Therapy Cat Program Canceled as Adverse Medical Outcomes Soar

BOSTON.  This city is home to some of the world’s most distinguished teaching hospitals, and yet a visitor to the Pumpsie Green Ambulatory Surgery Center here is surprised to see an object at his feet that is usually found in dank residential basements and not the spic-and-span halls of a healthcare facility.  “That’s Sammy’s litter box,” says Dr. Ancil Lochner, referring to the grey male tabby who’s rubbing himself against the surgeon’s legs.  “He’s a vital part of our team–or at least he was.”

cat
“You’ve got cancer?  So what–I’ve got a tick behind my ear.”

 

The physician’s use of the past tense is an allusion to the fact that Sammy has been given his walking papers after a failed attempt to replicate with cats the success of “therapy dog” programs, which pair seriously-ill patients with loving, friendly canines to ease their passage from the misery of their final days to eternal rest.  “We tried switching to cats because they don’t need to go outside to defecate,” says Lochner, using the technical term that come readily to him as a result of his scientific training.  “What we found is that while dogs are affectionate, cats basically couldn’t give a shit whether you live or die.”

cat1
“He says my half hour’s up and he wants to go.”

 

While it will take some time before the results of the failed experiment are analyzed, doctors say preliminary data indicate that the introduction of so-called “therapy cats” to patients in declining health actually lowers their likelihood of recovery, causing some to favor their use in order to improve the health care metric known as “length of stay.”  “You put an Airedale in a room with someone who has terminal Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease, you’ll see the human perk up right away,” says Cary Norcross, Jr., CEO of Lucre Partners, a hedge fund that invests in acute care hospital chains.  “With a cat you’ll see that patient begin to fade in the face of the monumental indifference a really good feline healthcare professional can project.”

cat2
“Oh yeah.  I can tell he’s lovin’ that, grandma.”

 

As for Sammy, he says he bears no hard feelings towards the executive decision to cut him loose, saying he’ll have no trouble finding work in the mental health field.  “I don’t know what it is,” he says to this reporter as he hops into a cat carrier that will take him to his new client, a 29-year-old woman whose apartment is filled with spider plants and the sounds of indie rock music.  “There are a lot of masochists out there who really need help.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darnedest Things.”

Crazy Like a Cat

Pets have mental health problems too.

          Headline, The Boston Globe

It’s Saturday, so I’m taking a nap when a ten pound weight covered with cat fur lands on my chest.

“Hey.”  It’s Rocco, cat-of-few-words.

Rocco
“We need to talk.”

 

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” I say, and I mean it.

“We need to talk,” he said as he flopped back against a pillow.

“You know you’re not supposed to be on the couch.”

“It’s the only way I can get anybody’s attention around here.”

“I don’t know, that time you brought a live squirrel into the house sure caused mom to sit up and take notice.”

“It was raining out, and I wanted to play with him.”

“If by ‘play’ you mean ‘torture in violation of the Geneva Convention.'”

“I never signed that thing.  Anyway–it’s about Okie,” the elder of our two cats.

“It always is, isn’t it?”

Okie
“As Aristotle said, no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.”

 

“I think he’s lost his mind.”

“Wouldn’t be too hard.  It’s easy to lose small things, you know.”  Okie has always been the charming ladies’ man, too dependent on his grey-tabby good looks to cultivate his intellect.

“I’m serious.  He drools, he bites me when I try to wash his head, he doesn’t hunt anymore.”

“I think you’re mistaking guile for madness,” I said.  “If he doesn’t hunt, you have to do all the work.”

The Roc was taken aback, but not too far.  Our den couch isn’t that big.

“You mean, you think he’s acting crazy–on purpose?”

don
Vincent Gigante, “The Pajama Don”

 

“It’s been known to happen.  Like Vincent Gigante . . .”

“‘The Pajama Don’?” Roc asked.  Because it was home to Murray Kempton, the most graceful literary stylist ever to write a column for an American newspaper, we subscribe to The New York Post.

“The same.  Okie’s got the game figured out.  You go kill an animal, he gets to ‘roll upon prank to work it in.'”

