A Few Good Things

It’s already hot enough to make me irritable, and the general election is so far away in a truly awful election cycle, so let’s kick off June with a little positivity! Here then are some things for which I’m grateful.

My partner loves and understands me. Wendi knows I really enjoy some odd things, like sitting out in the cold rain to watch horror movies with like-minded friends. She may well judge me for that, but if so she keeps it to herself and is outwardly supportive of my trips. She also just nursed me through recovery from oral surgery, during which she watched some truly awful movies with me. If that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.

My friend Tim did not turn out to be a serial killer. Seriously, I can’t explain why I agreed to go on a road trip to Evanston in the middle of winter with a guy I barely knew. For some reason my paranoia filters weren’t on, and the myriad ways this could end badly didn’t register until after I’d committed to the trip. To my delight and total surprise, I survived the weekend and enjoyed it enough to go 8 more times. I even wound up meeting those like-minded friends I mentioned above. So thanks for not killing me, Tim! My world grew because you dragged me to B-Fest.

For some reason I’m employed. I dreamed of being an impoverished writer. That’s the deal, right? Unless you were born into money you scraped pennies together for years until suddenly you became wildly successful. Instead, after getting married it became evident that we both needed to pull in good money in order to afford luxuries like food and pants. At first I resented the time spent not suffering, but honestly my writing didn’t get very good until my 40s. That’s a long time to starve for art. Also, money buys movies, comics, and video games.

The Cats Don’t Always Poop on the Floor. Sometimes they’re even useful. Just this morning I found Bacall and Bogart sitting innocently in the bathtub with the shower curtain in a heap beside them. Something under the curtain moved, and Bogart couldn’t stand to feign ignorance anymore. He started swatting at the mouse they’d cornered. So while they make messes and scratch up the furniture, at least our cats keep the rodents under control.

And now it’s time to put in a bad movie, so I’ll just leave it there.

The Mouse is Quiet Now

We headed to my mom’s house last weekend for our holiday visit. By “we”, I of course mean “Wendi and I”. Our cats and fish stayed at home to play video games or whatever it is they do when we’re not there.

It was only an overnight stay, so while we anticipated a small degree of petty feline vandalism we weren’t expecting anything on the order of property damage. We figured they’d mostly sleep — maybe knock some piles of magazines over as the chased each other or tip the Christmas tree for fun.

(We have a table-top tree this year. Last year Fischer got tangled in the lights and we had to cut him free. He can’t crawl into this one, so he just throws it to the floor. It shows some perverse manner of holiday spirit, so we keep setting it back up for him.)

When we got home, everything looked to be remarkably in order. We set down our bags and marveled at our fortune. Wendi fed the cats as I began unloading our suitcases. Then I took a closer look at the cat toy I’d been absently stepping over.

“Oh,” I remarked. “That was a real mouse.”

Wendi confirmed my findings. It appeared that the cats had found something to do in our absence.

Then I went to put away our toiletries and glanced in the tub. Blood and fur attested that this had been the mouse’s final arena. Since that’s where Fischer most likes to take his toys, I figured that he had been the gladiator to face the tiny rodent. I imagined the others, wearing togas, turning their paws down at the end of the fight.

Well-fed house cats and Ancient Romans: nature’s perfect serial killers.

And a Kitten in a Fake Tree

Shortly after our Christmas tree went up, it became clear that decorations — even non-breakable ones — were out of the question this year. The three kittens swarmed its limbs before we could even finish adjusting them, and when the adult cats tried to follow there was no hope of keeping a nice shape.

After two kittens (Dmitri and Ripley) went to their new home, Fischer continued to use the tree as his personal playground. We’d be watching TV and see the tree shake in tiny bursts of kitteny fun.

The important thing to know about the tree is that it’s pre-lit. There are three strings of lights wound through the sections of it. Being a worrier I was concerned about this, but Fischer seemed able to avoid getting tangled on the wires.

Until of course he actually did get tangled in the wires.

He made an extremely distraught ornament, hanging there from his back leg, and it took both of us to remove him — one to hold him and one to cut the lights.

Fischer’s okay, but the tree has clearly been played out. It’s in the garage awaiting final justice.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Stay out of the trees.

Goodbye Ling

Last week we said goodbye to Ling, who survived far longer than expected on an emergency diet supplemented by baby food. When we first got her, in the late 1990s, we were living in a townhouse. She was our third cat, and she loved Toupee (1st) and feared Austen (2nd).

