Injuries 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 such 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.”

Summer Jobs for Cats

It’s the end of the first really hot day of the summer.  I take off my coat, drop my briefcase and turn around to find the usual scene; two cats sleeping.  Rocco, the young tuxedo cat on the back of the couch, barely troubles himself to turn in my direction.  Okie, the older grey tabby on the floor, opens his eyes and prepares to flop over for an obligatory tummy scratch.  Forgive me if I have trouble working up much sympathy.


11:30 Pilates class.

 

“You guys have a tough life,” I say.

“Not really,” Okie says.  He’s the more literal-minded of the two.  “We get plenty of rest, the food’s okay, lots of free time to exercise . . .”

“He was being ironic,” Rocco says.  Rocco “gets” my sense of humor, even if he prefers to ignore it.

“So what are you saying?” Okie asks, genuinely befuddled.

“What I mean is, I get up at five in the morning and don’t get home until 6:30 at night.  When I leave you guys are asleep, and when I get home you’re asleep.  You stay out all night and have all the food you want.  Nice work if you can get it.”


“You’ve got to stop and smell the roses.”



“We didn’t even have to apply for it!” Okie says, ever the ingenue.

“Irony again,” Rocco says, tucking his head under his paw hoping I’ll go away.

“You know . . .” I begin.

“Here it comes,” Rocco says.  “Another lecture.”

“. . . when I was your age, I had a job every summer, sometimes two jobs.”

“We have jobs,” Rocco says.

“What?” I ask incredulously.

“Rodent control.  Didn’t you see that mouse I left you in the garage this morning?”

“In fact I didn’t see it.  You dropped it right next to my car and I stepped on it.”

“Oops.  Sorry.”

“Not a nice way to start my day.  Anyway, as I started to say, it’s time you two went out and got summer jobs.”

“Who’s gonna hire me?” Okie says.  “I’m 56 in cat years.”

“I think you could find something, if you’d only look.”

“You don’t exactly help things with your stupid op-eds about how the minimum wage is too high for seasonal youth workers,” Rocco says.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say, sincerely shocked.  “There’s no way in hell either one of you is worth $11 an hour.”

“There’s not a lot of work out there for unskilled laborers who haven’t got opposable thumbs,” Okie says.  “We’re not polydactyls, you know.”

He’s got a point.  “I’m not suggesting you should become accountants and hold pencils, I’m just saying you could try a little bit harder to earn your keep around here.”

Rocco finally rolls over and looks at me.  “Easy for you to say, you with twenty years of schooling,” he says.  If he had eyebrows, one of them would be arching right now.

“Well, yeah, but . . .”

“No buts about it.  I think we ought to just lie low for awhile, get advanced degrees and wait till things pick up a little.”

It’s my turn to be incredulous.  “Advanced degrees–in what?”

“Interior decorating.  Relaxation therapy,” Okie says earnestly.

“Comparative literature,” Rocco suggests flippantly.

“Those kinds of things would be fine if you two were young, but it’s too late now.  You’re in your peak earning years!” I say, a little exasperated.


Gandhi

 

“We must be the change we want to see in the world,” Okie says.  That was the motto he picked for his senior high school yearbook photo.

“Gandhi–right?” I ask.

“No–Bo Belinsky, playboy pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels,” Rocco says.  When he gets in one of his negative moods, he can be very sarcastic.


Bo Belinsky, with Mamie van Doren

 

“I’ll tell you what,” I say.  “I’ll put you on a piece work basis.”

“What’s that?” Okie asks.

“That’s how you get paid when you do farm work, like de-tasseling corn, or bucking hay.”

“‘Bucking hay,’” Rocco says, rolling over on his back to laugh.  “Sounds like a real hoe-down.”

”Nobody says ‘hoe-down,’” I remind him, “it’s ‘chivaree.’  Anyway, we used to get two cents a bale of hay,” I recall wistfully.

“Whoop-de-do,” Rocco says with contempt.

“It taught you that if you wanted to make money, you worked faster.”

“Thereby causing farm accidents involving the loss of limbs,” Rocco says.

“Nope–not me,” I say proudly, holding out both my arms.  “A farmer told us we’d get our long hair caught in the grain auger if we weren’t careful, but it never happened.”


Grain auger

 

Rocco takes this in for a minute.  “What are you proposing to pay?”

