I love cat poetry. Hate actual cats. I know it’s wrong. But if T.S. Elliot says Macavity is not there, I don’t want to be right. And hating cats takes no effort. Millions of people do it. It comes quite naturally. Like breathing. Look, there’s a cat. He’s indifferent to me and wants to ruin all my furniture. Hate. See how easy that is.
It’s not that simple. It never is. We loved a cat. Well, we loved a kitten. Her name was Cleo, but that wasn’t her real name. How can a cat have an alias? That comes later. Why are we getting ahead of ourselves? Let’s start with the kitten.
She’s alone this kitten. And thin. An orphan on the streets. And she rubs up against our legs so lovingly. She purrs at us. She must love us. Shouldn’t we love her back? Isn’t that the natural response of someone or something loving you? You get charmed. Well. I am a total bastard, but that stray cat loves me so I must have some redeeming features that everyone I know including myself is just not able to divine. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I’m a total bastard. But if I did, I’m sure some stray cat would seize the opportunity to rub up against me at the exact moment I began to think that.
So, she’s alone and hungry. We’re new to Florida. We’re living in a house in Ocala that is just rented for the moment until we figure out something better. “Don’t feed the cat,” I tell everyone. “That is part of her evil plan.” See, possibly I am a total bastard. But more likely I don’t want to own a cat, and I imagine the quickest way to own a cat is to start feeding one.
It turns out I am right when we break down and start feeding the cat. “I fed the cat,” I confess. “I’ve been feeding the cat for three days,” Robyn confesses. We both laugh. If we thought the cat was stalking us before, the cat is uber stalking us now. More than David Letterman’s stalker. More than Alec Baldwin’s stalker. Combine those two stalkers, and you still don’t have the fever pitch at which we are being stalked by this cat.
We may as well let her in since we fed her. That seems obvious. We’ve gone so far. May as well cross the Rubicon and let her in the door. The moment she crosses the threshold she needs extra special and expensive cat food, a cat bed and cat toys. You saw that coming. Also, she needs cat shots and and other cat care. Here comes the vet bill. It’ll be crazy big. But before all that happens, I make one last desperate attempt not to own a cat.
I take her in to a shelter where they can scan her to see if she has an owner. Maybe she’s just a lost cat. Seems unlikely. But I’m willing to try. It turns out Cleo…We have named the cat now since she’s our cat…does have a microchip. Her actual and true name is “Friskie.” Yikes. No wonder she ran away. I would run from that name, too. Spelling it with the “ie” at the end was insult to injury. The owners are listed on the microchip information. I try calling them. No answer. I drive to their address and knock on their door. It’s pretty clear no one lives here now, but I knock loudly and long just in case. Then I give up and get back in the car. They have left the scene of the crime. I wonder where they’ve gone. Could a private detective be hired to find them?
What if I did manage to track them down? “Here’s the cat you thought you left behind in Florida. Like bad karma, I’m returning her to you in your new home in Wyoming. Good luck with Friskie!” I imagine the stunned looks on their faces before I race away from the house in a plume of dust. Aren’t all roads dusty in Wyoming?
So now we truly do have a cat, and I take solace that at least the cat has a better name in her new life with us. The cats needs a bath. She’s been who-know-where doing God-knows-what for a long time. And smells like it. Andrew, who has been the most vocal proponent of adopting the cat is nominated. He is given some shampoo and the kitten and wished good luck. He emerges later from the bathroom with twenty-five shallow wounds and a clean cat.
As soon as we let ourselves start caring for the cat, feeding the cat, housing the cat and paying cat vet bills, the next natural thing happens. The cat has nothing but disdain for us. Never rubs up against us. Doesn’t purr anymore. It was all an act. This cat puts on ten pounds and forgets we exist.
When I have to take Cleo to the vet, the cat seems somehow to know this is about to happen. She’s clawed up the netting on the underside of our bed and managed to lodge underneath it and inside of its box springs somehow. When you need the cat, you have to plunge your hand into a dark hole and grab it like you would a baby cobra. Are you going to get scratched doing this? Are you kidding?
Sometimes I manage to flush the cat out of the bed. I basically dismantle the bed in the process. Cleo darts past me into the bedroom’s large walk-in closet. She disappears in there amid coats and towels. I shut the door and turn on the dim light. After another twenty minutes, I locate her and make it about a half hour late to the veterinarian. The cat is always totally healthy during the checkup, but I am a complete nervous wreck.
Since Cleo is always clawing us viciously, we have to do something. “Have you been trying to play with the cat?” I ask Avery on any given day. “Why do you ask?” he responds. “Because you have two red streaks of shallow cuts running down the front of your thighs.” He hadn’t noticed, but we have to take action.
We consider drastic alternatives. De-clawing the cat. That’s expensive and horrible to contemplate as the procedure and its aftereffects are described. We settle on Lee Press On Nails for cats. They’re blue and look weird, but they are cheap and keep us safer from a good clawing. I can never hold the cat long enough to get the nails on, but the veterinarian has a better grip. When Cleo rubs them off somehow, the veterinarian applies them again after I have cornered Cleo in the walk-in closet amid some towels.
After a few months, Cleo gets bored with the easy life indoors. Every time the door opens, she shoots out to freedom. She comes back the next morning with a dead lizard. Drops it off at the doorstep and returns to us as if she’s punched a clock that needed to be punched. Settles in on the kitchen table and starts in ignoring us like always. You might see her eating her food in the kitchen. Then she’s always somewhere else. Who knows where? It’s not a mansion. Just a three-bedroom house. But she’s never there just like McCavity.
We give up Cleo when we move to North Carolina because we are going to live temporarily with Robyn’s parents. Robyn’s mom is allergic to cats. Hence, no cats will come with us. We give up the cat to roam around on a piece of property in the country with some good friends. When Avery asks me later if I miss the cat, I always change the subject abruptly.
My ambivalent relationship with cats knows no bounds. I used to love Cat Stevens. Then I wasn’t sure about him because of some controversial things he said. Then I thought maybe he might be OK again. I’m on the fence, really. Not sure if I should ride the Peace Train with him or not.
Just recently we were at Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. While I was fascinated with the details of Hemingway’s life, Avery was enamored with the six-toed cats that roamed the house and grounds. The 45 cats are descended from Snowball, a white cat Hemingway owned. Avery took pictures of every cat he could discover. He could be found crouching under a bench to get a better shot of a kitten with a little point and shoot I brought along on a whim.
Avery spent a lot of time in the cat graveyard where many of cats have gone to meet their maker after their nine lives were up in service to Hemingway’s home. Some pretty cool cat names were etched on the markers. Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Somerset, Mark Twain, Mr. Bette Davis, Simone De Beauvoir and Archibald MacLeish just to name a few. My all-time favorite dead cat name is Willard Scott who apparently patrolled Hemingway’s grounds from 1996 to 1998.
I love Phoebe from “Friends” song “Smelly Cat” performed in the coffee house with great aplomb and no discernible guitar skill or vocal talent. I love T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Love “Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss, even the live action movie, which got weird in parts. Love the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland. “Enjoy the musical Cats. Hate actual cats. What is wrong with me? I don’t know.
“Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw–
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there!”
The opening lines of the T.S. Eliot poem “Macavity- The Mystery Cat”
Smelly Cat. Smelly Cat. What are they feeding you?
Smelly Cat. Smelly Cat. It’s not your fault.
“Smelly Cat” opening and closing lines from “Friends.”