It took me a long time to accept her, probably because loving her would force me to confront Austen’s bullying behavior. In fact, when Austen died I actually resented Ling for suddenly thriving.

I’m a horrible person.

Ling was always weird, even by cat standards. She liked to drink from the bathtub while we were preparing to shower, and she would constantly prowl the kitchen counters and sink for scraps of food. She once stole a sandwich from one our friends. She’s our only cat who managed to eat from the fish tank. She would come down my shoulder from the back of my chair, stick her rear end in my face, then loop around to do it again.

Grace was not Ling’s strong suit. She would hurl herself bodily at ledges, always nailing herself in the chest, then scramble up.

She was never afraid of company. While the others would hide upstairs, Ling would happily move from lap to lap soaking up warmth and attention.

When she was young, she dashed through a slightly open door to chase a stray. Then she freaked out and wedged herself into a car engine.

Last look at a loving friend.

Last look at a loving friend.

On Monday night she took the final step in her long decline. She would be on her way somewhere and just stop to lie down. We tried to make her comfortable and hoped she’d rebound yet again, but by morning it was clear that she was not going to come out of it.

We decided that we couldn’t leave her alone. It was time to let her rest. Wendi stayed home with her and made the appointment. I failed her for the final time and went to work (only because of a meeting). Never one to do the expected, Ling died a few hours before she could go to the vet’s. I got the news right before that damned meeting. It was everything I could manage to get through that meeting without lashing out in grief.

My final memory of Ling is petting her before I left. She had crouched on a mat in the kitchen, unable to complete whatever cat mission she’d been on. Just inches away, Dmitri and Fischer wrestled. Barely two months old, they had just gained command of all their limbs and spent every waking moment in energetic play.

I could wrap this up with any number of pithy observations on that moment, but I really don’t want to spoil it. I’m just glad that for the next few decades we’ll have cats who knew Ling, however briefly.

Three Little Piggies

At first, things went well. Saturday morning Bacall went into labor, and before too long we were admiring the first wet mewing lump that emerged.

For the rest of the day we waited to for more, but as far as the cat was concerned she was done. I’d been prepared to let nature take its course, but by Sunday morning even I had to admit that something was wrong — even if Bacall acted perfectly normal.

Having long since known that something wasn’t right, Wendi quickly scooped up both mother and kitten and took them to an emergency clinic. Not a moment too soon, either!

An x-ray confirmed that there were two more kittens in the oven, and that their heads were likely too big to let them get out.

And that’s how Bacall came to have a caesarean, and why her one of her kittens is a full day older than its siblings. Fortunately, everyone seems to be okay.

Toxic Environment

When we came back from the disastrous vet appointment, the rescue cats were quarantined in our enclosed porch. We had scheduled a second try at blood work and shots and had only four weeks to convert the kittens to a semblance of domestication. Wendi announced that it was time to put them through Kitten Boot Camp.

Assuming the mantle of drill sergeant, she started to put them through their paces. Within a week, she had them literally eating out of her hand, and she could pet them a little while they ate. It seemed as though every day brought new progress.

My efforts as emergency back-up substitute sergeant were not as effective. The mother cat was fine with me, but the kittens have identified me as a gigantic, lumbering threat. I did stick my finger (covered in chicken baby food) in their hidey-hole and got the girl kitten to show her head. Now she runs away from me but is sure to stay within sight — you know, because chicken.

(What is it about chicken that cats crave so much? Did their ancestors hunt wild chickens along the banks of the Nile? Now that I think about it, where did chickens even come from? I bet Erich von Daniken never thought about that angle.)

The weirdest part of the whole process was that our own cats all started to climb into bed with us at night. At first we thought they were just feeling jealous and needy. After all, Wendi was spending a lot of time with the rescue cats. Then we noticed that they were spending their weekdays upstairs as well. Were they that offended by the newcomers that they didn’t even want to be downstairs?

That didn’t seem right. They had no hesitation about joining us in the living room; they just wanted nothing to do with the first floor unless we were there. We just had no idea why.

After a while, Wendi decided that the rescue cats had gotten used to human voices. We had set a clock radio by the door — set to NPR — and had been turning it on when we went to bed or left for work. Now we felt that it was okay to stop doing that.

The day after we stopped turning on the radio, our cats were back to their normal routine of lounging around downstairs.

