Our neighborhood cat passed away. He belonged to a former neighbor who moved away a few years ago, and left him in the care of another neighbor further up the street. He was the friendliest outdoor cat I have ever seen. Whenever I would get home from work, as I walked from the car to the mailbox to the front door, he would come racing out of nowhere and the game would be afoot (I was playing with a handicap of 2, since he had that many more feet than I did). The rules of the game were simple. If he got up on the railing next to the front door before I got the door open, I had to stop and pet him. If I got the door open first, I got to get on with my life. Mostly, I stopped to pet the cat.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with cats. I grew up with cats in the house my whole life. They’re beautiful animals (well, the short-haired ones are — long-haired cats look like throw pillows with sharp claws). My parents always had Siamese cats. During most of my formative years, we had 2 Siamese cats named Sidney and Newton. Siamese cats tend to bond with a single person, and shy away from most others. Sidney bonded with my sister, and Newton with my dad, so the cats were not always underfoot.
I didn’t have pets in college, or when I lived in apartments after college, but when I bought my house, I decided that I would get a cat. (I never considered a dog. Too needy. This joke I heard somewhere has a kernel of truth: Dogs think, “Wow! My owner bathes me and feeds me and walks me! He must be God!”, while cats think “Wow! My owner feeds me and plays with me and changes my litter box! I must be God!”) Cats are like babies. You input food, water, and affection, and they produce noise, waste products, and cuteness. Cats are better than babies because you can leave them for the weekend with food, water, and a clean litter box, and nobody will put you in jail. Babies are better than cats, because eventually they outgrow their cat behavior.
Anyway, I decided to get 2 cats, so they would have company during the day while I was at work. Coincidentally, one of my co-workers had a pregnant Siamese cat. (There’s a “kill two birds with one cat” joke in here somewhere, but I can’t quite get it.) So I signed up to take 2 of the kittens, with the stipulation that they both had to be the same sex. When the kittens were born, we discovered that Lee’s cat was a bit of a trollop. The kittens were not Siamese. I learned something about feline genetics that day. The gene that gives Siamese cats their points must be present in both parents. If only one cat has the gene, the offspring are jet black.
Since I had first dibs, I picked out the only cat that had a white spot, and another female cat, so I could tell them apart (the two cats ended up different sizes, so the selection was moot). I named them Isis (after Gary Seven’s cat in Assignment:Earth) and Sabrina (I was going to pick Sylvia from Catspaw, but I had an office-mate named Sylvia that I didn’t like very much). Cats, being stupid, apparently don’t respond well to polysyllabic names, so for short I called them Ice (I liked the juxtaposition of a black cat named Ice) and Sa (I didn’t like the name Bree). After a few weeks, I seriously considered naming them No and Get Down.
Being half-Siamese, both cats retained the Siamese personality. They each bonded with a member of the family. Since I lived alone, Isis bonded with me, and Sabrina bonded with, well, me. And by “bonded” I mean “basked in my radience”. Every time I got up and moved into another room, I was greeted by two cats waiting for me. I could sit on the couch, snap my fingers, and within seconds a cat would be petting itself by rubbing against my hand. I had to lock them out of the bedroom at night after the Black Lightning Incident, where my two coal-black cats chased each other across my bed at 2:00 in the morning, scratching my legs invisibly. After that, I closed the door every night, and around 2AM, one of the cats would come to check up on me. It would go something like this:
Satisfied, the cats would go back to their activities, and I would try to go back to sleep, once again wondering to myself, “Why am I yelling “What?” at the cats. It’s not like they’re going to explain, “Just checking to see if you’re sleeping!”” But cat behavior is mysterious. My parents’ last cat, Maxwell, would listen for the sound of the hall closet door. When my dad (only my dad) opened the door to get a towel for the shower, Maxwell would run upstairs, fly into the bathroom, and sit in the tub right under the faucet with this smug self-assured look that said, “Here I am! Right in the tub again! Mission accomplished! Aren’t you proud?” Apparently, cats have an unusual sense of accomplishment.
The cats were not all fun and games. Cats, by their very natures, are belongings that can’t bear the presence of other belongings. They have a particular animosity for upholstered and shelved belongings. Cats are also net exporters of entropy. In all the years I had cats, I never came home to discover that they had started dinner or run the vacuum. They did try to dig a tunnel under the bedroom door, but quit after shredding the carpeting.
The other day at lunch the thought hit me: perhaps the cats were engaged in physics experiments related to the conversion of potential to kinetic energy, and the claw marks were an attempt to document their results using a sort of cat cuneiform writing system. If I had known, I probably would have given them pencils and paper.
So anyway, the neighborhood cat has died. I will miss him slightly, because he was a nice cat (even though he drooled a bit) and it meant I could enjoy the best part of cat ownership (petting the cat) without the smell and mess. But I don’t think I’m going to get a new cat (or two). Not just yet, anyway.
If you were expecting a point here, you haven’t been paying attention. 🙂