“In the manner of Christopher Smart’s cat Jeoffry?” Roc asked.

“On the nosey,” I replied.

He stared off into the middle distance, as he is wont to do.  “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said finally.  “Still, I think it’s about time he took that cat-carrier trip from which no feline comes back.”

That’s my Roc, stealing a line from Hamlet.  “That undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns?

olivier
“Tragically, I have by the magic of the Add Media button been inserted into this post.”

 

“Righto.”

“Sorry, no can do.”

“Why not?”

“When I did estate plans for you guys Okie signed a mental health care proxy that said he’s not to be put down at your request.”

“Why that . . .” Rocco began, then stopped himself.  “I can’t believe–after all these year . . .”

“Of wrassling with each other like a feline version of WWF . . .”

wwf1

” . . . that he’d think I don’t have his best interests at heart.”

“It’s right here in black and white,” I said as I pulled the documents from the secure file cabinet we purchased at a office supply store liquidation sale.  “See?  ‘I do NOT consent to euthanasia or commitment to a mental facility at the request of my brother Rocco without a professionally administered sanity test.'”

Rocco looked at me with that RCA Victor befuddled-dog expression he gets whenever he’s painted himself into a cognitive corner.

rca
“Did you say ‘there,’ ‘their’ or ‘they’re’?”

 

“Well, all right,” he said finally.  “I assume since you’re a professional you can test him.”

“That’s not my area of expertise.”

“Oh, right, I forgot.  You’re a leading expert on the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act.”

“It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.”

“Can’t you, like, check the internet?”

“And come up with a cockamamie answer like the kid who wrote a term paper that said coyotes reproduce by laying eggs because somebody monkeyed around with the Wikipedia page the night before it was due?”

“You’re the human, you figure it out.”

And so, after my usual in-depth research–a browser search for “insanity test questions”–I came up with a fairly comprehensive 176-question British exam that looked like it would do the trick, as long as I omitted the somewhat dated references to Herman’s Hermits.

herman
“I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am”:  Drove many insane in 1965.

 

It wasn’t hard to get some “alone” time with Okie; he’s 91 in cat years, and so spends a lot of time vegging in sunspots on the rugs.  “Oak–got a second?” I asked.

“Sure, as long as you’re not going to put me in a cat carrier.”

“Not if you get a high enough score on a verbal test I’m going to give you.”

His ears perked up, and his eyes opened wide.  “This isn’t . . .”

“I’m afraid it is, old sport,” I said, slipping into Great Gatsby-ese to put him at his ease.  “There have been some suggestions . . .”

“By Rocco?”

“Well, and mom.”

“That wasn’t my vomit.  I swore off chipmunks long ago.”

“There’s really no way to tell, is there?  Anyway, it’s good to have these little . . . what I like to call ‘Sobriety Checkpoints.’  We administer them where I work after someone reaches the age of 68.  It’s just good human resources policy.”

turkey
Good for chasing, not for eating.

 

He snorted, the same snort I’ve heard from him so many times as he watched his younger brother race off, all excited, after . . . a wild turkey.  “What are you going to do if you catch it?” he’d call out, contemptuous of youth’s enthusiasm.

“All right, let’s do it,” he said, and so I began.

“Do you believe you are the ruler of a sovereign nation, and if so which one?”

“That’s easy,” he said.  “I am the master of all I survey, but the U.S. Constitution prohibits titles of nobility.”

“Lucky guess,” Rocco said as he ambled past the doorway.

“You got that one right,” I said.  “Let’s move on.  Can you fly, and if so, do you have landing rights at any major U.S. airport?”

He cocked his head at me, as if I was the crazy one.

“Have you watched me jump to escape from coyotes lately?”

“You haven’t lost your Superman-like ability to leap Sears Tool Sheds in a single bound, I’ll grant you that.”

“Okay–last question.  If I nail this one, you need to leave me alone for the first of my afternoon naps, okay?”

“All right,” I said, and I scanned the list for a question that was both tough and fair.  “Okay, here we go: Are you now, or have you ever been . . .”