“I don’t know–five cents a mouse, maybe a dime for a chipmunk.  Quarter for a squirrel.  Lay off the birds.”

“Why?” Okie asks.

“Because it makes mom sad when you kill them.”

“So–incentive-based compensation, right?” Rocco asks slily.  I think I know where he’s going.

“That’s right.  And I don’t care if you freelance around the neighborhood on your days off.”

“Do I have to share with slow-poke over there?” Rocco asks, tilting his head towards the old man.


“Why can’t the mice come to me?”

 

“Nope.  As we say in business, using a metaphor drawn from the animal kingdom, ‘You eat what you kill.’”

Suddenly Rocco’s apathy is gone.  “I’m in,” he says.

“Wait,” Okie says, starting to realize that his glide path to retirement will be a little longer than he thought.  “Can I . . . like . . . tag along with Rocco?”

“If you mean sloppy seconds, the answer is no,” Rocco says.  “Find your own goddamn mice.”

“Guys–let’s not let compensation tear the firm apart,” I say, pouring oil on turbulent waters.

“Wonder where you got that line,” Rocco says as he heads for the door.  “Let me out–I’m going prospepecting.”


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

The Country Mouse and the City Mouse

Once there was a country mouse who grew tired of the limited amusements available in his provincial town. He called up his cousin who lived in a luxury condo in the city.

“Put the sheets on the hide-a-bed cause I’m busting out of this burg,” said the country mouse.

“You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” said his cousin.

“So much of your so-called sophistication is but a mere gossamer,” said the country mouse, rising to the level of platitudes. “What I don’t know won’t hurt me,” repeating something he had heard in another context.

“But what will you do for cheese?” asked the city mouse.

“I can get by on barley and corn,” said the country mouse.

“Oh God,” groaned his cousin.

When the country mouse arrived at his cousin’s place, he suggested that they see the sights.

“I was going to catch up on my reading,” said the city mouse, “but don’t let me spoil your fun.”

“Wouldn’t think of it,” said the country mouse.

“Ciao,” said the city mouse.

“No thanks, I’ll eat later.”

The country mouse hailed a cab and asked how much a ride to The Stork Club would cost.

“About five bucks,” said the cabbie, “not including gratuity.”

“Nice night for a walk,” said the country mouse.

Some time later the country mouse arrived at The Stork Club. “Gimme a table near the band,” he said.

“Do you have a reservation?” asked the stork d’hotel.

“Where I come from you don’t need one,” said the mouse.

“There will be a table available in about an hour, and the cover charge is $20,” said the stork, eyeing the mouse doubtfully.

“Forget it,” said the mouse, affecting an air of importance. “I’m a busy mouse.”

The country mouse checked his wallet and decided that his conquest of the city would have to wait until he had a little more walking-around money. “When I do things I do ’em right,” he said to himself. “I travel first-class and I bring my own carfare. I will soon have this city by the tail, if not the whiskers,” and with that he vowed to live frugally, save his money and rise slowly but relentlessly to the top.

On his way back to his cousin’s place the country mouse took an express train that deposited him in a strange neighborhood, where he was set upon by cats who cleaned him out.

Moral: Sophistication is a vain and empty thing, whose value is not appreciated.

 

Business Groups Balk at “Take Your Cat to Work Day”

CHICAGO. First, notes human resources manager Dale Cloymore, there was “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day,” a well-intentioned effort to show young girls there were future opportunities for them outside the home. “Then the fathers of boys got involved,” he recalls, “saying they didn’t want their sons to grow up to be kept men.”


“Great–I’ll put you down for 100 cases of left-handed skyhooks!”

 

Childless dog-owners were next, saying their inability to have children or their choice not to shouldn’t be held against them. “That was easy–everybody likes dogs,” Cloymore says, “but Bring Your Cat to Work Day is an event we won’t be repeating.”

Bring Your Kid to Work Day was last Thursday and Bring Your Cat to Work Day the day after, but many businesses are still recovering from damage inflicted on furniture and employee morale during what appears will be a short-lived experiment in cat-human relations. “People lose sight of the fact that we’re here to make a profit for our shareholders,” notes Al Klemencz, Chief Operating Officer at Vortices Plastics in suburban Oak Park, “not entertain cats with laser pointers.”

