Cat Fancier Magazine Names “Kitten Stuck in Tree” Top 7 News Stories of 2022

ST. PAUL, Minn.  Cat Fancier Magazine, the leading newsweekly for cat owners, released its annual list of top news stories of the preceding year today, with “Kitten Stuck in Tree” taking the top seven honors.


Daring rescue.

“While 2022 was a year of great upheaval in the realms of politics, the environment and social justice, we felt that stories of kittens stuck in trees outweighed climate change and terrorism in terms of human interest and newsworthiness,” said Editor-in-Chief Carmella Hewlett.  “Mr. Wifflesworth agrees, dudn’t he?” she adds as she scratches her ten-year-old, fourteen-pound orange tabby under the chin.

In eighth place was “Kitten Rescued From Storm Drain,” followed by the conflict in Ukraine and inflation. In response to critics who found the list too heavily oriented towards kittens in peril, Hewlett blamed demographics and the changing market for special interest magazines.  “I plead guilty to that one–our readers just find stories about kittens to be more appealing, and we’re a business.” she noted.  “But Mr. Wifflesworth is just as cute as those kittens, idn’t he?” she added as she scratched her cat’s belly.


Mr. Wifflesworth, Jr.

Kittens stuck in trees have been a staple of the news business since the 19th century, when a period of intense competition between the Hearst and the Pulitzer newspaper empires resulted in low content, sensationalist reporting that came to be known as “Yellow Journalism.”  “With the dawn of the internet age the hope was that lower production costs would result in higher-quality investigative stories,” says Floyd Harches, a professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts-Seekonk.  “The exact opposite happened, with cat videos placing second only to porn as the premier source of on-line banner ad revenues.”

Hewlett notes that a cat doesn’t have to be “fancy” to appear in Cat Fancier Magazine, a misconception she says causes more reputable news outlets to write off her reporting as “fluff.”  “It’s used in the British sense of a liking or a fondness for something,” she notes.  “And it’s not as fluffy as Mr. Wifflesworth, is it snookums?”

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

How to Floss Your Cat’s Teeth

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.

“No.”

“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 meeting her lawyer to update her will 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.’”


Jesse James

 

“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.”

“What brochure?”

“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.”

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.”

My Cats’ Luxury Apartment

     An official of FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, maintained an opulent lifestyle that included a luxury apartment in New York–for his cats.

                                                              The Wall Street Journal

Image result for wet cat food
“Put down the Friskies and nobody gets hurt.”

As I turned the key in Apartment 31G, high above Manhattan, I closed my eyes and braced myself for the spectacle I was sure to encounter once I entered.  I opened the door and, just as I expected, saw empty bags of Iams Less Active Catfood in the distinctive turquoise bag strewn across the floor.  A Fancy Feast Classic Seafood Variety Pack was sitting on the counter, with three cans empty.  My roommate Rocco had apparently used the sports page to relieve himself rather than make the arduous trek all . . . . the . . . way back to the kitty box like a civilized cat.

Image result for wet cat food
Working on a six-pack.

The situation was nearly intolerable, but I had no one to blame but myself.  After all, I’d acted in The Odd Couple in high school, and should have remembered that roommates were like drinking–never mix, never worry.  But there was something about Rocco–the tuxedo cat I lived with–that made him hard to turn down when he asked if he could move in with me.

Maybe it was his lack of manners, the way he bowls over everything and everybody in his way to get what he wants.  He’s an alpha male, and I’m a beta.  He’s Oscar Madison to my Felix Unger; he’s a slob, and I’m–well, let’s just say I’m . . . fastidious.

Image result for odd couple

I heard a burp from the vicinity of the couch and knew he was home.  I supposed that should have been some consolation, that he hadn’t left his mess for me to clean up.  On the other hand, if he were out somewhere I could straighten things out without his interference; the infuriating indifference he shows to any attempt whatsoever to maintain a luxury apartment in a state that wouldn’t warrant condemnation by the Board of Health.

“Geez, ya scared me,” he said as he lifted his head up from the sofa cushion.

“I hardly think so.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because if I’d truly scared you, you would have at least jumped out of that heap of trash you’re lounging in.”

“I’m comfortable with whom I am.”

Who not whom,” I said.

“Geez–I woulda thought you’d go the other way on that one.  I was tryin’ to use proper English.”

“I’m glad I’ve had some influence on you, even if it’s only superficial.  The relative pronoun functions as part of the relative clause, not the main clause.  So think of it as ‘I am comfortable with the person who I am.’