“This is descending into McCarthyism.  ‘At long last, have you left no sense of decency?'”

mccarthy
“Are you the owner of any cats, and if so–how many?”

 

“This is about religion, not politics.  Are you now, or have you ever been, a God or God-like entity?”

He snorted the way he does in the fall when he stays out all night and comes home in the morning with a cold.  “Seriously–that’s the best you can do?”

“This goes to the very heart of the matter: do you still consider yourself a mortal cat?”

cats egypt

He didn’t even take a second to think.  “If you knew anything about cats,” he said, “you’d know humans may be mortals, but cats are divine.”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

 

Poetry for Cats

Call me crazy, but I like to write poetry.

For cats.

Cats are a good training ground for poets. They are largely indifferent to poetry, like the overwhelming majority of people, but that still makes them a more receptive audience than my wife, who is openly hostile to the stuff.

Writing poetry for cats is low-level mental stimulation, like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, but you make up the problem to be solved, not than some faceless drone at a newspaper syndicate, so when you’re done you’ve created something.  Albeit on a par with a gimp necklace at summer camp.

It takes very little activity, or inactivity, on the part of my cats to serve as my muse. Here’s a cat poem I thought of just last night:

I take my laser pen in hand
and shine it in a circle.
My little cat goes chasing ’round,
it drives him quite berserkle!

Then I take what I’ve written, crumple the paper up into a ball, and throw it across the room. My cat pounces on it, extending our fun, and conserving precious resources through recycling. I’m trying to reduce our humor footprint.

Just because I write poetry for my cats doesn’t mean they’re sissies. They’re both males who will stay out all night, getting into fights with all manner of beasts. They bring us sustenance; field mice, birds, chipmunks. Once Rocco, the younger of the two, horse-collared a squirrel from behind, like a member of the New England Patriots’ defense, and dragged it, dying, to our back patio. As a former high school middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive alignment, I found this to be a most gratifying spectacle.


Horse collar tackle

 

T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is perhaps the most famous collection of cat poems, but it has always struck me as a bit fuss-budgety, like its author, a native of St. Louis who became a British subject in 1927, thereby missing out on seven World Series titles by the St. Louis Cardinals.  What a dope! That book, of course, was turned into the hugely successful Broadway show Cats.


T.S. Eliot: And you call yourself a Cardinals fan!

 

My wife once bought us tickets to see the show for my birthday, assuming that because I liked cats, I would like the show, but she sensed my indifference to Eliot’s work at dinner. As we left the restaurant for the theatre we were approached by two show tune mavens who breathlessly asked us if we had tickets we were willing to sell. We gave each other a look that lasted as long as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, then sold the ducats at a premium. This is the first and only known instance of scalping by a Presbyterian woman since the church was established during the Scottish Reformation in 1560.


Cats: Thanks, I’ll pass.

 

Lots of poets have had cats, chief among them Samuel Johnson, whose cat was named “Hodge.” I had a girlfriend whose cat was named after Johnson’s. When we had her refined friends over she’d tell the story about how, when Johnson learned of a wave of cat-napping sweeping London at the height of the popularity of cat’s meat pies, he looked down at his cat and said “They’ll not have Hodge!” Sort of NPR humor, as Harry Shearer would say–loads of muted titters. We broke up; she got the cat, and I got the hell out of there.


Johnson: How do you know you won’t like cat’s meat unless you try it?

 

For my money, the greatest of all cat poems is For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey by Christopher Smart (1722-1770), from Jubilate Agno. It’s a work that all pet store owners and cat groomers should have on their walls, in needlepoint. Surely you know its stirring opening lines:


Christopher Smart, wearing his “everyday” mortarboard

 

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey.
For he is the servant of the Living God,
duly and daily serving him.
For at the First glance of the
glory of God in the East
he worships him in his way.
For this is done by wreathing
his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk,
which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

 

Musk is the smelly substance found in a small sac under the skin of the abdomen of the rodents cats kill, and to “roll upon prank” refers, in a charming 18th century way, to cats’ preferred method of applying it. Yep–that’s a real cat there, not some Broadway-bound dancer-pussy.

