Friday, March 27, 2009
The Hovering Cat
We have two cats. Its always been that way. They came with Jane as a package deal when we were married. I'm not a pet person, but I don't mind cats, really. As pets go, cats are tolerable. They're relatively low maintenance as they tend to be self-sufficient, they're kid-friendly, and they stay out of the way unless they want something. I suppose it could be worse.
Our family has tried branching out in the pet world. We've had a few species of fish, some ants, and a snake. Various kinds of rodents have been suggested, like Guinea Pigs, hamsters, and mice, but we never seem to follow through on the idea, probably because of the snake. At any rate, none of our additions have lasted very long. Especially the fish. When it comes to new pets, I usually have the last word. I'm not opposed to extra pets - except dogs - so long as whatever we get doesn't take up too much of my time. Dogs as pets are right out for obvious reasons: being Chief Pet Taker-care-of-er means I handle the feedings and clean-up, and I refuse to spend my Saturday mornings cleaning shit out of the back yard.
Apart from a brief period of pet-free bliss in 2006, we are landed with cats. Jane is a Siamese fan, and every cat we've owned apart from one has been Siamese or some facsimile. They always come in pairs and of two distinct types: the alpha male, and the effeminate co-dependent companion.
The original pair was Vincent and Theo. Vincent was a beautiful, sturdy, flame-point Siamese - perhaps the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. He was thick and heavy and muscular, with a pure white coat. He was a terrific fighter and mouser, and ruled he the roost everywhere he went. He commanded respect. Theo, on the other hand, was skinny, slow, and sheepish. Cats have a demeanor, and if you observed Theo for any length of time, you would be convinced as we were that he was probably gay (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Before Jane and I were married, Vincent used to try to suffocate me by laying over my face when I was sleeping. It was his way of expressing his displeasure with my presence. After a time, we came to an understanding and he switched to lying around the top of my head. I actually got used to it. Not so with Theo. Theo was always under my feet. I don't like anything on my legs when I sleep, and many a night Theo found himself launched across the bed room. He never got the hint. And whether I was walking, standing, or sitting, there was me tripping over Theo. I'm surprised he was never in pieces as many times as I accidentally kicked or stepped on him. And I won't go in to the time he got caught under the garage door. But for all his quirks, Theo was a gentle, loving cat.
Right after Jane and I were married, Vincent was run over by a car. What a tragedy that was. Jane cried for hours, and Theo couldn't adjust to life without Vincent, you could tell. Eventually, Jane recovered and started looking for another cat companion. She finally found one from the same woman who sold Vincent to her. Claude was Theo's nephew, and believe it or not, you could see a kind of family resemblance. Claude wasn't a flame-point, but he had all of Vincent's other features - sleek and powerful and agile - plus much of Vincent's demeanor. He was really cool. Theo couldn't stand Claude at first, but after a few years he fell into the same sort of relationship he had with Vincent, and things went back to normal. We moved house twice and adopted three children with those cats, and they took the changes with the usual cat aloofness and disdain.
Come to find out, Siamese cats have faulty kidneys. It's an unfortunate genetic trait. So after ten years, both of our cats within a few months of each other, lay down in the living room and died. The episodes gave my children their first real life lesson, and left a void in the house that took months to fill. Ben took it hard. Explaining why his pet wouldn't be climbing out of the hole I dug in the yard is one of the hardest things I've had to do as a father. But Ben doesn't stay down for long, and one afternoon I came home to a very excited boy with a secret to tell: he had been with mom to see the new cats! Oh joy.
The current iteration of the pair is Ferdy and Cleo. Ferdy is the dominant, traditional Siamese-looking something-or-another, and Cleo is his Calico sister. Ferdy has a reckless, aloof demeanor that has mellowed a bit with age. Cleo is Theo's, well, clone - which lends some credence to our original feelings about Theo. I have the same problem with Cleo that I had with Theo: she is always under my feet or stalking my lap, and she won't take a hint. She's developed the annoyance into a routine, and we are now locked in a battle of wills.
In the mornings I like to take some of my breakfast in the study and eat it while I check email and look at the calendar and so-on. The routine starts with Cleo casually hanging around the kitchen the way cats do, rubbing back-and-forth along the corners of walls and furniture. If it looks like I might go in the right direction, she darts into the dining room and lays under the table. Once I start down the hall, I can see her eyes flash in the light as she stalks. Before I get too far along the hall, she clears the cover of the table and darts past my heel in that cat trot, angling the approach so that she gets to the door of the study only inches before me. Then, as I set my plate and coffee on the desk, its time to rub along my ankles and purr. I pull the chair out from the desk and she darts underneath and hops on the subwoofer, still purring. As I seat myself and pull to the desk she hops out to make a first attempt at my lap. If she's too slow or meets obstruction, she goes to Plan B, which is to continuously hover around under the chair, rubbing against my ankles, purring, until she can either take another crack at my lap, or I get up to leave, whichever comes first. But she *never* gives up.
Some days she gets a nice long sit in my lap. Other days she alternates her hovering with dozing on the subwoofer (except when I turn up the Panic). For two years she's maintained the same routine with no signs of letting up. I don't know why my office lap is so enticing. I don't get the same treatment when I'm out in the den watching TV. Or sitting in the kitchen. Maybe its just the routine, or the thrill of the challenge. Maybe its a sanctuary or her way of saying 'thanks'. Maybe she knows something I don't. Maybe its Theo come back to haunt me.