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?”

 

 

 

A Poem to St. Gertrude, Patron Saint of Cats

(Upon the poet learning that his cats had chased off a pack of coyotes)

You wish for assistance?
No, my cousin Okie.
If we die, it is our master’s loss,
But if we live, the fewer cats,
The greater share of honor.
With God as my witness,
I wish not one cat more.

I am not covetous for catnip,
Nor care where I sleep at night.
It irks me not who takes my
Favorite chair, or swats me off a table
That I have leapt upon.

Such things get not my dander up.
But if it be a sin to covet honor
On the field of battle,
I am the most offending cat alive.

No, coz, wish not a cat from Wayland
Over yon stone wall to climb and save us.
I would not lose so great an honor
As one cat more would share with me.

O, do not wish one more.
Rather proclaim it presently
To the host of coyotes before us
That we’ve the stomach for this fight.
Let them depart. Dry catfood pellets shall
Be put in their purse to ease their convoy
Back to the hills from whence they came.

This day is called the feast of St. Gertrude
The patron saint of cats.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home
Will stand on hind legs when the day is named
And rouse himself at the name of St. Gertrude.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his fellow-cats
And say “To-morrow is Saint Gertrude’s Day.”
Then will he part his fur and show his scars
And say “These wounds I had on St. Gertrude’s Day.”

Old cats forget, yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: Then shall our names
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Okie the King, Rocco the Prince,
Spooks, Chewie and Chester–
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

This story shall the good cat teach his kit,
And St. Gertrude’s Day shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlecats in Weston now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their cathoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Gertrude’s Day.

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

Image result for cat parachute

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.

Image result for fat german woman
“. . . 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.”

Image result for world war II chaplain airplane

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.”

Image result for angela merkel young
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.

Image result for cat parachute

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?

Image result for katzenjammer kids

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.

Image result for cat parachute

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.

Image result for cat parachute
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.

Image result for eva braun
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.”

Talkin’ Feline Leopold & Loeb Blues

In Chicago town, I had two cats;
Kittens, sprightly, genuine brats.
I named them for thrill killers known ‘round the globe
by their last names only: Leopold and Loeb.

Rocco

At night they’d crawl into bed with me–
had no girlfriend then, there was lots of space free.
And there they would cuddle, seeking warmth from the cold,
two tuxedo felines, named Loeb and Leopold.

One night one of them—I can’t remember which–
decided to snuggle so tight that I itched.
I asked him what gave, and out the words came:
“So how exactly did we come by our names?”

leopold

I inhaled a bit, the moment had come:
They were now in their teens, I couldn’t play dumb.
I propped each one upon a knee
and recounted how their monikers came to be.

“Long ago,” I began, “in the Windy City,
A crime was committed that wasn’t pretty.
Two students at the college that I now attend
Decided a young boy’s life to end.”

Rocco2

They gasped, horror-stricken, and looked at each other;
They were incredulous, the two be-whiskered brothers.
“Why’d they do that?” one of them asked,
while the other looked on, completely aghast.

“They wanted to prove that they were so smart
that they could perfect the murderer’s art.
They both possessed brains of the sort you well know;
The type that attends the U of Chicago.”

leopold1

They knew in an instant whereof I had spoken;
They’d heard bon mots that I spent like tokens,
Offending acquaintances both left and right
With callous disregard on a dinner party night.

“Say no more,” Leopold said.
“I know exactly why the kid’s dead.
O’erweening intelligence, a shrunken heart,
You guys think you’re soooo damn smart.”

dostoevsky

“Yeah,” said Loeb.  “They thought it was funishment
to make like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.
“Your undergrad Supermen read too much Dostoevsky,
Instead they should imitate Alexander Nevsky.”

That’s the kind of cats I was raising;
Moral, upstanding, platitude-praising.
Or at least that’s the impression they like to leave
when you walked in the door from a drunken eve.

“Excuse me,” I said, with uncommon candor,
“You’re in no position to utter this slander.”
Their whiskers bristled, they took offense,
I couldn’t believe cats could be so dense.

rocco3

“And what,” asked Loeb, “do you mean by that?”
Have you ever been grilled by such a cat?
“I mean just this,” I said with aplomb,
And then I dropped my behavioral bomb:

“Men and cats are the only two sort
who will kill another animal purely for sport,
So before you roll your eyes at me there,
Take a look in the mirror at the cats you see there.”

