Managing Your Cats

Business experts say sound personnel management is the key to surviving tough times. These are the same business experts whose current advice on “best practices” is “Your business sucks–you should ask for a government handout.”


“. . . so we’re going to stop making widgets, and become a Wall Street investment bank.”

 

Managing your personal budget is no different. Every member of your household should be evaluated periodically in order to avoid costly litigation down the road, even though you don’t live down the road, you live at your current mailing address.

If there are cats in your house, you will find that fundamental principles of wildlife management are inappropriate tools to achieve your home economic goals. For example: Leave birds alone and they build a nest; leave beavers alone and they build a dam; leave cats alone and they don’t build a multi-level carpeted condo, they scratch the chintz couch, barf on the rug and take a nap.


“It’s not like I’m stealing legal pads from the supply room or something.”

 

In other words, managing cats is much like “herding cats,” a favorite simile of business advice books, although in this case it’s a tautology. To make the job of managing your cats easier, here is a transcript of my mid-year performance review of Okie and Rocco, two mid-level cats at my house, for the fiscal quarter ending June 30th.

(Clicking sound as tape recorder is turned on.)

ME: Does this thing work? Test–one, two, three . . .

TAPE RECORDER: Test–one, two, three . . .

OKIE: Sounds like Madonna with a head cold.

ME: Okay, I wanted to tape our little session so that we’d have a record of your performance reviews.

ROCCO: If you’re going to fire me, I want my lawyer here.

ME: No, not at all. Basically, the message I want to send is that you’re both doing a good job, despite . . .

OKIE: Despite what?

ME: Well, I’ve noticed a drop off in your performance.

OKIE: Meaning?

ME: Here are your numbers for the first five months of the year. No chipmunks, no mice, no squirrels . . .

OKIE: I’m 70 years old in cat years. Sales is for young guys–I should be a manager.

ROCCO: How about me?


Squirrel Melt–yum!

 

ME: Off the charts. Chipmunks–14. Birds–3. One squirrel, and a big one.

ROCCO: All right! I can just taste that sales incentive!

ME: Well, actually, these are tough times we’re going through right now . . .

ROCCO: Oh, puh-lease. You’re a lawyer–you make money off of financial misery!

ME: It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

OKIE: I just want to say in my defense, that if I don’t catch chipmunks, you don’t have to clean up the mess outside.

ME: True, but let’s not confuse effort with results.

OKIE: (. . .) What the hell is that supposed to mean?

ME: I don’t know–it’s a business cliche. Anyway, let’s move on to some of the ancillary aspects of your overall performance. We use a number of metrics to evaluate personnel here, and I wanted to talk to both of you about . . .

ROCCO: Here it comes . . .

ME: Climbing on furniture.

ROCCO: Look, I got up on the bar stool last night because that stunod wanted to fight and I was trying to take a nap.

ME: You guys have got to work on your intra-office conflict resolution skills.

OKIE: Fine, if you tell that pervert not to sniff my butt every time he walks by.

ME: Roc–I’ve warned you about our Dignity in the Workplace policy.

ROCCO: I know, but I can’t turn to tab 3 in the Employee Handbook.

ME: I’ll make a copy of the page for you.

ROCCO: (aside) You can put it in the bottom of my kitty box.

ME: That’s another thing. I want you to treat all members of the family with respect. Have you sent thank-you notes to Aunt Chris?

OKIE: What for? There was no catnip in the gift box she sent this year.

ME: You know how Mom feels about drugs in the house.

ROCCO: Speaking of the gift box–there was something else in there you neglected to mention.

ME: What, those cat treats?

ROCCO: Yeah. If I’m doing so well, how about we add those to the menu in the company cafeteria, instead of that crap you buy at the organic food store.

ME: It’s not organic, it’s just low-cal, so your bellies don’t start dragging the ground like a dachsund’s.

TOGETHER: (chanting) Friskies Party Mix–Friskies Party Mix–Friskies Party . . .

ME: All right, I’ll talk to Mom about it.

OKIE: Which means “no.”

ME: Hey!

ROCCO: Why don’t you man up for a change. We’re direct-reports to you on the org-chart, but you never do squat for us.

OKIE: Yeah–you’re nothing but a lap dog.

ME: All right, cool it. Anyway, we’re almost halfway through the year, so stay on course and I’ll let you tear up some wrapping paper at Christmas.

OKIE: And?

ME: And what?

OKIE: Can we bat ornaments off the tree?

ME: Absolutely not!