Oh–I neglected to mention that when Smart wrote the above, he was a resident of Bedlam, the London hospital for the mentally ill.

Call him crazy.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Cats Say the Darndest Things” and “poetry is kind of important.”

Baptizing My Cats

Another weekend with the in-laws ends on a sour note as the question is again raised, once the Agnostic-Rastafarian in the family (that’s me) steps outside to load the car, why our children aren’t baptized.

mary

For some reason this discussion always takes place when I’m out of earshot and can’t participate.  I think it’s because of my reputation as boy theologian, the kid who received a little plastic statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary every year in grade school for the highest score in Catechism class.  That kind of street cred scares off church-goers who worry more about what to wear to Sunday service than the parable of the lilies of the field (Matthew 6: 28) would suggest is proper.

“The kids are grown–it’s their choice,” I say when the uncomfortable discussion is relayed to me once we’re on the road.

“I know, but it’s really important to my parents,” my wife says.

“Do you think it would help if we baptized the cats?” I ask, trying to think of some way to heal the rift that I’m blamed for causing.

“Why on earth do you think that would help?”

“Well, that way they’d know you’d have company when you get to heaven, since I’m not going to be there.”

d9d97-images

“I don’t think that’s the solution, but I know you’re going to do whatever you want, so don’t mind me.”

We drove on in silence, but as soon as we got home I broached the subject to our two male cats, Okie–a grey tabby–and Rocco, a black-and-white “tuxedo” cat.  “Grandma and Grandpa think you can’t get into heaven unless you’re baptized,” I explained.  “Would you guys be interested?”

“Is the cat food better in heaven?” Okie asked.

“It can’t be any worse than that low-cal Iams crap they feed us here,” Rocco said out of the side of his mouth.

“Everything’s supposed to be perfect up there, so I’d say yeah, it will probably be an upgrade,” I say.

“So we’re talking ‘wet’ catfood for once–like every other cat in the freaking universe gets?” Rocco asks with more than a trace of bitterness.

“Yes,” I say.

“Okay, I’m up for it,” Okie says.  He’s gotten by on his dashing good looks his whole life, and as a result his critical thinking skills are–shall we say–underdeveloped.

“You maybe ought to ask him what’s involved in this ‘baptism’ ritual everybody thinks is so important,” Rocco said, as he lifted one leg and licked at the spot where his balls used to be.

Rocco
Rocco: “You can’t be serious.”

 

I was silent for a minute; Okie stared off into the middle distance, profoundly incurious.  Rocco gave me a look like I was a chipmunk peeking its head out of our stone wall and asked–“Well?”

“Let’s just say it involves water,” I said, trying to keep things vague.

“How much water?” Rocco asked.

“Depends.  Could be a little on the forehead, could be what the Southern Baptists call ‘full immersion.’”

cat1
“I’m a martyr for my faith–or lack thereof.”

 

“What do those words mean?” Okie asked.  Every now and then he shows a spark of intellectual curiosity.  About as often as Halley’s Comet comes around.

“It means I’d dunk you under water and hold you there while I repeated some religious mumbo-jumbo.”

“You’d let me up–right?” he asked nervously.

“Don’t worry–I was baptized Catholic, it’s the lower orders of the Protestants who are the real wing-nuts.”

“So that would involve?”

“Just a little moisture on the forehead and you’re good to go.”

“I’m in!” Okie said as he ran to the laundry room sink, the one he knows from past experience he can drink from without getting in too much trouble.

“How about you?” I ask Rocco, who’s been taking all this in with a gimlet eye and a skeptical ear.

“I think I’ll stay rational and maintain my membership in Agnostics of America in good standing,” Rocco says, not even trying to conceal his mammoth indifference to things religious, that source of comfort to so many.

cat3
“I baptize thee in the name of the Father . . .”

 

“You know, the irrational is way underrated,” I say as I prepare to administer the holy sacrament to the more credulous of our two pets.

“You ever notice how Okie hides under the bed when there’s a storm–and I don’t?” Rocco asks.

“Yes, you’re brave that way,” I say.

