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Topic #23
Life With Cats.

I had my free star chart done the other day at some site or another, and one part of the report that came along with it told me that I have a "very strong affinity with animals — an acute sensitivity and a nonverbal kind of rapport with them." This I found kind of strange, not because I have a fear of any animal in particular, like a people who fear dogs because they were bitten by one in the past, but because I just don't feel any particular bond with them. My best friend in 5th grade had a horse, and whenever I went with her to visit it, all the horse handling people would tell us not to stand behind it, because it might get nervous and kick. Whenever they offered me the chance to groom it, I would nervously decline because to do that you had to go around the back of the horse and I thought for sure that it would kick me, and I would also have nothing to do with the feeding of carrots to the horse, what with all the stories of fingers getting bitten off and whatnot.

There was another time, just recently, where we were out taking a walk; the weather was sunny and nice, and I was in a pretty good mood for me. We passed a little vegetable stand outside of which was a dalmatian tied to a tree while its owner shopped. It was sitting there looking so cute and unassuming, so I went over to pet it and all of a sudden it turned into some Kujo-type beast, barking and snapping all over the place, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin and then proceed to curse that firehouse dog for the entire rest of the day. Dogs. They really perplex me.

We had a dog whose name was McDuff when I was younger. He was a cute little Black Lab/Irish Setter puppy when he came from the SPCA, but grew up to be quite large and high strung. When he got too big, we eventually had to keep him outside in the backyard where no one could really play with him because when he stood up on two legs he was as tall as most of us kids back then. When my skinny 11-year old self decided to take him for a walk one day, no sooner had I unsnapped the chain and snapped the leash onto his collar that he was taking off like a bat out of hell, sending me face-down into the grassy dirt and literally dragging me behind him like something out of a bad cartoon until I grabbed a handful of hedges to stop him, my arm getting nearly yanked out of its socket in the process.

Since it was too cruel to keep the dog outside during the long Connecticut winters, we ended up putting him in the cellar where, on one afternoon when no one was home he decided to snoop through a fishing tackle box. He must've been way ahead of the whole body-piercing trend, I guess, because when we got home we were greeted by a whining McDuff with 3 or 4 fishhooks stuck through his lips. Everyone started to panic and the dog was stuffed into the car and shuttled to the vet for an emergency fishhook removal process.

We also had a cat for a short period of time, a cat my sister got for a reward for no longer needing rubber sheets on her bed anymore. When we went to the farm to pick it up, I saw a goat walk by one of those doors where the top half was open and the bottom half was closed. It walked by the door, turned and looked right at me, and I swear this is true, grinned — showing its teeth and everything –and kept walking. (I'm sure that it had just gotten done eating a tin can or something and just had gas.&#41 My sister named the cat Pepper, and though it was strictly a housecat not allowed outside for any reason whatsoever, it ironically met its untimely demise by getting hit by a car during one of its abrupt attempts at escape. We told my sister that it ran away.

Aside from a failed attempt at an aquarium, where the catfish kept getting bigger and the water kept getting darker and the one angelfish attacked the other angelfish and took out an eye, which caused the poor thing to swim around all lopsided and bump into the sides of the tank every few seconds; aside from that the only other pets I've had since are the two cats we have now, Murat (named after Gorbachev's cat, while we were in our International Studies phase in college&#41 and Odessa. We got Mu while we were on vacation in Florida, and then took her on the cross-country drive with us from Boston to San Francisco, during which she behaved exceptionally well all the way up to the California border, at which point she commenced howling and doing that deep-cat-voice meeOOWWW thing, and then she shat all over the inside of the cat carrier and when we laughed at her she just did it some more, to punish us.

When we got Odessa, we chose her because she was the loudest one at the pound. She was also one of the skinniest and scrappiest looking, and so tiny that when we brought her home I was afraid of accidentally sitting on her. To some people Odie doesn't even exist, however, because whenever anyone other than the two of us come into the apartment, she hides under the bed and will not come out, no matter what. Three years later she's still tiny, antisocial and sneaky; I'll walk into the closet and reach for something on the shelf, end up touching something furry, freak out and turn on the light. There sits Odie on the top shelf, silently blinking and shedding all over all of the nicely folded clothes. Then I'll pick her up and pretend she's a superhero and run around the apartment with her so she can feel like she's flying. She doesn't like flying. The cat will scratch me, I will scream, and Avery will shout "stop torturing the cat" from the other room.

Our cats are picky, only eating Friskies Tender Cuts canned cat food, and never the chicken-flavored. They turn their noses up at the chicken-flavored. Mu knows the word "milk," and meows like crazy when we take it out of the fridge, but when I put some in a little Japanese wasabi dish for her, she just sniffs at it and walks away. They have not yet met a toy that they want to play with, preferring to laze around instead. Mu has her certain sleeping spots, including the exercise bike, the Health Rider, and my side of the bed. So possessive is she of my side of the bed that she will actually sit next to it and incessantly meow at me when I lie down, like I'm in her space.

Even though Odie and Mu, who are often at odds, did join forces to destroy an entire hallway carpet by sharpening their claws on it, and they sometimes choose to throw up in the most inconveneient of places, they do look awfully cute when they tuck their feet under themselves in that little meatloaf pose.

And they hardly ever get mad when you laugh at them when they leave their tongues sticking out of their mouths.