ROCCO: Can we at least climb up and try to get the star?

ME: This meeting is over!

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.”

Return of the SWAT Team Cat

A calico cat that was the mascot of the Boston Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team disappeared in November and did not return until January.

 

                                                                        The Boston Globe

 cat

 

We were sitting around the SWAT Team house, listlessly swatting at things—flies, each other’s butts and so forth—when Officer Rudolph came walking slowly around the corner, a dejected look on his face.

His lips started to move, but he didn’t even have to vocalize what was on his mind—we all knew without him speaking a word.

“No sign of SWAT Cat, if that’s what you were gonna ask,” I said sadly.

“You read my mind,” he said, then plunked himself down on the bench beside me.  “How long’s he been gone?”

“Since late November, so that’s over a month now.”

“Do you think he’s been the victim of . . .” Rudolph began, when Officer Monday finished his sentence for him.

Rocco
“This is fascinating!”

“Foul play?  More likely than not.”  We all hunched over, our forearms resting on our thighs, our heads hanging down, dejected.  The bond among SWAT Team members is so strong, when one guy dies, or gets fired, or quits, or has to move to another city because he got married, it’s like a death in the family.  Especially, like I say, if someone dies.  And even if, as in SWATsie’s case, he never appeared to give a shit about any of us except when he was hungry or wanted his head scratched.

“Do you think we’ll ever see his cheerful . . .” Rudolph began, when Monday cut him off again.

“Don’t sentimentalize him,” he snapped.  “That’s the problem with cat owners.  They have to gussy their cats up, anthropomorphize ‘em.”

“What does that mean?” Rudolph asked.

“It means you take ‘em to a taxidermist and have ‘em stuffed, right?” I said.

“No, you stupid doody head,” Monday snapped.  “It means you attribute human qualities to ‘em, like reciprocal feelings of love that you have towards . . .”

He was just about to say “them” in the contracted form “’em” when who should come ambling into HQ but SWAT Cat his own, bad self.

“SWATsie—thank God you’re alive!” Monday said, his voice cracking and tears starting to flow.  Ain’t that the way it always is; the apparently hard-boiled guy has a runny center, like a poached egg, or a chocolate-covered cherry.

“We’ve been worried sick!” Rudolph gushed, but it was sincere, heartfelt gush, not the phony kind, like society fund-raising gala gush.

“Glad to have you back,” I said, stroking him under the chin.  I knew I couldn’t top the two drama queens, so I tried to maintain my stoic, business-like façade.

“Thanks,” SWATsie said.  He was looking a little peaked, and I don’t mean like Pike’s.  “Any food in this joint?”

Rudolph rushed to get his two tin bowls, one for water, and one for dry food.  “See—we kept everything just like it was.”

“Iams Low-Calorie cat food in the turquoise bag,” he sniffed.  “I’m taken hostage, you guys don’t rescue me–and I’m still on a diet?”

We three human members of the team looked at each other with embarrassment.  “He’s right,” I said.  “I’ll go get him some . . .”

Okie
“Are you making this up?”

 

“No,” Rudolph said.  “You stay here—you’re the narrator.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I can’t leave you two third persons here by yourselves.”

“I’ll run down to 7-11 and get him some wet food for a change,” Rudolph said, and I was glad it was he who volunteered. I had a feeling we were in for a hair-raising tale of suspense and escape, and I didn’t want him breaking out in a horrified exclamation with every plot twist.

“So what happened?” Monday asked.

“If you really want to hear about it,” SWATsie said, echoing Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the most difficult book he’d ever read, “the first thing you’ll probably want to know is who kidnapped me, and where they took me, and what my crummy accommodations were like, and all that Patty Hearst kind of crap.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Isn’t that the whole point?”

“All right,” he said. “You know that smoothie joint down by the waterfront?”

hippie

“The one that has all the add-ins, like wheat germ, and flax, and cocoa nibs?” Monday said.

“Right,” SWATsie said. “And all the men have pony tails, and all the women have preternaturally-healthy-looking skin.”  I was impressed—I’d never seen a four-legged animal pull off a Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance double-hyphenated word.

“But they’re all so . . . peaceful, and mellow,” I said.

“I shoulda known better,” he cracked out of the side of his mouth, like Joe Friday confirming the suspicions of his sidekick Bill Gannon on Dragnet. “They put a plate of milk out for me, and before I knew it Dawn or Heather or Rainbow or Aura or one of the other natural-phenomenon-named chicks had picked me up from behind and whisked me up the back stairs to a windowless room.”