“Not brave, just not stupid,” he says.  “It’s a simple discharge of electricity,” he says.  He spent a lot of time sleeping in front of educational TV programs when our kids were young.

“I think the two go hand in hand,” I say, as I scratch his head a bit to show him that we two are of like minds, although I’m pretty sure mine is a good deal bigger than his.

“Lightning and thunder?” he asks.

“No, the tendency to believe in a world of spirits, both benign and malign.  People who think there’s an afterlife where the rivers flow with beer and wine are also the ones who get spooked by mundane natural phenomena,” I say.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” he says as he washes a paw with his tongue.  It garbled his message but I understood him.

Okie
“Wait–what?”

 

“Are you guys about finished, because I’d like to get a dish of that wet cat food before I die,” Okie calls from the sink.

“As usual, you missed a fairly essential part of the program,” Rocco replies.

“What’s that?” Okie asks.

“You have to die to get it,” Rocco calls back to him.

There is silence from the laundry room.  Rocco and I wait to see whether the paradox of the belief in an afterlife will penetrate Okie’s thick but good-looking skull.

After a moment the suspense is broken as we hear Okie say “I can live with that.”

Rocco and I look at each other with, as Keats said in On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, a wild surmise.  That’s the Okester for you.

“How about you, Roc?” I ask as I get up to baptize Okie.  “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”

He looks at me for a second, then returns to the task of washing that paw.  “No, pops.  I’d rather be with you.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

A Public Options for Cats?

We had finished dinner and I was hoping to relax and watch some TV when my wife stopped me on the way to the couch.

“We need to talk,” she said in a somber tone–never a good sign when you hear that.

“About what?”

“Expenses–I can’t believe the bills we have coming due!”

“These things always work out,” I said.

“I had to write a big check today,” she said, her forehead furrowed like a field of soybeans.

“For what?”

“A doctor’s visit–$332!” she said with exasperation as she held out the patient’s copy.

“I thought it only cost a $10 co-pay.”

“Not for me–for the cats.”

I was shocked.  We have two cats, but they seem to be in good health, both physical and mental.

“What was wrong?”


Exercise is important.

 

“Nothing.  Just shots and a regular checkup–weight, heart–the usual.”

It had somehow escaped my attention until then that while the country was engaged in a fierce partisan debate over healthcare for humans, we had taken our eye off the nation’s pets.  With veterinarian’s bills skyrocketing out of control, pet-related healthcare costs threaten to consume an ever-larger portion of the American worker’s take-home pay, larger than the gut of a widow’s pampered dachshund.


“Does this coat make me look fat?”

 

“Let me see that,” I said as I grabbed the receipt out of her hand.  I added it up–not that that would have changed anything.

“Let me talk to the guys about this,” I said with firmness, and I walked into the family room where our two cats–Rocco and Okie–were sunning themselves.

“Can I talk to you two for a second?” I said.  They both looked at me like I was a bulk bag of dry cat food from a wholesale club, when they were hoping for Friskies Party Mix.

“I’m kinda busy,” Okie said.

“I wouldn’t call sleeping 16 hours a day ‘busy,’ but perhaps this is a subject on which reasonable species can differ,” I said.

“You’re pretty articulate for a guy who’s just had three glasses of wine,” Rocco said.

“I burned the alcohol off when I saw this!” I said as I thrust the vet’s statement in front of their noses.

“What do you want us to do about it?” Okie asked, barely raising his head from the floor.

“I want you to see how much you guys cost us,” I said.

“Did I tell you to have cats?” Rocco asked as he licked his paw and rubbed his ear.


“. . . like I give a flying you-know-what at a rolling chew toy.”

 

“No, but we’re all in this together.  Every nickel we have to spend at the vet is less money we have to spend on cat food.”

“I got news for you,” Okie said.  “I don’t think you could spend any less on cat food than you already do.”

“Are you kidding?  That Iams low-call stuff is expensive!”

It was Rocco’s turn to gripe.  “You’re not getting your money’s worth,” he said.  “Why do you think we’re always eating chipmunk guts?”

“You’ll thank me in a couple of years when your stomach isn’t dragging the ground,” I said.

“Are those cat years or human years?” Okie asked.

