It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky, and as I obeyed the Biblical injunction to lift up mine eyes to the hills in the east, I almost stepped in it. Not the Bible, the daily deposit of barf that is becoming the occupational hazard, if not the occupation, of this owner of two adult male cats.
It’s in there somewhere.
Thankfully whichever one had done the deed had done it on the fake Oriental rug, with its variegated pattern, and not the white or the cream wall-to-walls elsewhere in the house, where it would show. I went through the familiar routine, like an elementary school janitor cleaning up the halls, then stopped by the window sill where our tuxedo cat Rocco, the younger and fatter of the two, was sunning himself.
“What? Whadda ya lookin’ at me for?”
“Did you leave me a little present in the foyer?” I asked.
“Not me. Probably Mr. Slimtastic.”
He was referring to Okie, a grey tabby who is indeed becoming thinner as he grows older, the result–our vet says–of a thyroid condition.
“Is it my imagination, or is Okie throwing up a lot these days?”
“I didn’t know your imagination could throw up.”
“What is it with him lately?” I asked by way of ignoring him. “Every morning there’s a pile of upchuck to navigate around.”
Rocco was looking out the window, sizing up a chipmunk that had emerged from a crevice in our stone wall.
“Nyah nyah nyah NYAH nyah–You can’t get me!”
“Sorry, I was lost in thought. I think he’s having problems with his body image.”
I was, to put it mildly, dumbstruck. Okie’s a guy, 63 years old in cat years, salt ‘n pepper fur–he should be settling comfortably into dirty old cathood, not worrying about his waistline.
“Does this couch make me look fat?”
“Are you serious?” I asked, incredulous.
“I’m a dumb animal, incapable of irony–of course I’m serious!”
Like anyone who’s raised someone with a poor body image and an eating disorder, I had to ask myself if I’d done something wrong somewhere along the way. I examined my conscience, the way the nuns taught me back at Sacred Heart Grade School. I promptly throw out the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue every winter as soon as I’ve checked to make sure that all the models were psychology majors at UCLA and are in favor of world peace. I never, ever make a crack about the weight and/or physique of anyone in the house who might care what I thought–like my wife. The only thing I watch on TV during the summer is out-of-shape baseball players like Josh Beckett, who’s got a major league beer gut to go with his nasty fastball.
“I have no idea where he picked that up,” I said, shaking my head.
“Have you noticed where he’s been napping lately?”
“In the magazine basket, where the catalogs from Chicos get tossed.”
He had a point. The improbably thin women who are always laughing and having a good time as they model the latest mail order fashions are probably not the best example for a cat who’s getting on in years.
“Maybe I should talk to him,” I said.
“I would say it couldn’t hurt, but I know you too well,” Rocco said as he rolled over for a nap.
I ambled slowly into the living room–no wait, it’s the family room, the living room’s the one we never go in–where I found Okie asleep on top of a Chicos catalog.
“Hey buddy,” I said, as I scratched his head. He rolled over on his back for a belly rub, then sat up to examine himself.
“Can we switch back to the low-cal Iams?” he asked.
“You know we have to keep you on the high-fat kind because of your thyroid,” I said.
A little paw-candy to impress the other toms with.
“I just hate the way it makes me look!” he said. He licked the yellow fur on his stomach to make it lay down flat.
“Oak old boy–where is this new-found interest in your physique coming from? You’re not trying to attract some young paw-candy at your age, are you?”
“No, I don’t miss my sex drive,” he said with a tone that was world-weary and convincing. “I don’t need that kind of aggravation anymore.”
“Then what is it?”
He looked at me with those big, round, sad eyes he usually only flashes when he wants something really badly, like to go out at night and not come home for two days from a midsummer hunting trip.
“It’s . . . it’s that damned Lady Di cookie tin in the basement.”
“That old thing of mom’s that I put the kids’ crayons in?”
“Yes. Why do you keep it on display down where I have to sleep? All I can think of is her pain, the torment she went through, sticking her finger down her throat every night so she could fit into those skimpy silk dresses after all those sumptuous charity dinners for starving children around the world.”
I put my finger under his chin and raised it so we were looking eye-to-eye.
“Okie–you can’t live your life vicariously through a deceased member of the British royal family. You’ve got to be your own man, er cat, and not follow the frivolous fashions of the moment. Understand?”
“But–you’re always saying ‘A cat can look at a queen.’”
He was right about that. My mom used to say it all the time to get people off their high horses, to mix my metaphors. “Oak,” I said, “that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to go all goo-goo eyed looking at Lady Di pictures. It means that no one’s better than anyone else, that we’re equals, not like in monarchies where commoners aren’t allowed to look directly at the sovereign.”
“Is that kind of like Barbra Streisand telling her housemaids not to look her in the eye?”
“Right. Like Orwell said, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
That seemed to set his mind at ease–I could sense a feeling of peace coming over him. “I always feel better after we have these little talks,” he said with what appeared to be a beatific smile on his face.
“Because you get in such a mellow mood you won’t notice the mouse I threw up in the den.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”