“If I ever think of it again, I will.”  He sat up, grabbed the remote and turned on “Top Cat,” the 60s cartoon that’s his favorite–dare I say “only”–artistic interest.

Image result for top cat

“You know, our master works very hard to provide us with a luxury apartment–it’s the least you could do to pick up after yourself every once in a while.”

“Define ‘hard work,’” he said with a skeptical tone.  “Is it ‘hard work’ to open up an envelope with a large cash payment from a television network?”

“Well, probably not.”

“Is it ‘hard work’ to accept sexual favors from a precocious jeune fille sent to persuade you to site the next World Cup in Moldavia, or Upper Volta, or Burkina Faso?”

I had him dead to rights now.  “Upper Volta and Burkina Faso are the same country, you dingbat.”

“You get my drift,” he said as he stretched his arms before hopping up onto the counter and popping the top off another can of Fancy Feast.

Image result for tuxedo cat
“Oh, give it a rest, wouldya?”

“You’re getting quite a gut from lying around all day eating that . . . junk.”

“You know and I know that being an international soccer official is just about the most corrupt job in the world, after New Jersey traffic court judge and Massachusetts Democratic elected official.”

“So?”

“So you’re in this up to your whiskers, don’t come on all high and mighty with me.  You’re in pari delicto with the whole scam.”

It struck me that there ought to be a Latin logical fallacy for what Rocco had just done–“argument by changing the subject” or something–but there wasn’t, so he had a smug little smile on his face as he made his way back to the couch.

Image result for indicted mass speakers of the houseWe went our separate ways, as always.  It’s no fun having a roommate who doesn’t share your interests which, in my case, include washing myself 6 times a day.  Still, we were very fortunate.  It isn’t every cat who has a luxury apartment, and a room of his own to sleep in–on the bed!–to look out the window of, to retire to when the din of the television in the living room becomes too annoying, to . . .

“Holy crap!”  It was Rocco, screaming at the TV.

“What?” I called out to him.  He doesn’t usually get excited, it had to be something important, like a Today Show interview with the editor of Cat Fancy or something.

“They just indicted a bunch of soccer officials for bribery!”

I came around the counter and looked at the screen.  There was our master, doing the perp walk, while the announcer droned on about a $150 million kickback scheme.  I shook my head in disbelief.  “We’re doomed,” I said finally with disgust.

“Why do you say that?” Rocco asked.

“All of this,” I said, sweeping my paw before him.  “You can kiss it goodbye.”

But as always, the Roc-man saw things a bit differently.  “Don’t be a sap,” he said.  “We’ll turn state’s evidence and write a true crime tell-all book.”

“Isn’t that prohibited by ‘Son of Sam‘ laws?”

Image result for david berkowitz

“You mean the guy who claimed he was possessed by a demon in the form of a dog named Harvey?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

“Wrong species–we’re cats!”

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 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.”

Injuries Are Few in Annual Running of the Cats

SOMERVILLE, Mass.  When this suburb of Boston decided to become a “sister city” with Pamplona, Spain a decade ago, few realized what it would mean for the many cat-owners who live here.


El gato de Somervilla

 

“We have cats the way some cities have cockroaches,” says city animal officer Hardy Michaels.  “There are more apartment dwellers here per capita than any city in Massachusetts, so we have more cats.  Also a lot of goldfish, but they don’t get out as much.”


Running of the idiots . . . er, bulls, Pamplona, Spain

 

Pamplona is the site of the annual running of the bulls made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises,” however, and when officials from the Spanish sister city visited Somerville in 1998, they asked why there was no counterpart to their annual San Fermin festival, generally regarded as the world’s leading manifestation of innate male stupidity.


Somerville, Mass.

 

“Frankly, we were caught off guard,” says Elinor Harrity, who chaired the Committee on International Relations that the City Council set up because they found the topic of sewers boring.  “We improvised to show our Spanish compadres that we meant them no disrespect, and the running of the cats was born.”


“Look out!”

 

All able-bodied males take to the streets of Somerville today while their Spanish counterparts participate in the San Fermin festival.  There are  eight scheduled runs before a pack of cats that have been fed only dry food and water for a week, whetting their appetite.  “It is a sign of your manhood to risk your life running before the jaws and claws of the hungry cats,” says Andrew Benis, a freelance photographer who recently broke up with his girlfriend of six years.  “Women admire a brave man, but what’s the point if you get trampled to death by a bull before you can score?”


On the prowl.

 

Last year, two men were admitted to Mt. Auburn Hospital with claw scratches on their calves and small puncture wounds on their hands that they suffered when they were bitten as they tried to remove attacking cats from their legs.  “You see your whole life flash before you when those cats come tearing around a street corner,” says George VandeKamp, who works in a used record store.  “Of course, if your life is mainly beer, pizza and beating off like mine, that’s not a big deal.”