“Whatever.  It’s for your own good.”

“No, it makes you feel good,” Rocco said.  “It makes us miserable.”

“Look–everybody in this house needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle!” I snapped.

“Or what?” Okie asked.  If he’d had eyebrows, one of them would have been raised.  I didn’t like his tone.

“Or we may have to cut back in other areas,” I said in an even tone.  “Like maybe–one cat instead of two.”

“I told you there’d be death panels!” Rocco said.

“You wouldn’t dare!” Okie said, finally taking the trouble to prop himself up on one leg.  “I’ll call the MSPCA!”

“Go ahead,” I said with a laugh.  “They’re the merchants of death, not me.”

That sobered them up a bit.  “We need a public option,” Rocco said after a few moments.  “For cats.”

I hate to say it, but the level of economic ignorance among American household pets is simply appalling.  “Yeah, that’s just what we need,” I said with a sneer.  “Any cat and his dog can just waltz into an emergency room and get unlimited free healthcare.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Rocco asked.

“You end up ballooning the deficit!” I said with alarm.


John Maynard Keynes:  “When the facts change, I change the kitty box.”

 

“What was it Keynes said?” Okie asked.  “‘In the long run, we are all dead.’”

I can’t tell you how annoying it is to have a Keynesian cat in the house.  No matter how many times I show him how government “stimulus” programs have failed time and again, prolonging economic downturns and acting as a stealth tax on those at the lower end of the economic spectrum through inflation, he just keeps parroting the same cockamamie theories back at me.


Children:  They’re cute when they’re young.

 

You may be dead in the long run, and I may be dead in the long run,” I said with determination, “but our children and their grandchildren aren’t dead in the long run.”

They looked at each other for a moment, then broke out laughing.


Babe-licious!

 

“Spare me,” Rocco said.  “You may have children, but we sure as hell won’t.”

“Remember?” Okie added.  “You had us neutered before we could get it on with that long-haired bitch next door.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

At the Cattes Film Festival

The Walker Art Center, a well-regarded modern art museum in Minneapolis, held what is believed to be the first Internet Cat Video Film Festival recently.

                    The Boston Globe


“Truffaut? Please–he couldn’t change my litter box.”

 

I’ve come with Rocco–my tuxedo cat and the only one I have left after the recent death of his fractious older brother Okie–to the Cattes Internet Video Film Festival. We have high hopes for what we believe to be the Oak Man’s greatest work–Laser Pointer a la Mode–a moody noir meditation on the futility of love for a long-gelded grey tabby male.


Okie, as he approached Orsonwellesian size.

 

“What do you think of our chances?” Roc asks. He’s wearing a beret–a French touch that strikes me as an affectation. I have opted for the rough-and-tumble red-blooded Americanski look favored by directors such as John Huston. Huston famously divorced one of his wives when she demanded he choose between her and a pet chimpanzee. I’m not that far gone as a cat-man–not yet at least.

 


“Anybody seen my monkey?”

 

“I don’t know,” I say glumly to Rocco. It would be great, a feather in Okie’s cap, if the world of film were to recognize Laser Pointer for what it is–the capstone of a great career–but the competition’s tough. The simplistic videos of cats in t-shirts, cats playing the piano, we’ll blow through those amateurish efforts like shit through a goose. It’s the avant-garde I’m worried about; the long-angle re-tellings of The Cat in the Hat, the shifting points of view to be found in Kibbles ‘n Bits, Mon Amour. There’s a new new wave of young cat film directors out there, NYU, UCLA and ASPCA-trained. These kids are good, whereas Okie, Roc and me, we’re a bunch of old-schoolers stumbling around the house Blair Witch-style with a hand-held camcorder that looks like the VHS equivalent of a room-size Univac computer.


“Je regrettez to tellez-vous, le chat has upchucked on le rug again.”

 

“You have to admit in terms of visual comedy, we’re right up there with Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton,” Roc says as he signs the flea collar of a young female admirer.

“Are you staying at the Radisson?” the cute little Persian asks.

“We’re going to be pretty busy meeting with studios,” I say as I steer Roc away from what could be a potential paternity suit if he hadn’t been fixed about the same time I was.

