Thursday, October 15, 2015

cool for cats

There are two kinds of people in the world — those who like cats and everyone else. I have had cats in my life ever since I was a little kid. One Saturday afternoon, my dad took me to the local SPCA to pick out a pet. I have always had a natural fear and dislike of dogs, so I gravitated towards the cages on the "cat side" of the building. I wandered in and out of the aisles that were stacked high with small, cage-front kennels each containing a tiny, mewing kitty — their small, fuzzy faces pressed to the thin bars. I smiled at each one, poking my finger through the openings between the metal shafts to touch their soft fur. One little cat, a dapper black and white tuxedo kitty, licked my finger and I was sold. "That's the one!," I announced to my father. He called an attendant over and forked over five dollars, for which we received two cans and one box of food, in addition to the cat itself. They placed the cat in a small, elaborately folded cardboard carrier and we made our way home in the car, the carrier perched on my lap, my fingers again, poking through the holes in the side of the cardboard. Later that evening, we purchased a litter box and a collar with little silver bells on it. I named our new cat "Tinker."

Tinker, as it turned out, was a vicious little shit. That whole "licking my finger" act at the SPCA was an obvious ploy just to get her sprung from the feline hoosegow. Once she got herself fully ensconced in the Pincus household, her true personality came out. She was nasty! She hissed and bit and scratched. She didn't like to be held and she didn't like to play. Who the hell needed a cat then? Luckily, after a year or so of this bullshit, my brother came home with a sweet little kitten with the nicest, most affectionate disposition. We named him "Jingle" and we were very happy. So was Tinker, because now everyone would leave her alone.

When I met my wife, she owned the first in a long line of cats with Grateful Dead-inspired names. "Cassidy" was a beautiful tabby with unusual markings and a disposition so foul, it made me long for bad temperament of Tinker. Cassidy, in addition to her standoffish attitude, liked to climb up on shelves and knock things off to watch them fall and shatter. Cassidy came with us to our newlywed apartment, where she was soon joined by "China*," a sweet-natured little creature that we affectionately called "Kidden." Kidden was the perfect "yin" to the acerbic "yang" that was Cassidy.

Over the many years, we owned many cats. We had as many as three at one time. That meant regular purchases of cat food and, in turn, regular cleaning and changing of cat litter. I remember a friend of mine called one evening to tell me of his recent scuba-diving excursion in the crystal blue waters of Cancun. I listened on the phone as he detailed the underwater sights and his exotic experiences. When he called, I was in the middle of taking the trash out. As he described the clear, azure depths and the colorful schools of fish, I looked down at my hands. One was gripping a bag of soiled disposable diapers from my son's room and the other was heavy with shit-spiked clumps of used cat litter. Was this what my life had been reduced to?

Having cats, while thoroughly enjoyable, can be a burden at times. We often arranged for someone to come over and feed them when we went away on vacations. We would leave detailed instructions for food distribution and procedure for cleaning the litter box (a job my father-in-law absolutely detested). Our cats broke numerous knick-knacks in our house. They threw up on carpets and beds and, at various times, pissed on the floor. But, don't get me wrong! They also played and purred and brought us a little bit of joy.

However, my favorite thing about cats is: if you want to play, they'll play. If you want to just sit, they are happy to find something to do themselves. With a cat, you can have a pet when you want to and they are fine with that as long as you and your thumbs are around to operate the can opener for feeding time. You can't say that for dogs. Dogs need constant attention and care, like a sick child.

When our last cat, Maggie**, died, my wife and I (mostly me) decided that we were through with pets. That was eight years ago and it was quite liberating. We gave away the remaining, unopened cans of cat food and bags of cat litter to friends who were still deep in the throes of pet-raising. Suddenly, we could come and go as we pleased — no longer concerned about rushing home to feed a cat or worse, cleaning up vomit. We could go away for an extended weekend without making a frantic phone call to get someone to look in on our cat. I still liked cats, I just didn't need to own one.

My son and his girlfriend bought a house recently. After unpacking the boxes and arranging the rooms and hanging the pictures, they did the next logical, domestic thing they could think of — they got a cat. It's a cute, playful little guy that my wife refers to as our "grandkitty." I find it funny that my son, who never changed a litter box in his life and only fed our cats a handful of times, is now tasked with the responsibility of full-time caregiver to his four-pawed roommate. And while I love to see that little guy (the cat, I mean), I am quite happy to be permanently retired from the cat business. Occasionally, my wife has suggested getting another cat, but I quickly remind her of how accustomed we have become to our freedom. 

Plus, we no longer have a box of shit in our house.

* short for "China Cat Sunflower"
** short for "Sugar Magnolia"


  1. Your grandkitty is adorable even though I'm a total dog person. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be pet-free too though. I'm so tired of dirty little feet and shedding. I never thought about who invented TP on the roll. That's an improvement for everyone!

    1. And love your kitty drawing too!

    2. Thanks for the compliment, but I didn't draw that. Stolen right off the internet!