Monday, June 12, 2006

Cats make a house a home (a Home for the Criminally Insane)

You know, I've never been a cat person. Dogs, at least, will give you unconditional love in exchange for the disgusting food you feed them. Cats, on the other hand, will ignore you until they're hungry, when they'll yowl in a loud and obnoxious manner until you feed them.

And sometimes, they might even consent to lie next to you and let you pet them.

But, despite the obvious similarities between cats, as it turns out, they have distinctly different personalities. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I seem to have become the zookeeper for a collection of (among other beasts) four different cats. And here's the way you tell them apart (aside from relatively insignificant differences in size and fur color, of course).

Our primary cat, Bucky, is a large (but not quite overweight) orange tabby beast, whose primary purpose in life is finding a comfortable place to sit. She has the gift of immovable stubbornness, in that if she's sitting somewhere, that place is off limits for everybody else in the family. She will even stare down the dogs, if they deign to intrude on her space. Once she's ensconced herself in a seat, it is, by God, hers. Nobody dares to move her.

Except me, of course. Because I'm apparently a bastard. I'll just sweep her from whatever spot I plan to sit down in, and plant my butt right in the recently-vacated cat-shaped dimple (and then get yelled at by my wife for being mean to the poor little kitty).

Screw it. There's only one computer chair, and I'm not going to learn to type standing up at this point in my life. But if you're looking for two words to describe Bucky, I think I've encompassed them in the last two paragraphs. "Stubborn" and "lazy."

But then there's our second cat, Phantom. Ugliest beast you ever saw. In a moment of weakness, I said that we could have a second cat ("But only one!" You see how well that worked out...) to keep the first one company. My only rule was that we should get a kitten. (Hey, I like kittens. What's your point?) And we ended up with a black-and-brown mottled beast with a light spot across one eye. My wife says it looks like the Phantom of the Opera mask. Hence the name.

Personally, I think it looks like an irregular birthmark, but nobody wants to hear my opinion. (I remember when the "man of the house" was respected. What the hell happened to that perfectly good attitude?)

Phantom (occasionally Menace, as in "the Phantom Menace") is a bully. She's the second biggest cat in the house, and she figures it's her duty to keep the other cats in shape. She's their personal trainer - her exercise regimen consists of jumping on them from darkened corners, attacking them when they're asleep, and generally making life "interesting" for them.

She doesn't do this to Bucky, because Bucky wouldn't stand for it. But she still has two other cats to annoy, so she's happy.

So let's consider those two other cants. We have Pandora, who's supposed to belong to my daughter. (Oddly enough, the daughter moved out, but the cat's still here. How the hell does that happen?) Pure black, small for her age, and needy. I stopped having to wake up for two o'clock feedings years ago. Nonetheless, I still find myself wandering down the hall at God-awful early hours of the night, to grab the lonely cat yowling in despair and lob her into my son's room. (Hey, let him take care of her. I'm going back to bed...) She can't stand to be alone, and she'll sob piteously if she suddenly thinks that everyone has left.

Not that anyone has. She's just on the wrong end of the house, and doesn't have the brains to find her way back to us, across that huge 20-yard expanse of rug, without getting lost.

And finally, we have Abby. (Short for, as far as I'm concerned, Abby-normal.) No matter how stupid Pandora might be, she's a Nobel Prize winner next to Abby. I have actually seen Abby jump for a windowsill and miss. Three times. I have seen her sitting at the end of the hallway, watching as Pandora gets mugged by Phantom: Pandora runs away, Phantom retreats into her shadowed corner. And Abby goes marching down the hall, right into the kill-zone where even the houseplants can figure out that Phantom is going to attack her.

All the brains of a ball-peen hammer. I wonder sometimes why Darwin doesn't come back from the dead and kill her himself.

Abby has issues. For example, she doesn't like cat food. She'll eat it, if forced, but she prefers dog food. In fact, she loves it so much that I've come into the kitchen to find one of the dogs snorking up the kibble like a vacuum cleaner on steroids, and there, on the other side of the bowl, is Abby, coated in flying dog-spittle, delicately munching away.

So yes, if forced, I will admit that cats have personalities. Maybe not good ones, but personalities.

I still prefer dogs.

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