Apparently, they had really hated talk radio.

Perhaps the authorities should start using “Morning Edition” to break stand-off situations.

Adorable Ingrates

About six weeks ago, Wendi noticed that a cat hanging around our house was living under our deck with two kittens. We might have noticed sooner (or she may have chosen someplace else) if our deck weren’t a rickety death-trap that urged disuse. Whoever built the horrid thing had less understanding of carpentry than I do, and I am not to be trusted with so complex a tool as a hammer.

Anyway, Operation Rescue the Kitties went into effect. Wendi began spending time working on trying to gain the trust of the mother cat and her young. The mother proved simple; as soon as she started getting kibble, she revealed herself to be abandoned rather than feral. It wasn’t long before she started trying to follow Wendi inside the house.

The kittens were another matter entirely. Barely a month old, they were already well-versed in the arts of running away and hiding. Wendi gradually won them over to the extent that they would play with a string toy, but they still ran whenever she moved.

The road to domestication is paved with food.

The road to domestication is paved with food.

Still, we needed to move them inside where they’d be safe, and to do that we needed to get them checked out for contagions. We don’t want to lose our three furry lunatics to a communicable disease brought in from outside!

Wendi cashed in their trust to get the strays into pet taxis, and we took them to our vet for inspection. The mother went first, and she did pretty well but not enough to get a blood draw. Next up was the male kitten.

No sooner did he get out of the taxi than he launched into a realistic impression of Warner Bros. Tasmanian Devil. He ran in all of the directions at once, and by the time we contained him he had drawn some of our blood.

The results of this test were officially recorded as “inconclusive”. 

Neko Pee-Pee Mode

We call him The Piddler.

Most of the time, he wears the disguise of an ordinary (if pudgy) house cat named Bogart. Generally an agreeable cat, he loves to have his chest rubbed, to lie on or near us, and most especially to be fed. He also loves pinning the other cats to the floor until they scream, which isn’t so agreeable actually.

Bogart is very attached to us, and he doesn’t like to stray very far away from our vicinity. While we’re home, he sticks to us like cute and ineffective glue. It’s all rather endearing, until The Piddler emerges.

Is he Bogart, or is he The Piddler? Either way, he's awfully cute!

The Piddler in his guise as Bogart, an ordinary housecat.

The Piddler sees a [shirt, bag, box, stack of papers, what have you] and thinks: “I could go two rooms over to relieve myself in the litter box, or I could use this perfectly acceptable substitute right here by the monkeys.”

Then feelings get hurt all around.

We’ve learned to keep things off the floor and to not let him crawl into the drier while we’re folding clothes. We keep the litter clean and full. For the overwhelming majority of the time this keeps The Piddler at bay, but he’s ready to be released at any time.

There’s a chair that used to sit in the corner of the hallway that leads to the stairs. The litter boxes are right around the corner. The chair contained a clothes basket that aspired to Shel Silverstein levels of being overfilled. When we spent a weekend picking up for our cleaner’s first visit, we had left that as the forward line of our retreating clutter.

The cleaner decided to move the chair into our dining room, and she put the laundry basket on the floor.

You see where this is going, yes? Despite three years of dealing with The Piddler, I was taken completely by surprise.

While I stood in the hallway, Bogart started to scale the stack of clothes.

“Hee!” I thought. “Lookit ‘im climb!”

Bogart reached the top and looked proud of himself.

“King of the hill!” I thought.

“Hey, Wendi!” I called. “Lookit Bogie!”

She rounded the corner as The Piddler started his business. He looked offended when she dragged him to the litter box.

As I cleaned up, I could only reflect that I’d be doomed if cute aliens ever invade.

“Lookit their little toeses!” I’d exclaim, seconds before their lasers sliced me into seared deli meat. At least I’d die stupid and happy.

Putting Out the Home Fires

We came home tonight and immediately smelled something strange. It was a chemical smell, and it was strong. Within minutes we discovered that the bulb of a portable light was pressed into a plush chair, and the light had been on for a long time. The plastic surface had melted, and the underlying foam was hot and crunchy.

There’s a hole in the chair, but we seem to have avoided a fire.

The thing is, neither of us remembers having left that light on. But both of us have witnessed the cats performing hijinks on that chair. It seems likely that one of them tripped the switch at some point during the day’s shenanigans.

I always suspected that they were trying to kill us, but I had no idea that the cats wanted to burn the house down.