They were taken aback, and then back some more.
The circled their bods ‘round my apartment floor.
And then they sheepishly admitted their vice:
“Well, we do like to play with those stupid mice.”

Moral:  Those who live in cat houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Estate Planning for Cats

          The Massachusetts legislature has passed a bill allowing residents to write pets into their wills and leave trust funds behind for their care.

               The Boston Globe

Image result for lawyer will signing
“There–Kitzi is all provided for!”

 

Every year about this time I take stock of my family’s financial situation–how much life insurance we have, the allocation of my retirement plan between bonds, stocks and 60’s era collectible plastic model cars, what would happen to everybody else in our household if I should die before them.

I was sitting at my desk trying to figure out the pie charts on my monthly statement when Okie, the older of our two cats, jumped up on my desk.

“Whatcha doin’?” he asked, mustering as much wide-eyed innocence as a creature who likes to rip the guts out of chipmunks can possibly manage.

“Just my annual financial self-check-up,” I said, reaching into the drawer for an extra box of hyphens.

“I don’t mean to sound . . . crass . . . but have you taken care of me?” he asked.

I gave him a withering look. “You’ll be fifteen years old this year,” I said. “That’s 105 in human years.”

“So? You’re the one who rides his bike on state highways.”

Rocco
Rocco: “You made mom the trustee? Good grief!”

 

“I wear a helmet,” I said, turning back to something called the PIMCO Variable Rate Long-Term Investment Grade Bond and Baseball Card Fund.  “I don’t think you’re going to outlive me.”

He’s not the brightest cat in the world; he’s gone a long way on looks alone, with females rolling over and swooning at the black stripes in his short grey fur. I could literally feel him trying to figure out an innocent-sounding way to restart the discussion.

“Not for me,” he said, even though I seemed to recall that he’d used the word “me.”  “For the children.”

“You mean Rocco? He’s going to be 9 this year, so he’s 63.  Sorry, I think the humans around here come first because of their longer life expectancy.”

He turned away, a bit miffed.  “Did you see The Globe today?”

Okie
“I can’t go out and get a job at my age!”

 

“That was their advertising slogan back in the 80’s,” I said.  “Which part?”

“An article that tells how you can set up a trust fund for me and Rocco.  Just in case something tragic–God forbid–happened to you.

All of a sudden it clicked. There’d been a segment on “Biography” last night about the Menendez brothers, the Beverly Hills teens who killed their parents to get at their assets.

“Forget about it, pal,” I said, and I tried to put some starch into my voice.  “I don’t have enough money to make it worthwhile to bump me off.”

“What are you talking about?”

Rocco came in the room and, as always, sized up the situation in the beat of an eyelash.

“Is he trying to talk you into a trust fund?” he said before sprawling on his back legs to lick his crotch. “I told him you wouldn’t fall for it.”

Image result for radiator

Okie emitted a hiss like the radiators in my first apartment.  “You are so cynical,” he said.

“Am not,” Rocco said, “unless you mean that I’m dog-like.”

“I think he means you mistrusts his motives,” I explained, switching to the figurative from the literal.

“I’m not greedy,” Okie said. “I’m not like Leona Helmsley’s dog, Tycoon.”

“The one who was bequeathed $12 million, later reduced to $2 million?” I asked, although I knew the answer.

Image result for tycoon helmsley
Tycoon, with Helmsley: “He’s the only one who really loved me for the bitch that I am.”



“Yeah–pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered,” he said, using an old country expression popular among big city lawyers.

I reached over and scratched Okie on the head.  “Don’t worry, if mom or I died you could stay here until the other kicked the bucket.”

“What if you died together?” he asked. He’d apparently thought this thing through thoroughly.

“Well, I’m sure one of the neighbors would take you.”

Image result for jack russell terrier
Jack Russell terrier: Yip, yip, yip.

 

“Ix-nay on the olstead-Hays,” Rocco said, not even bothering to look up from his nether regions.  “I can’t stand their stupid Jack Russell terrier.”

I looked at the two of them, and realized they had a point.  “Tell you what–you guys can make out living wills, saying who you’d want to live with if we died. How’s that sound?”

“Is that enforceable?” Okie asked–he wasn’t completely on board yet.

“With two witnesses and a notary,” I said.

“And we can choose anybody we want?” Rocco asked.

“Sure–who did you have in mind?”

“Aunt Chris–she sends us Friskies Cat Treats!”

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

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.”