I like cats. No. I love cats. But I’m not writing this to celebrate the opening of the first Hello Kitty cafe in the US, in Irvine, California. The town’s just going pink all over. I don’t get it. Except for a long flealess, furless spell between 1982 and 2004, I’ve had cats since I was very young. From Friskie through Spider, Squeaker, Tigger and now Miss, they’ve all been very dear to me, my very best friends. I’m writing this in Brooklyn, where I’m stationed for a couple of months to pursue dreams of learning something about acting. The guy staying at my place in Iowa has just phoned me to say that my cat Miss really misses me…and what do I suggest he do? I feel it like I imagine a parent feels it when her child is ill. Maybe Miss and I should Skype?
Anyhow—I love their quiet nature, the duality of their personalities, their elegance, their balance, and their grace. I’m jealous of their ability to get comfy and to fall fast sleep almost anywhere, and for the bulk of the day’s hours. I need a few days like that. I love cats’ faces. I have never seen a cat that wasn’t beautiful. Some are plebeian, others more aristoc(r)atic (indulge or pardon me, please, that’s the last time, at least in this story), but all share that unmistakable, inscrutable feline charisma.
Cats have worried me. Squeaker lost an eye. Spider committed suicide. Don’t laugh. The story is terribly sad and almost impossibly true. And complex. It also involves the loss of a lover and the coincidental death of my parents’ ill-tempered Siamese. I watched helplessly as fourteen-pound Tigger zoomed up a twenty foot ladder, got onto the roof, crossed over the ridge and disappeared with a thud that came moments later. He was indestructible, but he disappeared for good sixteen months after we moved to Iowa. I was in mourning for days. I consulted a pet psychic. She came to my place, and she explained that Tigger ranged far and wide during his happy hours as he caroused with other cats. I didn’t believe any of this nonsense. Tigger was gone, all fourteen pounds of him, and that was that. Big loss, he was; a fourteen pound loss, he was, dressed in his simple, sleek, black business attire. He was incredibly handsome and very gentle. I cried.
I’ve cajoled finicky cats with the finest gourmet fare: the end pieces from the meat counter at Whole Foods. I’ve waited for them to make up their minds at doors open to winter’s freezing breath. I’ve purchased collars and ID tags in hopes of holding onto these very independent little souls. I’ve cut holes into many doors to mount cat flaps. I even built a stairway for Squeaker, who had an artificial left hip. I’ve been their valet: I’ve brushed them, combed them, and attempted to bathe one or two. A thoroughly wet cat is a pretty sad affair, helpless, hopeless and puny. That thick fur coat gives them so much substance; but it’s just so much fluff.
I always try to make friends of cats I see on the street. The outcomes are mixed. Once I was bitten. I should have seen it coming. He was black, very tall, thin, and wiry, with an absurdly long tail, and enough Siamese in him to matter. Siamese cats can have vast egos. The Siamese goes right to their heads and out through their teeth. This I know. My parents’ Siamese bit my father’s nose. Sent him right to the hospital.
I even asked a woman to leave my building as a result of an argument over her cat, who she thought I was trying to kidnap and steal. He liked to visit me and my apartment because I was good fun. We played together on both sides of the dust ruffle and did some cat stuff with ping-pong balls. I never fed him or plied him with bowls of milk. I never laid any claim of ownership. He was smart, the smartest, most alert cat I’ve yet met. I could see it in his eyes. His intelligence drew us together. That, and his shiny black coat. He’d walk attentively through my apartment and look at things, really notice things, like the doorknobs. He knew what doorknobs did. Well, to get on with things, the plain feline truth was that he liked me more than he liked her. I came to understand his position, which you, dear reader, may also soon know, and, I hope, understand. Cats do their own sort of dance. They change partners when they see greener grass—or fresher catnip (I think today’s felines probably prefer organic).
Well, on one lovely afternoon, the woman came to my apartment in search of her cat. He and I were on the porch in broad daylight. I was combing the fleas from his coat. He was loaded with fleas. The neglect was obvious, almost criminal. The woman became incensed and baldly accused me of trying to take him from her. Her words started out hot and got hotter. Mine rose to the challenge. Ours was a classic battle of the sexes with the added fuel of a tenant vs landlord event. I tried to defend my innocence; she was intent upon persecution, prosecution, and I think if she’d had her rod, she might have plugged me. That cat watched us with rapt feline attention. He was right between us, like a child torn between two feuding parents. He’d look her way and then mine as we traded angry words. He was visibly upset. He didn’t like this shit, not one bit.
Then things got quiet. I grabbed the moment. I remembered who I was and what I stood for. I remembered the one place where I had some power, and I used that power to create a better world, at least locally.
“I don’t like you,” I told her, “And I want you to leave my building.” At no time before or after have I been so honest and straightforward about my dislike for someone.
The woman came to our office the next day. Still intent upon drawing blood, she began to order me around, even telling me where to sit, so she could unload on me the rest of her contempt for landlords. We refunded her deposit and her rent and—thank God—she was gone. Obviously, that woman utterly failed to understand cats. And she certainly didn’t understand me, which is really nothing new. It’s just my life, as at least one astrologer has told me. Tsk, tsk. You can’t have it all. I console myself by saying I’ve always had good cars. Oh, and great cats, too.
But I don’t get this Hello Kitty business, not at all. To me it’s just like green eggs and ham. I simply prefer fur.
Nothing beats the genuine article.