Because of its density, city officials say they would never issue a permit for a running of the bulls here, not that such an event is very likely.  “It’s pretty rare to see a bull around here,” says Assistant Chief of Police Dan Hampy, “although you hear a ton of it any time you walk into a bar.”

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

How to Talk to Your Cats About Shakespeare

My cats are big Shakespeare fans; in the case of Rocco, who’s been letting himself go a bit, a huge devotee of the Bard–fifteen pounds at his last checkup.  We have assembled on the patio for a reading from Julius Caesar.  Titus Andronicus was checked out of our local library, and my wife, the family Shakespeare-hater, is out of town.


“This foul deed shall smell above the earth/with carrion chipmunks, groaning for burial.”

 

I’ve told them the best way to read Shakespeare is that taught to me by Merlin Bowen, my freshman humanities teacher; once through quickly without checking the footnotes, then the second time more slowly, and thoughtfully, looking up the buskins and petards as you go.  Easy for him to say since he didn’t have chemistry and social studies and phys ed and French and drugs to take at the same time.


“I didn’t finish the reading assignment–okay?”

 

Rocco is a quick study, as I was when a youngster, while Okie is a stolid, phlegmatic type, like Jim Bob Mergen, the farm boy who was compared unfavorably–I think–to me in the second grade.  The nun said I picked things up easily and valued them less as a result, while Jim Bob struggled to learn things, and consequently treasured the correct spelling of “cat” more highly than I for the rest of his life.


“Did you put the cats down in the basement?  Because I’m going to bed.”

 

It may seem strange to you to read from Shakespeare with your pets, but this is an advantage I want my cats to have.  I first read about such a thing in a short story by Cynthia Ozick when I was in my twenties, too late for me.  Apparently, some high-toned families engage in such pursuits while clans like mine were watching “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Fugitive.”  Children from families of the former type showed up on the first day of freshman English class to mention in a blase, off-hand way, that they had just finished their second novel while I–I had taken the road more traveled by and had a cool collection of record albums.


“Let me have cats about me that are fat; yond Okie has a lean and hungry look.”

 

We don’t use the folio version of the play, it would take too long.  Instead, I picked up two copies of Iams Lite Shakespeare for Less-Active Cats at Pet World this morning.  It contains all the essential quotes a growing cat needs, with 10% less fat and archaic English!

The problem with mixing cats and Shakespeare, as with most students, is their short attention span.  We customarily hold our reading on the back patio, and in the conservation land to the west there is a constant flow of fauna; deer, chipmunks, wild turkeys, even coyotes.  Okie caught a rabbit and a snake last week alone.  It’s hard to keep the guys on the text, but I try.  They’re prone to improvise.

“Your line,” I say to Rocco.

“Where were we?”

“‘Another general shout!’”

“Oh, right.  Uh, ‘Why cat, he doth bestride the narrow world like that stupid Doberman down the street; and we petty cats walk under his huge legs, and peep about.’”

“Over to you,” I say to the Oakmeister.

“Uh, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are cats.’”

It’s Roc’s turn, but when I give him his cue I see him gazing across the back yard, to the edge of the grass, where a rabbit has poked his head out from under a rhododendron, those ungainly plants that Virginia Woolf compared to suburban stockbrokers.  The rabbit’s munching on clover; the stockbroker lives across the street.

“Roc–you paying attention?”

“Uh, sorry,” he says and looks back down at his script.  We proceed in this halting fashion through Acts I and II; a field mouse sees the weighty atmosphere of high culture, and can hardly believe his good fortune.  The cats are playing a tragedy, and it’s comedy to him.


“Nyah nyah, nyah NYAH nyah.”

 

Okie detects the mouse’s insolence, and makes a false start towards him, scaring the bejeezus out of the poor rodent.  “Cowards die many times before their deaths,” he says in a voice that projects to the cheap seats over by the daisies.  “The valiant never taste of death but once.”


“I’m gonna GIT you sucker!”

 

“Roc–over to you,” I say.  He hasn’t been paying attention, but he picks up where Marc Anthony returns to view Caesar’s lifeless corpse.  I’ve used that phrase before, and for the first time I’m forced to ask myself–what other kind of corpse is there?

“O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,” he begins, but in a flat, lifeless tone.

“C’mon–put some feeling into it.  You’re Marc Antony, and your best friend’s just been killed.”