The trouble started for Cloymore when Lisbeth Markwart’s cat “Pookie” was found sleeping atop a printer that was needed to send out a letter to cancel an order. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Lisbeth,” he says, then quickly adds “in a professional workplace phony-smile-in-the-hall kind of way. But she just stood there going ‘Is Ookie Pookie cozy on the nice warm HP 3460?’ Now I’m stuck with 200 metric tons of modeling clay.”


“No one will ever notice!”

 

At Allen, Wembley & Dawson, a downtown law firm that represents the commodities industry, the founding partner’s pride and joy is an antique Persian Shiraz rug that has graced the reception area for fifty years. “That was one of my grandfather’s first fees,” says Clay Wembley III, choking back tears as he views a pile of vomit in which dry cat food is mixed with an oak leaf. “I don’t know how I’m going to break the news to grandmother.”

And at Vortices, a maintenance worker climbs a stepladder in an attempt to lure Kitsy, a spry one-year-old cat, out of the top of a potted Sago Palm tree as her owner, receptionist Melinda Barker stands by. “You don’t know what she means to me,” Barker sobs into a tissue. “She’s all I’ve got since my husband Duane ran off with the babysitter.”

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

Happy Belated Hairball Awareness Day

A chilly, sunny April Saturday. There’s just me and two cats, Rocco and Okie, three sullen males grunting their way through the day–as usual–while the wife’s running errands.


Rocco: “You insensitive clod!”

 

And yet something’s–not quite right. Okie, the elder cat, seems–distrait. Taciturn. Phlegmatic. And those are just leftover vocab words from my son’s senior English class.


“Just leave me alone–okay?”

 

He sits on a windowsill, staring off into the middle distance, as if he’s depressed. He’s indifferent to my attentions, or perhaps I should say more indifferent that he–or any other cat–is normally. Rocco’s outside rolling in the dirt, so I amble up to him for a sidebar.

“Nice day, huh?” I say.

“Yeah. I’m going to hassle those stupid long-haired chihuahuas next door.”

“Okay, but get that out of your system early–I want to take a nap this afternoon. Hey–have you noticed anything funny about Okie?”


“Yip, yip, yip!”

 

“Funny strange, or funny ha-ha?”

“Strange. He seems somewhat–distant today.”

Rocco looks at me with a pitiless expression and shakes his head. “You are so freaking clueless.”

“What?”

He takes a second to scratch for a tick under his chin. “It’s all about you–isn’t it? You sit there at your computer all day in your own little world. Never thinking about anybody else.”

“Hey–if I don’t sit at my computer all day, you don’t get any Iams Low Fat Weight Control Dry Cat Food.”

“Oh, whoop-de-do! That stuff’s so bad I’d rather eat the bag.”

“You’ll thank me in a couple of years when every other cat in the neighborhood has a gut that’s dusting the floor. But seriously–is something the matter with him?”

“Don’t you know what yesterday was?”


St. Swithin: Peace out, dawg.

 

I search my memory. Not Arbor Day. Not my elder sister’s birthday. St. Swithin’s Day? Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding anniversary? “I give up–what?”

Rocco closes his eyes, as if he can’t believe how stupid I am. “It was Hairball Awareness Day, you mook!”

I’m confused. “Okie’s a short-hair. Why would he get emotional about hairballs?”

“You are such an insensitive clod,” Rocco says, licking his white ruff. “Hairballs can strike any cat, at any time–long or short-hair.”

“I didn’t know. We get so many solicitations at work. United Fund. All kinds of diseases. You don’t expect me to keep up with all of them, do you?”


National Hairball Awareness Poster Child

 

“Look–just because there’s no washed-up comedian doing a telethon for Hairball Awareness doesn’t mean you can completely ignore a cause that means so much to someone right in your own home!”


“Ack-ack-ack–it’s the sound of a hairball attack!”

 

“But I don’t . . .”

Rocco cuts me off. “Okie’s mom died of a hairball.”

Okay. ‘Nuf said. I “get it.” “Jeez–I didn’t realize.”

“You should go talk to him. Maybe buy a bracelet, or at least a ribbon.”

I take out my wallet. I’ve got four ones and a twenty. Stupid cat won’t know the difference.

“And don’t try to stiff him like you do the mini-mites hockey kids who accost you at the stoplights with their coffee cans.”


“You cheap bastard–giving a kid a cents-off coupon for a granola bar!”

 

“You’re right. I’ll go talk to him.” I go back in the house and Okie’s still sitting where he was when I left, his chin on his paws.

