we’ll buy into the possibility that all those dancing Jets are going to violate her).

One day, while I was walking our dog with Camille and Doug, one of the kazillion urban chickens that lives in our urban neighborhood, was out of it’s yard and hanging around the sidewalk as they are wont to do, unnerving Camille who has a slight case of Pet PTSD.  I wanted to remind her that we casually eat their kind, which I believe is a pretty effective form of domination, and, besides, it’s not like the kazillion crows that lurk around our streets, clearly bored out of their minds and looking, I’m fairly sure, for the opportunity to peck out the soft jelly of one’s eyes, but I know we all have our fears.  

Later she sent me a copy of the iPhone Photo That Was Taken And All Hell Followed.  She said of the picture, “Here’s the asshole with the dead bird In it’s mouth”—which now offer to you.

September 12, 2012
How We Spent The Weekend After Our Labor Day Weekend (well, really just Saturday)

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.

Well, at least someone is getting out.

September 5, 2012
How We Spent Our Labor Day Weekend (well, really just Sunday)

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.

August 6, 2012
A Brief History of Cats, Part 2

(The List of Cats I Have Live With in My Life continued)

7.  Kali Mountain:  She was a two-year old snowshoe, rescued from the SPCA in San Francisco by John. She was also the hippest cat I’ll ever know.  A party cat, a shoulder-riding cat, an engaged audience who looked as if she cared when someone was trying on all the clothes in her closet and complaining about the body that she now, many years later, wishes she still had because, frankly, it would’ve been bathing suit season all year long.  Kali was also smart and beautiful and excellent company.  She’s the cat I’ll never quite get over.

8.  JB:  Also from the San Francisco SPCA.  We got her at six weeks.  She was a little white Manx, totally tailless, with one blue eye and one green eye and a permanent expression of worry on her little cat face.  

We nicknamed her Investment Kitty because of the sixteen years of vet bills. Her list of ailments were:  Ring worm, loss of tiny patches of hair due to a flea allergy even though she seldom had fleas;  a brief, youthful flirtation with worms, and 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.

JB was shy and skittish; to wit, you couldn’t read in the same room with her or she would react to the turning of the page as if you were trying to staple her to the wall.  Bolting From a Room was her primary form of exercise.  She didn’t know how to play so if you dangled a cat toy in front of her, she was both fixated and terrified, as if she thought, “It begins with the dangled cat toy then progresses immediately to animal vivisection.”  

She adhered to her own personal seasons.  Winter found her sleeping behind a specific chair in the living room.  In Spring she made her way into the upper cupboards in the kitchen in order to curl up on the stack of dinner plates.  Summer, her peak season of inexplicable behavior, had her refusing to come inside the house to eat; she would mournfully meow through the open door while looking longingly inside, as if there our  bungalow apartment had become a space pod with an  invisible forcefield that prevented her from entering.  Her days were spent sleeping under cars parked out on the baking California street, their warm oil dripping all over her snow white fur, creating a kind of  furry Surrealist ice cream sundae effect.  Thank god for Fall when her preferred sleeping spots were the wheel wells of trucks, alternating with getting trapped in various neighbors’ garages.

For all her time spent outside, she still needed a cat box since she only liked to use her own bathroom. We could’ve gotten rid of the box, but that wouldn’t have meant that she would take the hint and go outside.  Bascially, the cat box was like an extortion payment for being urine, etc. hostages.

One final note about JB:  Being tailless she hopped like a rabbit, instead of running like a normal cat, causing people to ask us if she was a “cabbit.”  A cabbit.   Related, I believe, to the jackalope.   That many people believed our pet was the spawn of a rabbit and a cat eventually offered a a great deal of unwanted insight into some of the voting preferences in this country.

9.  Pooh:  Pooh was my roommate’s cat.  He was an excellent cat until he went after my roommate’s parakeet, Pinot.  She was out of town when the attack occurred (witnessed by Kali and JB who chose to act like urban crime witnesses who “didn’t want to get involved”).  I rushed Pinot to the vet who assured me that, a few missing feathers aside, he would be “fine.”   The vet should have added “for the next few hours.”  When I checked on him after work, just before my roommate was due back, Pinot was as far from “fine” as a bird can get.   While he was a good parakeet as parakeets go, I’m ashamed to confess that I wished he had decided to be not “fine” before I spent the time cleaning in and around his cage.  

10.  Otis:  Our current cat. Another Manx because seemingly John and I are slow learners.  Otis is a small, handsome cat with tiny Scottish Fold ears and beautiful striped markings.   Though he is nearly seventeen years old, he looks remarkably young.  He’s like Dorian Gray young.  And like Dorian Gray, it appears that he traded his moral center for perpetual youth.  The guy was a killer.  Until he was thirteen, he treated our yard like private game reserve. John bagged so many tiny bodies he stopped even mentioning it; our property was a combination dog poop (we have a pair of dogs) and corpses.  

Like JB, Otis is very hard to live with because he acts like a barely survived some particularly dreadful and ongoing abuse, always cringing and bolting and completely incapable of approaching an open door as anything other than a well-timed escape.  (If he were abused, we would have to be the abusers since we’ve had him since he was eight weeks old and frankly, John and I are too easily bored to torture a cat.  It isn’t exactly a challenge.)  There is the terror of cat toys, and the inability of eating like a regular cat.  First, he meows to be fed; then, after you’ve filled his bowl, you have to catch him to get him near his bowl (which we keep elevated because of our two dogs), even though he wants to eat.  Petting poses another challenge in that he wants your attention but cannot tolerate your attention.  So when he gets really desperate, he hunkers down and digs his  nails into the rug to prevent himself from bolting.  I’ll wait while you reread that phrase.