He looks at me, then out at the lawn, where the joint is jumpin’, so to speak.  Critters here, varmints there, unprotected species everywhere.

“That I am meek and gentle,” he continues, then pauses to watch a wild turkey hen with two chicks tiptoeing as if on eggshells over our acre and a half of fresh, native New England rocks.  As former president of my high school National Forensic League, a triple threat in debate, extemporaneous speaking and dramatic interpretation, I can’t take it anymore.

“Here,” I say, ripping the script from his paws.  “Let me show you how a real actor plays this scene.”

He shrugs his furry shoulders and turns his attention back to the yard as I begin:  “Blood and destruction shall be so in use at our house, and dreadful objects so familiar on our front and back porches, that mothers shall but smile when they behold their infant chipmunks, squirrels and robins quarter’d with the hands of war.”

I see their backs turn and their butts wiggle.  Now they’re concentrating.

“All pity chok’d with custom of fell deeds, And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge . . .”

A rabbit, stricken with a fatal flash of inspired confidence, makes a dash across the lawn.

“Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice/Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the cats of war!”

I’ve barely got the words out of mouth when I see them bolt from our bluestone stage and make for the rabbit, who suddenly the wiser, reverses course and heads for the woods.

“Hey, aren’t we gonna finish?” I yell after the cats.

“I’m taking an incomplete,” Rocco says, to which Okie echoes “I’m dropping this course.”

 

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

Is That Your Cat, or Are We Having Guacamole?

          An image that Google correctly categorized as a tabby cat was, with only a few pixels changed, subsequently identified by the same algorithm as guacamole.

The Boston Globe

We’re heading into summer, which means that my cats are even lazier than usual.  They stay indoors most of the day, venturing outside only in the cool of the evening to chill their ever-widening bellies on our bluestone patio, before rushing off into the dark to wreak havoc on chipmunks and squirrels.


Rocco left, Okie right.

“I’m getting concerned about your lifestyles,” I say to them as they take the two Adirondack chairs for a change of pace.

“Says the guy who drank a bottle of Malbec by himself last night,” Rocco says out of the side of his mouth.

“I’m serious,” I say, trying to re-take the moral high ground.  “You lie around all day, then you’re out all night.  You’re not twenty-one in cat years anymore.”

“How do you do the math in your head so fast?” Okie asks.  He’s the handsome grey tabby who’s gotten by on his looks, not his wits, his entire life.

“Don’t you remember anything?” Rocco snaps.  “He’s the former Boy Scout/Altar Boy who does fractions in his head when he’s swimming laps.”


“Seven and 15/16 laps.”

“Fractions–ugh!” Okie groans.  He’s lived the life of the beta male ever since his younger brother Rocco arrived on the scene.  For some reason whenever the cat food is divided in half, he only gets 40%.

“I’m only saying this because we love you guys,” I say.  I found this rhetorical turn to be very helpful when dealing with our sons as they grew up.  In essence, it boils down to “Don’t break your mother’s heart, you sullen teenager, you.”

“We have to live our own lives,” Rocco says as he gets up to follow the path of a chipmunk, who disappears under the wooden fence we put up around the air conditioning units.

“Do you remember a few summers ago, when Okie disappeared for weeks?” I say in an imploring tone of voice.  “How are we not supposed to be worried when something like that happens?”  When I want to, I can really implore.


“One for you, two for me.  One for you, three for me.”

“That was then, this is now,” Rocco says as he sits back down.  “If you want to be able to find us, just give us Google chip implants.”

“Yeah, sort of like the Italian dad down the street who put a GPS device in his daughter’s car so he could break the legs of any boy who tried to slide into home with her,” Okie adds.  He apparently listens when we talk at the dinner table.

I give them a look of pitiless contempt.  “You guys think you’re so smart–you’ve been watching too many cute cat food commercials that glorify the feline brain.”

“It’s true,” Rocco says.  “I read it on the internet.”

“Well, maybe you should pick up a newspaper some time.”

“What’s a newspaper?” Okie asks.

“It’s that stuff he puts in our litter boxes,” Rocco advises him.


“What’s a four-letter word for ‘excrement’?”

“It has other uses.”

“Right,” Rocco says.  “You can also line parakeet cages with it.”

“While that is generally true of The Boston Globe, every now and then you come across something useful in it besides the comics.”

“I like Garfield!” Okie says–figures.

“No, I mean stories like this,” I say, and point them to an article about an Artificial Intelligence conference where the shortcomings of the technology were demonstrated.  “Change just a few pixels, and Google thinks you two are guacamole.”


“You’re not going to put me on a nacho chip, are you?”