“Hey, I want to have a little fun while I’m in town,” he grumbles to me.

“Your fun days are over, as are mine,” I tell him with a censorious look. “From now on, we’re dedicated to our art–not chicks, okay?”

He doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t have much choice. We’re swept along by the crowd into theatre #3, where Laser Pointer is scheduled to start in two minutes.

“So what if we come out of the festival without a studio deal?” Roc asks with a note of concern in his voice.

“We stay on the festival circuit,” I say. “Sundance, Telluride, maybe even . . . Boston.”

“Why bother?” Roc asks with a withering deprecation of his home town that surprises me. After all, he caught his first mouse there, humped his first couch there.

“You never know,” I say. “We might get a short-run distribution contract. Anything to avoid the stigma of direct-to-DVD.”

That seems to mollify him and, after I get refreshments–Raisinets for me, Liva Snaps for him–we settle into our seats.

We sit through the obligatory safety recitation–no smoking, where the exits are, turn off your cell phones, et cetera–and the lights go down.

“Cross your fingers,” I say, and he looks at me as if I’m daft. “I’ve got six digits per paw and can’t cross any of ’em,” he says and a bit huffily I might add. “Cross your own damn fingers.”


Slo-Poke: Essentialment a l’enjoyment du cinema.

 

The credits roll and our hope and dreams are launched into that artificial night of le cinema, which has inspired so many dreams, provoked so many nightmares, launched tongues to lick so many Slo-Poke All-Day caramel suckers. I exhale, feeling a sense of relief at the end of a long, difficult process over what we’ve accomplished. The festival received 10,000 cat videos; that’s right, five figures of Americans wasting their time as we have, blocking out shots, dealing with Friskies-fed prima donnas who want to stay in their trailers when the light is just right outside. Now it’s all come down to this; twenty-minutes of what we think was Okie at the very pinnacle of his cinematic powers.


Bergman: “We’ll have to re-shoot the death scene–he woke up from his 6-hour nap.”

 

I can sense the mood of the crowd as wave upon wave of Okie’s bleak end-of-life vision washes over them. It’s like an Ingmar Bergman movie with a concession-stand size pack of Twizzlers Red Licorice. I hear one woman sobbing down front; false alarm, somebody stepped on her foot trying to get to his seat.

As the lights come up it’s clear we’ve got a winner on our hands. I turn to look at Rocco, and he’s got a sly little smile on his face that says “Hollywood here we come.” I can see him sizing up a kitten on a casting couch in his horny little mind: “I want you to play a scene in which you’re desperately, tragically in love with an eight-year-old tuxedo cat.”

After a hush, the audience begins to applaud, softly, reverently at first, then louder and with an intelligent, critical enthusiasm. “Auteur!” someone yells, and others take up the call. I look at Roc, we shrug our shoulders, then we make our way up the aisle to the stage.

“Thank you, thank you very much,” I say since Rocco is capable only of a caw-like meow. “On behalf of our late colleague Okie, we are pleased that you enjoyed our entry in the Art-House category here at the Cattes Film Festival.”

“Art-House?” a cineaste in an aisle seat says, incredulous. “We thought it was a comedy.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

Behind Enemy Lines With the Parachute Cat Corps

Thomas De Quincey’s elder brother William succeeded in some attempts at bringing down cats by parachutes.

                                              The Life of Thomas De Quincy, Malcolm Elwin

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As I looked around the hold of the Puss in Boots, I realized I might be spending my last moments with my buddies Okie, Chester and Chewie.  We were cats on a mission; to drop behind German lines and insinuate our way into the hearts and minds and onto the laps of hausfraus wearying of World War II.  The plan was to pull off a Lysistrata of sorts; have them withhold their, um, favors from their men and bring the Third Reich to its knees.

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“. . . glug, glug, glug, glug, glug . . .”

 

“You guys ready?”  It was Captain Lemuelson, captain, as you might have surmised, of the crew, leading us to ask in our minds who the hell was flying the plane.