“Hey Oke,” I say, “I’m . . . uh . . . sorry I forgot about Hairball Awareness Day.”

He looks up at me without anger. “That’s okay,” he says. “Who was it that said the universe was indifferent to our suffering?”


Camus: 1951 Existentialist Rookie of the Year.

 

“I don’t know. Either Albert Camus–or Yogi Berra.”

He lets out a short little sigh. “I think of the poem by Auden . . .”

“Musee des Beaux Arts?”


Auden: “At least this post has a smoking section.”

 

“Right. How suffering takes place while someone else is eating or opening a window . . . “

” . . . or just walking dully along?” I say, finishing the line for him. Nothing like the consolations of art–their purgative powers–to help one get over sadness.

“I tell you what,” I say. “I’ve got $24–I’m going to make a contribution in your mother’s name to the National Hairball Foundation.”

His eyes mist over–or at least I think they do. “Save your money,” he says.

“But I want to.”

“No–you’re going to need it.”

“Why?” I ask.

“For some Resolve Multi-Surface Fabric Cleaner. I upchucked a hairball on the dining room rug.”

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

My GPS Cats

          Using tiny satellite tracking harnesses, the Cat Tracker Project has enrolled more than 500 cats in a program that will outfit them with Global Positioning System devices.

          The Boston Globe
Rocco
“Is Okie lost–again?”

 

I was pretty excited to be chosen to test drive CatTrack, the state-of-the-art global positioning system for cats. It would mean an end–finally!–to stupid arguments with my housemate Okie, who is to feline intelligence what the Marianas Trench is to the Pacific Ocean; the lowest depth, the nadir, the perigee, the bottom of the bottom.
Okie
“I am not dumb. Just–directionally challenged.”

 

A few summers back Okie was gone from Memorial Day until late in August, and not because he has a summer house on the Cape. He was hopelessly lost, not “cheating” on our owners the way some cats do in order to get a second crack at the Purina Cat Chow every day. No, Okie returned several pounds lighter and even more confused than he was when he left, if that’s possible, the result of wandering dazed in the woods behind our house during the hottest months of the year. When the Nobel Prize Committee calls, he knows it ain’t for him.

But with GPS to guide us on our way, I’m hoping that my days of chasing after the Oak-man, trying to herd him home like a sheepdog, are over. God knows it’s only going to get worse; he’s 63 in cat years, and the grey matter he’s lost over the years in late-night fights with fisher cats–among other local predators–ain’t coming back.

gps1
Fisher cat–not a household pet.

 

While I’m thinking these thoughts I watch Okie amble up, all innocent barefoot cat with cheeks of grey. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, poor sap, so I’ve had to serve as his tour guide over hill and dale lo these seven years we’ve been living together.

“How they hangin’ Oak?” I call out.

“Nothin’ much,” he replies. He has a stock assortment of come-backs, which don’t always fit the greeting.

“You want to go chase chipmunks?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says. “Although–”

“Yes?”

“I don’t want to get lost again.”

“I know buddy,” I say. “But not to worry, I’ve got GPS.”

His face clouds over. “I am so sorry to hear that. Is there anything you can do for it?”

“It’s not a disease you nutball, it stands for ‘global positioning system.’”

“Oh,” he says, and I can tell he’s not quite comprehending. “Do we even have a globe anymore? I mean, the kids moved out, and I thought mom gave a lot of that stuff away.”

“Not a globe, the globe–the one you’re standing on!”

He looked down at his feet, to make sure he wasn’t missing anything. “Yep–it’s right here,” he said.

“It had better be–I don’t know where else we’d put it,” I said, shaking my head. “C’mon, I’ll show you how it works. You punch it what you’re looking for . . .”

“Chipmunks!”

“And we see what comes up.”

A voice with a vaguely British accent came on–I guess the units were originally made for Range Rovers–and began to speak: “Proceed twenty steps to the stone fence, then turn RIGHT to enter the motorway.”

“Do we have a motorway?” Okie asked, clueless as usual.

“I think the nice English lady in the little box means our driveway.”

We low-tailed it down to the asphalt circle that connected our front walk to the street, then began to poke our noses into one of those “dry” New England stone fences Puritan women ordered their men to build to keep their minds off of sex.

“Well look what we have here,” I said with a note of feigned Kumbaya pacifism in my voice.