I am not sure why rational, sensible people choose to live with boxes of shit cluttering their house. No, I’m not talking figuratively about the sort of shit that people keep, like old newspapers and magazines. I’m talking about real shit. Hell, I’m a reasonably rational person, and I have two boxes full of shit in my house. I kid you not.

Well, you’ve got me… I am kidding you a little. Yes I do have two boxes of shit in my house, but it’s not mine.You see, the boxes of shit is the price that Janet and I have to pay, because we decided that we wanted to share our house with two cats.

I have had pets for most of my life. When I was a baby, my mother had a cat named Jennifer, which lived to the ripe old age of fifteenish. Ok, I know that it’s not a precise age… but nobody knows how old she was when my mother found her, but by the vet's calculations, she made it to about 15.

My mother rescued Jennifer from a park in Hartford, CT. Someone had doused her in gasoline in an attempt to light her on fire. She somehow escaped, and after my mother cleaned her off and brought her to the vet, voila, we had a cat. Well, my parents had a cat. I was still in the spermatazooa and ovum phase of my existence. But a couple of years later I popped out and I instantly had my first pet.

Jennifer was a bad-ass sort of a cat. She would bring in mice and snakes from the woods near our house and leave them as presents for us. She was a real rough and tumble sort of pet. She spent most of her time outside and would only come in to dry off, eat, and sleep. Jennifer was a smart one: she would shit outside.

Thinking about it, all of the cats that we had until we moved to the neo-city of West Hartford (CT&#41 were all outdoor cats. Then again, we lived in a safe, wooded neighborhood so it wasn’t a problem to let them roam around outside.

For most of the time when Jennifer was around, we had other cats around the house. There was Harry Cinderella (I was like 3 when I picked that name&#41. Harry liked to spray everything. I don’t think I really liked him all that much. Then there was the cat that I just named Cat who had kittens (that were not named kitten&#41.

Cat had three kittens, and then someone my mother knew had a cat who had kittens and then got hit by a car, so we ended up with six kittens total and one very tired Cat.

At this time, we also had a dog named Forbes. Actually, his full name was Chocolate Brook Whiskey Forbes, but I’ll get back to him in a minute. Forbes wasn’t my first dog. First, we had Toro. I named this beast of a dog Toro because as we were coming back from the pound, we passed by a Toro Lawnmower Shop (hey, I was seven years old, give me a break&#41. Little did I know that Toro was a fitting name because he was like a raging, maniacal bull. Toro is responsible for destroying two waterbed mattresses, digging up the lawn and scaring the living bejeezus out of me and my friends. I didn’t spend too much time playing in the back yard when Toro was around. I don’t remember what happened to him. I think we gave him away to someone.

Then we had Elmo the jet black mutt from the pound, who met his demise under the front tire of a car. Following Elmo was Frisky, the cocker spaniel which pissed me off so much that I was elated when my mother decided to give him away. Then there was a dog that we got from my teacher Ms. Dielman. It was a beautiful husky with slateblue eyes and the most interesting howl.

Unfortunately he howled so much that it bothered the neighbors and we had to give him back after a few days. That brings us back to Forbes.

Forbes was a fullbred Labrador Retriever that we bought from a man who was moving to a small apartment. Fortunately, we lived in a house with a big yard so it was a perfect fit. Forbes turned out to be the best dog that we ever had.

What was I talking about before? Oh yeah… the kittens. Forbes was like a surrogate father/jungle gym to these kittens. He would lay there and let them crawl all over him for hours at a time. I think he really liked having them around. Unfortunately, one day he barked at a kitten and it fell over, breaking its own neck. Though we weren’t mad at Forbes (I was there at the time, he didn’t lunge or bear his teeth or anything&#41, he spent the next few days hiding. We practically had to drag him back into my room [where the kittens were].

Forbes and the remaining kittens got along swimmingly. Sure, one of them scratched his nose and ended up needing to be taken to the vet after getting smacked across the room, but the kitten was fine, and we ended up having him for years after that.

During the pre-Forbes era, I had hamsters and gerbils and about a half-dozen rabbits. We also had two ducks and a pair of geese that we raised from goslings. Let’s face it, I never really lived without pets until college.

Forbes passed away while I was in college.

When Janet and I first moved in together (during my Junior year of high school&#41, we had two of those Japanese fighting fish. One of them just sat there. The other one was very active. So active, it jumped out of its bowl and scared the living piss out of us as it flopped around. That was the end of us and fish until our second year of college.

When we were at West Virginia University, we got a little kitten while visiting my father in Florida. We drove her all of the way back and she never even panicked. Her name is Murat. She’s now 7 years old. Almost three years ago, we decided to get another cat, so we went to the pound. While looking at all of the cute little kittens, we heard this horrible yowl. It sounded like a cat which had been chain smoking for 5 or 10 years was letting out it’s death scream. Little did we know that the smoker’s meow was attached to this cute little kitten. Her name is Odessa, and she is about three years old.

Neither of these animals are really our pets anymore. Murat is a co-habitant of the house. She has her routine, her chair and really sees us more as a roommate than an owner. Odessa is a little scaredy-cat, but she’s slowly coming out of her shell. I couldn’t imagine living without them… but I could really live without those two litter boxes, filled with shit, that they leave us to take care of.

Posted in Topics of the Week (1990s).

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