Also like JB, he has a seasonal schedule where he likes to begin his summer day at 3:30 am.  (The winter schedule is 5:00 am.)  He meows downstairs until he wakes one of us.  Then, as one of us stumbles down the stairs, he briefly emerges from the shadows of the dining room, through the living room as if he is beelining it for the front door.  BUT his fear of the open front door kicks in just in time for him to recede back into the shadows of the living room.  So, you try sweet talk, then cursing, then chasing.  The chase includes circling through the kitchen, dining room and living room—all of which open into each other.  This must be done three times.  Then one must hold the front screen open while standing as far from it as possible, while Otis keeps eyeing you with fear and suspicion.  Suddenly, he will race out the door.  All of this.  At. 3 o’clock.  In the morning.  Every morning.  Except in Winter, when it happens at 5 o’clock.  In the morning.

The guy is a jerk.  But you know how it is—he’s our jerk.

August 2, 2012
James VanDerZee and his Smart Cat, 1931
Years ago when I spoke to VanDerZee’s widow and told her how much I liked this photograph, she said, “Oh, that was one of Van’s favorites!”  

James VanDerZee and his Smart Cat, 1931

Years ago when I spoke to VanDerZee’s widow and told her how much I liked this photograph, she said, “Oh, that was one of Van’s favorites!”  

August 1, 2012
A Brief History of Cats, Part 1

Cats I have Lived With in My Entire Life

1.  Kitty:  Kitty was a tuxedo cat with a pair of black spots beneath her pink nose, whom my parents called “Kitty.”  About a year later, Kitty had kittens and my parents renamed her “Mama Cat,” as if they were correcting a former misunderstanding (“Oh, she’s not a plain cat, but a parental cat”).  These two names are clearly the sweat pants of nomenclature.   Nothing says I Cannot Be Bothered.  No, Really.  Seriously, Don’t Ask Me Again like naming a cat Cat.   

2.  Kitty’s short-lived predessor, Chickie:  Chickie, was also a tuxedo cat but one with a Charlie Chaplin mustache.  I’ve since discovered that these cats are sometimes known as “Kitlers.”  I’m not a fan of this description.  Chickie, Kitty’s sibling, had a fatal accident  two weeks after we got him, which is how we came to get Kitty, the future Mama Cat.  The importance of Chickie’s name is that my parents did name her for an animal, even if it wasn’t a cat.  The only thing I can imagine is that “Chickie” was a name-test run for “Kitty” where they somehow liked the idea of animals named for animals, but weren’t quite ready to be so minimalist. In this regard, “Chickie” can be considered part of their Baroque Period.

3.  Squeaky:  Here is a brief test to see if you can follow the naming logic of my parents.

Squeaky was so named because he:

A)  Looked like a squeak 

B)  Acted like a squeak.

C)  Sounded like a squeak.

I’ll help you:  A) & B) make no sense.

Squeaky was a beautiful cat who was never allowed inside the house because he wasn’t neutered.  If I wanted him, I had to track him down and love him outside in his urban habitat.  As a kid, it was thrilling to see him up in the eucalyptus tree, or lounging around the driveway, or picking his way through the ferns or the ice plants.  Days could pass without a sighting, then, suddenly, there he’d be!   (As a child I had no way of knowing that this dynamic would impact my later dating life.)  I thought he was the coolest cat ever, the way he lived outside and answered to no one.  You’d think that given my family’s cavalier attitude toward him coupled with his banishment from our home, he find another family.  Instead, he stayed and made a career of marking our house, our front door, our back door, every plant in our landscaping, the river stones in the landscaping, and the occasional, decorative boulders, every tree, the garage door, the car if it was parked in the driveway; if the garage door was left open, then he sprayed the washer and dryer, the milk bottles left by the milkman, my dad’s tool bench, and the interior walls.  I once thought that he did this because he loved us so much that he didn’t want to share us with any other cat, but now I believe it was some kind of cat code, warning other cats to save themselves.     

4.  Mai Tai:  When my parents divorced and my mother remarried, she and her new husband, in the long tradition of childless couples, got a pet—seal point Siamese, whom they named Mai Tai.  Not that either of them were exactly childless, but this was the late sixties when parents were only marginally interested in their own children, and kids lived fairly unsupervised lives—you just had to be home when the streetlights came on.   In those days parents were these weird sort of roommates who exploited your labor while explaining the financial realities of electricity.  For example, my parents “did not own stock in the electric company.”  This unasked for information would have been more helpful if I knew what “stock” was or “the electric company.”

Mai Tai was named Mai Tai because my mom and stepfather were in advertising and part of the cocktail culture and because Kitty/Mama Cat was taken and Singapore Sling was a mouthful. 

5.  Tai Tai:  Poor Mai Tai.  He was a sickly fellow who passed away within a few months.  Enter Tai Tai, also a seal point Siamese.  It was quickly apparent that my stepfather, along with his swinging Rusty Nail vibe, had a whole different set of pet issues:  Instead of the lazy Calling a Spade a Spade approach of my parents, my stepfather was an aficionado of Repetition (Siamese) and Pattern.  The naming of our consecutive Siamese cats resembled an SAT logic problem (“There are six gymnasts—Helga, Suli, Grete, Heidi, Katrina, Hanna, and Susan” then it goes on to give you limited information about their performance order, then asks you to predict the next gymnast): If Siamese One is called Mai Tai, and Siamese Two is called Tai Tai, what will Siamese Three be named?

6.  Tai:   Here’s your answer.