The two of us gulped loudly enough for Rudolph to notice as he ran up with the Fancy Feast Classic Tuna in the easy-open pouch. “What was that gulping sound?” he asked.

“SWATsie here just told us how he was spirited . . .”

“I said ‘whisked’ . . .”

“ . . . up the stairs to a windowless room by his kidnappers.”

“They’re a cult,” SWATsie said as he wolfed down his food.

“You’d better slow down, you’re going to choke,” I said.

“I’ll come up for air to tell you the rest of my story. Anyway, once my eyes got used to the dark . . .”

hippie1

“Wait a second,” Rudolph said skeptically. “I thought cats could always see in the dark.”

“Not all the time.  And we can never see fine detail or rich color.  We get by on about one-sixth the light a human needs, but it still takes a little time to adjust.”

“Oh,” Rudolph said, a bit chagrined at having been brought down a peg in terms of his reputation as an ailurophile.

“Anyway, once I could see clearly, I looked around the room and saw—little children.”

“So they were kidnapping . . .”

“Actual kids.”

We all gasped—I mean all of the humans. SWATsie had already been through the horror, and seemed a bit deadened by the experience.

“But didn’t their parents notice they were missing?” I asked.

“You know parents these days,” he said, shaking his head. “Always looking at their phones.  By the time they finish playing Words With Friends and Candy Crush their toddlers are tugging on their sleeve to write a college tuition check.”

We knew what he meant. We’d seen children dropped off at the beach or at the mall, while Scandinavian nannies tried to attract junior private equity analysts in the food court.  The kids could wander off for a half hour—who knew what kind of brainwashing they were getting at Orange Julius or Cinnabon?  Then when they came back to Ingrid or Kristin or Helga they’d be programmed to consume branded goods . . . for the rest of their natural born days.

“So the hippies were . . .”

“You got it. They were fighting for shelf space in the grocery store aisles of the consumer’s mind.  Doing the work of a thousand Saturday morning commercials in a fraction of the time, through hypnosis, suggestion and outright Mesmerism.”

“But how long . . .”

hippie2
Don’t go in there!

 

“It doesn’t take long to get a kid hooked on hemp seeds, or quinoa, or cacao powder. Just a jolt of superfood add-ins, and the kids will be begging to come back to Rainbow Unicorn House of Smoothies.  Pretty soon you have a national franchise empire on your hands, and the odd toddler you lure into a bead ‘n brownie emporium is multiplied a million fold.”

“So that was their insidious plan,” I said with barely-repressed fury.  “To steal the march on honest, God-fearing manufacturers of consumer products who paid their good, hard-earned money to indoctrinate kids to develop dental carries and diabetes by eating their hyper-sugarized comestibles.”

“What did they need you for?” Rudolph asked.

“They’d brought me in as a familiar, a pacifier, something to keep the kids occupied while they did their dastardly work.”

“So what did you do?” Monday asked.

“I got the lay of the land after a while and figured out that I was just lap candy, that the real business of the place was getting kids hooked on high vitamin smoothies. Once I cottoned to their nefarious plot, I knew I had no time to lose.  I hopped up on the first lap available and started purring and rubbing up against the kids, getting their attention.”

“And then?” I asked.

“When the cult leader came by with a tray of the lethal smoothies, I sprang into action. I leapt up and knocked it over—all of a sudden the place is in an uproar.”

“And then?” we asked together.

“The kids all start crying—no smoothies for youthies–and finally the parents can hear them.  So they put down their compact mirrors and their iPhones and their BlackBerries and their tablets and say to themselves—‘Huh–I seem to recall we came in here with 2.3 children, but now we only seem to have 1.3.”

“So a sudden wave of consternation washes over them?” Monday asked.

“You got it. They’re cutting in line, saying ‘Where’s my Morning Glory Bliss Shake and me four-year-old named Courtney or Evan or whatever.’”

“Gosh,” Rudolph said. “They don’t even know their kids’ names.”

“That’s a hypothetical,” SWATsie said. “They know their kids’ names, just not their Social Security numbers.  Anyways, there’s nothing like a screeching cat to alert the local militia to the need for armed resistance, so about the same time the dads are busting down the door and I’m running for my life from twenty screaming kids the local constabulary arrives to put the collar on the commune.”

“What’s the charge?” Monday asked. He’s like that; thorough, a real professional, an eye for the telling detail and the procedural misstep which, if taken, can undermine a prosecution.