“What?”

gps

“It’s Chip and Dale!”

“REALLY?” Okie asked. “I love those guys!”

“No not really, you dubo–figuratively.” Unlike me, the Oakmeister does not peruse the many tomes on aesthetic philosophy that the elder male human in the house keeps as vestiges of his undergraduate days. “I’m not wasting my time chasing cartoon characters.”

We crept along, cat-like–actually, it wasn’t just cat-like, we were genuine flesh-and-blood cats–until we were positioned just outside a likely chipmunk cave.

“Now would you please proceed in a stealthy fashion?” I asked, and plaintively I might add.

“You want stealth, huh?”

“Right–and silence.”

“Okay,” he said. Duh.

We each took a position on the opposite sides of the crack through which we expected, any minute, a chipmunk to pop its head. I held my breath–I made Oakie hold his own. After what seemed like an hour, we saw a furry little head peak out to see if the coast was clear. I gave Oak a glance and for once, he seemed to “get it”–the whole predator/prey thing–right away. I silently mouthed “One . . . two . . . three”–when the silence was broken by . . .

“Arriving at–destination. Chipmunk hollow on RIGHT.”

The damn GPS! The chipmunk scurried back into the hole as if he’d been sucked by a vacuum cleaner.

“Damn it to hell!” I squealed.

“Better watch it–mom will hear you.”

“What’s she going to do–send me to Blessing of the Animals Day?”

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

Competition Rough as Cats Fight to Keep Control of Internet

SOMEWHERE NEAR BOSTON.  It’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but you wouldn’t know it from the hum of activity here in the basement of an undisclosed location in the western suburbs of Boston.

cat2
“Damn corgis!”

In front of computer terminals sit two night owls who will only allow themselves to be referred to by their first names–Rocco and Chester–if this reporter is to be permitted a look at the fascinating and frightening world of an internet “bucket shop,” a generator of memes and videos that captivate lonely people around the world whose “eyeballs” on their screens translate into big advertising dollars.

cat3
“You humans are so naïve!”

 

Those illicit revenues in turn fuel a world-wide ring of drug “buys” that keep the masterminds behind this unnerving look at the seamy underside of the world wide web fat, happy–and high as kites.

“C’mere,” Rocco says to his partner in crime, a scruffy-looking creature whose orange exterior makes him look like a fugitive from a tanning parlor, or a President of the United States.

“What is it?” Chester says, slowly raising himself up from his keyboard.

“It’s those damn Corgis again!” Rocco hisses, and indeed when Chester looks over his partner’s shoulder he sees a pair of the adorable dwarf Welsh herding dogs that have lately soared in popularity due to widespread exposure in videos and photographs on the internet.

corgi
Corgi:  Oh, put a sock in it.

 

“We’re going to have to do something,” Rocco says, and it is apparent that his partner not only shares his concern, but feels he’s understating the problem.

“That’s nothing,” he says.  “Google ‘cute sea otter’ and see what you get.”

corgi1
“2,946,328 pages views–and it’s still early!”

 

The two anonymous monitors of web traffic are members of the species Felis catus, the common housecat, who until recently have had little competition for the hearts and minds of bored web browsers of the human variety.  “The internet grew out of the Arpanet, which was designed solely for military uses,” says technology historian Milo Iyakaris.  “If it hadn’t been for pornography and cat videos, the internet would today be as useless as a fax machine, as Paul Krugman once memorably predicted.”

krugman

At stake are the millions of “clicks” each day that advertisers pay for in order to promote their products in banner ads to unsuspecting consumers, who associate the pleasure they derive from cute animals to the merit of a particular brand.  “I saw the cutest video of cats jumping on Christmas trees the other day,” says Myrna Lynn Goshke of Glasgow, Missouri.  “I rushed out and bought three boxes of Triscuits, the delicious and surprisingly wholesome snack cracker, I felt so bad about getting to see it for free.”

cat4
“Bears in swimming pools are killing us.”

The virtual lock that cats have had on the adorable critter market for the past two decades seems likely to hold for at least the near future, but cats like Rocco and Chester are taking no chances that the revenue stream that keeps them in catnip will continue to flow.  “Oh my God,” Rocco exclaims as he scrolls down his “wall” on Facebook.

“What now?” Chester asks, his shaking voice revealing his concern.

“What kind of sick individual would give a prairie dog a vanilla wafer?”