Thursday, April 25, 2013


I have only myself to blame for the cats, rescued from shelters 14 years ago and eight years ago. Other told me they were a bad idea. I thought I knew better. What was I thinking? Unlike the guinea pig and the hamsters and the gerbil and the turtles, which we dispatched in unintentional and sometimes gruesome ways, the cats persist.

And they entrap us and enslave us. Other and I, finally retired, are chained to the rhythms of cans and kibble and litter boxes. So temperamental have the cats become in their eating and elimination that we despair of inveigling another soul to take our place for even a week. We scheme of seducing an innocent with the promise of free lodging in exchange for cat care—making it sound simple and letting our victim discover on her own that she has become an American equivalent of India’s lowest caste, the Dalit, or night-soil collector.

It’s a 24-hour cycle. Let’s start at, say, 11 pm, when we latch the sliding doors with a bungee cord, since Boy Cat has figured out how to open our bedroom door, which lies beyond the sliders. 

If I get up to use the bathroom, I must unhook the bungee, scurry through the sliders and close them quickly so Boy Cat doesn’t dash in and wake Other. While I’m nodding on the toilet, Girl Cat licks my legs with her shockingly smelly, bristly tongue, nipping me between rasps as if to remove a burr. Cat love is surprisingly painful. 

A dash back through the sliding doors may be delayed by a step into a puddle of poo or barf. If the puddle is particularly disgusting or requires special effort to clean up—the cats are drawn for such purposes to a particularly valuable white carpet—it can take a while to fall back to sleep. 

At 5, it’s wake-up time because Boy Cat hurls his body against the sliding doors like a hammer on a gong. Then Girl Cat’s rasping of my legs resumes while I open cans. 

Now here’s the tricky part: Boy Cat must have a special food that Girl Cat despises. So Girl Cat gets a special food all her own. Girl Cat’s food would make Boy Cat sick, but he’s a glutton and wants his food and hers. So Boy Cat gets locked in the bathroom with his special food. Girl Cat must wait till Boy Cat is finished, because she doesn’t think it’s nice to eat anywhere but bathrooms. She whines while Boy Cat eats. When Boy Cat is done, I dash in to switch dishes, get Boy Cat out of the bathroom and Girl Cat into it. Then Boy Cat hurls himself against the bathroom door to let me know he’s got to go. I open the door and snatch Girl Cat’s food away, so Boy Cat can get to the litter box and won’t scarf Girl Cat’s chow en route. Once I’ve scraped the box and cleaned up whatever he’s deposited on the floor since he’s a guy and thinks I was born to clean up his shit, I replace Girl Cat’s food in the bathroom and slam the door so Boy Cat can’t get back in. This sequence gets repeated like an aerobic zumba riff.

Then there’s a respite while Girl Cat and Boy Cat sleep it off. Then Girl Cat might wheeze up a watery barf after much noisy effort, Boy Cat might heave up a dark hairball with nasty things like roach legs sticking out of the central dreadlock. There may be many visits to the litter box, with much kicking out of gravel and other debris. There may be the use of antique Persian carpets as toilet paper. Girl Cat may decide to rip half her hair out and re-upholster the couch with it. Boy Cat may decide he doesn’t like the rule forbidding him to rip the couch with his meat-hook claws, or he may decide to catch a pigeon on the deck and dismantle it alive inside the house. 

At 5, the game of musical cat dishes begins again. 

Between the hours of, say, 7 and 11, there’s a quiet time, when both cats snore sweetly in the glow of lamplight, and even though Girl Cat smells bad and Boy Cat is a biter so we don’t feel inclined to cuddle with them, Other and I think they’re really not that bad.

The thing is, they really are that bad. And we are at their mercy. No one wants a middle-aged cat, and certainly not a pair of them, so I can’t put them up for re-adoption. I’d put them down if I thought I could survive the guilt, but I’m a wimp that way. Other and I have agreed on DNRs for both of them—and no well-cat vet visits either to keep them healthy. But still they live on. It will be years before they die of old age. We’ll be too old ourselves to enjoy our freedom by then—and someone will be shoveling our shit. 

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