“It’s a felony,” he said, licking his paws. “Contributing to the health of a minor.”

 

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

Therapy Cat Program Ends Due to Lack of Interest

BROOKLINE, Mass. This near-suburb of Boston is home to a number of hospitals, including St. Roch’s, named after the patron saint of dogs. “Not coincidentally, we’re the ones who developed the concept of a ‘therapy dog,’” says Dr. Charles Pilcaro, referring to the use of a good-tempered canine to assist a patient who is uncomfortable with physical contact. “If my wife weren’t allergic to them, I’m sure I wouldn’t be so edgy all the time,” he adds in a moment of self-revelation.


“Okay–I’ll leave you my assets and cut my wife out of my will.”

 

But St. Roch’s ran afoul of St. Gertrude’s, a hospital across town that moved to enforce this state’s strict anti-discrimination laws, which forbid the exclusion of any species from the benefits of a program that receives public funding.  “The people over there are nuts,” says St. Roch’s CFO Ernie Glidden, referring to the bean counters at the rival hospital named after the patron saint of cats.  “It’s not that we don’t like cats–although we don’t–it’s just that it was our idea.”


Sparklepuss is really enjoying that.  Not.

 

And so funding for the 2020 fiscal year was split evenly between the two hospitals, enabling St. Gertrude’s to place 21 mature cats in home settings where the sick, the housebound and the frail elderly could interact with the species that is known for its haughty, almost disdainful attitude towards humans.

“Whoever came up with this idea ought to have their head examined,” says Elsie Freeman, an 86-year-old widow who’s showing signs of dementia.  “That cat couldn’t give two shits about me, but it did.  On my dining room rug.”

A knock on the door is heard and it’s Winifred Glauben, the volunteer from St. Gertrude’s who’s come to pick up Sparklepuss, an 8-year-old tomcat, from his weeklong assignment.  “Hi everybody!” she calls cheerfully as she enters.  “Is Sparkly ready to go home?”

“If he isn’t I can help him pack,” Freeman says as she draws a cigarette from a box of Marlboro Menthol Lights.  Irritable due to a program rule that has prohibited her from smoking during the therapy cat’s visit, she flicks on her lighter and takes a puff, figuring she has nothing to lose at this point.  “Don’t let the pet door hit you in the ass on your way out,” she snaps as she inhales deeply, then breathes a sigh of visible relief.

The conclusion of a peer-reviewed study of comparative results is that cats provide little or no therapeutic benefits once they have grown out of kittenhood and developed as adults.  “Dogs want to be part of your life,” says animal behaviorist Niles Fersera.  “Cats want to be fed, and would like you to get on with your life.”


“I’m bustin’ out of this joint.”

So St. Roch’s is planning to appeal a ruling by the state agency that cut their funding in half, saying all animals may be equal, but they’re also different.  “The empirical evidence is clear that people derive therapeutic benefits from dogs,” says Pilcaro.  “It is equally clear that it’s the other way around with cats.”

 

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

Happy Hairball Awareness Day

A rainy April Friday. 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 out shopping for essential items.  Milk, bread, a tall vanilla no-foam latte, a 2021 calendar.


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 mud, so I amble up to him for a sidebar.

“Nice day if it don’t rain, 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 today is?”


St. Swithin: Peace out, dawg.

 

I search my memory. Not Arbor Day. Not my elder sister’s birthday, although that’s coming up sometime in the next month–or two.  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’s 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’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.”

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.”

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’m 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 in 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.”

Cat Fancier Magazine Names “Kitten Stuck in Tree” Top 7 News Stories of 2019

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 2019 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 “Lost Kitten Returned to Owner” and “Trump Impeached.”  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?”

 

Therapy Cat Program Canceled as Adverse Medical Outcomes Soar

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Crazy Like a Cat

Pets have mental health problems too.

          Headline, The Boston Globe

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

“Hey.”  It’s Rocco, cat-of-few-words.

Rocco
“We need to talk.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It always is, isn’t it?”

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

 

“I think he’s lost his mind.”

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

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

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

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

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

don
Vincent Gigante, “The Pajama Don”

 

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

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

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

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

“On the nosey,” I replied.

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

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

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

 

“Righto.”

“Sorry, no can do.”

“Why not?”

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

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

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

wwf1

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

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

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

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

 

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

“That’s not my area of expertise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“By Rocco?”

“Well, and mom.”

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

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

turkey
Good for chasing, not for eating.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

cats egypt

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

 

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