They are both silent for a moment, as they walk over the Business section.  “Gosh–I had no idea,” Rocco says, for once sounding . . . almost humble.

“So let that be a lesson to you, okay?” I say as I give them both a scritch on the head.

“What’s the lesson?” Okie asks, as usual missing the self-evident.

“Simple,” Rocco says, stepping in like teacher’s pet to explain.  “The difference between your brain and guacamole is, like, one avocado.”

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

How to Talk to Your Cat About Drugs

If you have cats and they’re anything like mine, they’re apolitical. Mine are outdoor cats and get plenty of exercise, so they’re not fat cats. A check of the records at our state Office of Campaign Finance revealed that neither made any political contributions during the last election cycle. That’s why I was surprised this afternoon when Okie, the older of the two, jumped on my stomach while I was trying to take a nap, holding a petition to legalize catnip in his mouth.

“I’ve asked you not to disturb me when I’m resting,” I said.

“This will only take a minute,” he said. “We’re gathering signatures to legalize catnip.”

I looked at him with my left eyebrow raised to express my pitiless contempt for his inferior intellect. “Catnip is legal, you stunod.”

Image result for grey tabby
Crashing

 

“That’s not what mom told us.”

I shook my head, almost involuntarily. “For somebody who’s supposedly curious, you’re awfully credulous.”

He gave me that tilted-head look, like the dog in the old RCA Victor ads. He does that when he’s confused or I’m playing the harmonica.

“What does ‘credulous’ mean?” he asked. I was glad to see that he’d at least learned to add quotation marks around a word he’s mentioning but not actually using in a sentence. It’s something he picked up when I read to him from the writings of Willard Van Orman Quine, a philosopher. I’ve tried to instill this linguistic precision in all of our pets, except for the fish my son’s girlfriend gave him, who seems to be a mute. The fish, that is, not the girlfriend.

Image result for w v o quine
W.V. O. Quine: Note obligatory beret to offset four initials.

 

“‘Credulous’ means you believe things too readily,” I explained. “Mom tells you catnip’s illegal because she doesn’t want you getting high.”

He took all this in. “Sign it anyway,” he said after a while. “Just to be sure.”

I signed, and began to scratch his head. “Look,” I said, “I know you guys like it when I give you catnip, but it’s a special treat, or to get you to stop beating the crap out of each other when I’m listening to music.”

He stared off into space, the way dogs in George Booth cartoons do. “I think music sounds better when I’m on catnip,” he said after a while.

Image result for george booth cat

“That’s because catnip is a euphoric, like marijuana,” I said, scratching him under the chin.

“How would you know?” he asked, and with that, the moment so many Baby Boomers have dreaded arrived. It was time to talk to my cat about drugs. I cleared my throat and set sail over uncharted and possibly stormy waters.

“Okie–buddy,” I began, but he cut me off.

“You only call me ‘buddy’ when you’re putting me down in the basement for the night.”

“This is one of those subjects that call for ‘tough love.’ When I was your age, I experimented with a lot of things. Rather than risk an arrest that would follow me for the rest of my life, one day I took some catnip . . .”

“Which belonged to Baby Cat and Big Kitty, right?” He was referring to the two cats I grew up with.

Image result for orange tabby and calico
Baby Cat: Nobody wanted her because she was *sniff* different!

 

“Right.”

“Those are extremely stupid names.”

“We named those cats when we were toddlers.”

“Still,” he said with a little snort. “Continue.”

“Well, when I reached high school, a lot of kids went off to Haight-Ashbury for the Summer of Love. I stayed home.”

“Um-hmm.”

“I needed something to help escape my boring summer job, so I put some catnip in one of my dad’s pipes and–smoked it.”

He looked at me like I was the one with the sub-human intelligence. “Why didn’t you just put some in a felt mouse and roll around on it?” he asked.

“I was out with friends in a car–that would have looked pretty stupid.”

“Okay,” he said. “So what happened?”

“Not much. I felt a little light-headed, but that could have been just from the smoking. Humans can get high from catnip, but the effect is pretty mild.”

He seemed to be taking it all in, processing it. “I know you’re going to hit me with a moral now,” he said after a moment.

“Not really,” I said as I stroked his back. “I think you’re better off trying something that won’t do you much harm than to have mom scare the bejeezus out of you.”

He nodded his head and took a lick at his left shoulder. “I appreciate your honesty,” he said finally.

“I think it’s best.” So I’d gotten through to him after all. “I always feel better after we have these talks,” I said. “Anything else on your mind?”

“Yeah,” he said as he jumped down from the couch. “Do you have any Grateful Dead albums?”

 

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