The house is quiet, and so I lie down and try to take a nap. I’ve just dozed off when I feel the weight of fifteen pounds of cat flesh land on my chest. It’s Rocco, the younger of our two toms, looking for a head bonk and a back scratch.
“I was asleep–can’t you meow or something before you pounce on me?”
“What would you suggest–breath mints?”
“That would ruin the element of surprise,” he says, and I catch a whiff of serious tuna breath as he does so.
“Jesus–I hope you guys don’t wonder why you never get laid,” I say. “Your breath smells terrible!”
“It helps keep the coyotes away,” he says. “They think we’re skunks.”
Okie, the elder grey tabby, jumps up to claim his favorite spot, between my legs with his head down at my feet. “What are you guys talking about?” he asks.
“Why didn’t you tell me I had bad breath?”
“The need for a little dental hygiene around here,” I say.
“You do enough for the three of us,” he says.
“I’m serious–if you guys don’t floss, you’re going to get gingivitis.”
“What’s that?” Rocco asks.
“Gum disease. Stevie Winwood had it–bad. If he hadn’t recovered, we might have been deprived of the beauty of his ‘Back in the High Life’ album.”
That brings the seriousness of the disease home to them. “Geez,” Okie says. “I never knew.”
“There’s just one problem,” Rocco says. “We don’t have opposable thumbs. How the hell are we supposed to hold a piece of dental floss?”
“You don’t need to. Cats don’t actually floss, they . . . uh . . . let me see.”
Like many cat owners, we pick up feline health information when we go to the veterinarian, then promptly ignore it. They’re cats, fer Christ sake–they eat squirrel guts.
I rummage through the drawer where we keep their vaccination records and find the brochure I’m looking for–”Dental Hygiene for Cats: A Lifelong Program to Keep Your Kitty’s Teeth and Gums Healthy!” It’s considered a classic of the genre.
Here, kitty kitty!
“Here it is,” I say, showing them the suggestion I remembered. “To keep your cat’s teeth free from plaque, rub them with panty hose once a week.” I look at the two of them, expecting expressions of gratitude, but am met with blank stares.
“You’re kidding, right?” Okie asks.
“If you think I’m going to sit still through a once-a-week panty hose polish job, you’ve got another think coming.”
“It’s up to you. If your teeth fall out, how are you going to eat?”
They look at each other, and appear to realize that they have no choice in the matter.
“Where are you going to get panty hose?” Okie asks.
Montaigne: “Hey–I’m too highbrow for this post.”
I know what Montaigne said: “When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is amusing herself with me, rather than I with her?” But still, it’s cracks like these that make me feel secure in the superiority of the human intellect over that of a cat.
“You fishstick! Where do you think we’re going to get panty hose–on mom!”
“But she doesn’t wear panty hose around the house,” Okie asks.
“She’s got a job interview today. She’ll be dressed professionally when she comes home.”
“Don’t we have to get the panty hose off of her?” Rocco chimes in.
I check the brochure. “Nope–doesn’t say anything about undressing your wife, girlfriend, date or significant other. Just ‘rub with panty hose.’”
“Let’s hide in the dining room and ambush her when she goes past the door into the kitchen!” Rocco says.
“Yeah–it’ll be like Jesse James robbing the train in Otterville, Missouri!” I exclaim, recalling a favorite highway historical marker of my youth.
The cats stifle yawns–for some reason tales of my boyhood bring on symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome–but they rally and we stake out a position just inside the dining room where we are hidden from the view of anyone entering the kitchen.
We hear the lock turn in the door and, like a precision Swiss clock, our plan ticks forward to its fateful conclusion.
“Ready?” I say as she hits the hardwood floor in the family room.
Rocco hesitates for a moment, then shouts “Now!” and we pounce.
She’s no match for the three of us, and we have her on the floor in a second. I take her legs and stick one in each of the cats’ mouths before she can collect herself and speak.
“What in the hell are you doing?” she screams.
“Flossing the cats’ teeth–this should only take a second,” I say.
She sits up and looks at the three of us, incredulous. I’ve seen that expression on her face before, when she broke up a fight between my kids. Over a Pokemon card. When they were toddlers.
“You have got to be kidding!”
“No, seriously. This is what the brochure says to do.”
“The one we got at the vet’s. Here.”
I hand it to her and she scans it while I work feverishly to fight the slow but inexorable advance of cat plaque.
“You didn’t read the warning on the back,” she says with a look that expresses the enduring skepticism she feels whenever I set out to do something around the house that involves practical knowledge and useful skills.
“What’s it say?”
“CAUTION: REMOVE WIFE FROM PANTY HOSE BEFORE APPLYING TO CAT’S TEETH.”
“What happenth if you donth?” Rocco says through a mouthful of nylon.
“SIDE EFFECTS: HUSBAND MAY NOT GET SEX FOR ONE (1) MONTH.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”