“I heard that,” Lemuelson snapped, brooking no question to his authority, not even an internal monologue.  “We have a perfectly well-qualified Co-Captain who’s handling the knob and the stick and the wheel and that other thing, the watchamacalit.”

“The whammy bar?” someone asked.

“No, that’s a guitar part.”

“The who-si-whatsis?”

“That’s it.  Anyway, if any of you are about to crap your pants from fear, the chaplain is here to offer a few words of prayer.”

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Father McCloskey stepped forward, and none too steadily I might add.  He’d been transferred from the Army and was afraid of heights, so my guess was that he’d taken a nip or two of sacramental wine.  He crossed himself and began to speak, slowly and reverently: “Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, through . . .”

“We’re not getting ready to eat, you dingbat–stop saying grace.”

“Oh–then what were the cocktails for?”

The Captain gave him a look that could have defrosted a freezer.  “Just say something to make these cats’ leap to a near-certain death easier to bear, would ya padre?”

The cleric began again.  “Dear Lord, please guide these cats on their way to the heart of the enemy.  Let them warm it and turn the thoughts of the Huns towards their fellow Europeans, whom they will one day crush by monetary rather than military means.  Ah-men.”

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Angela Merkel checking to see how much her Greek friends owe her.

 

Those of us who’d been raised in Catholic homes made the Sign of the Cross, everybody else just improvised with various non-denominational forms of hand jive.  Then we were ready to jump.

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We’d been drilled in questions the Nazis might ask us to determine if we were really German if they found us crawling through the countryside.  Name Goethe’s latest best-seller.  Who’s better, Bach or Mozart?  Which Katzenjammer Kid is which?

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I looked at Okie, and he looked at me.  He started to give me a little thumbs-up, then realized that he didn’t have opposable thumbs.

“I guess this is it, Rocco,” he said.  “It’s been great . . .”

“Like hell it has, unless you were going to say it’s been great having the living crap beaten out of you on a regular basis.”

He gave me that stupid smile of his, the one that comes over his face when he knows I’m making fun of him and still doesn’t get the joke.  He is not, to put it metaphorically, the brightest bulb on the scoreboard.

“If one of us doesn’t survive, the other has to write mom, okay?” I said.

“Sure, sure,” he said.  We knew the odds were against us.  We’d read about Operation Cat Drop, the British plan to parachute cats into Sarawak, Borneo to fight an infestation of rats.  Pretty Sara-wakky if you ask me.  There are no reliable accounts of what happened, and the fear that all of us felt was we were guinea pigs being used to test some crackpot theory cooked up back at HG.  And nothing offends a cat’s dignity like being used as a guinea pig.  Fer Christ sake, you can get guinea pigs cheap at Pet World.

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Frankly, I wasn’t even sure we needed parachutes.  I mean, have you ever seen a cat fall and not land on its feet?  The whole parachute pack was a nuisance, if you asked me.  Without it, I could have hauled a lot more food and probably survived in the wild until I’d found the perfect little German gingerbread house to take me in.

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Elite black Schwarze Katz paracat prepares for night jump.

 

We clipped our chutes to the overhead rail, and the plane banked slowly to the left over Berlin.  If all went well, one of us would make it to the bunker and beguile Eva Braun into talking her man into calling the whole thing off.

“What is it we’re supposed to say again?” Okie asked me.  His short-term memory is shot from too much catnip.

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The face that launched a thousand-year Reich.

 

“Geronimo.”

“What does that mean?”

“He was a daredevil Indian, used to jump from high places.”

“Without a chute?”

“He didn’t need no stinking parachute.”

I saw Okie gulp a little.  He was plainly nervous.  “Besides that Borneo Cat Drop, has anybody else ever tried what we’re about to do?”

“Well, there was Thomas De Quincey’s older brother.”

“Isn’t that the guy who wrote Confessions of an English Opium-Eater?”

“That’s the one.”

“So we’ve got a hare-brained scheme to land cats in Borneo, a crazy Indian and a drug-head, right?” Okie asked.

“That about sums it up, pal,” I said.

He looked out the door of the plane, then back at me.  “Well,” he said just before he jumped, “That’s good enough for me.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”