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Cats in space, or what we do at 2 a.m. April 18, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , ,

Silence Dogood here. You wouldn’t think so to look at it, but Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, is actually a hub for space exploration and home to a major racetrack as well. We think the reason this is not more widely known is that both these activities only take place under cover of darkness.

Our cat Athena likes to crawl onto my shoulder when I’m trying to sleep, snuggle down, and go to sleep herself. Normally, I don’t mind this unless a) I get too hot or b) she tries to lick my face. Both these events are cause for instant eviction. But as you can imagine, removing a cat from one’s shoulder is a risky business at best. To deal with the problem, our friend Ben established FASA (the Feline Aeronautical and Space Administration), with Athena as catmonaut-in-chief. 

Here’s how it works: First, we have liftoff, when the bold catmonaut heads into space (supported by OFB’s enormous hand). She orbits the bed, occasionally losing altitude so I can rub her belly, then finally blasts off with a rocket roar of loud purring. Given our ongoing attempts to restore poor Pluto’s planetary status after its disgraceful downsizing, most FASA flights send our catmonauts off to orbit the lonely little planet on a fact-finding mission before returning to Mission Control for debriefing.

I’m happy to report that FASA’s space program is an unqualified success, with as many as three launches occurring every night. However, we must ask you to disregard any disturbing rumors that all our catmonauts bear an uncanny resemblance to one another: red Maine coon cats with green eyes. FASA categorically denies that any cloning is occurring at this facility. All feline volunteers will be accepted into our space program.

It’s not all rocket science here at Hawk’s Haven. Our little cottage is also home to a NASCAT racetrack. Each night, celebrity drivers Linus and his sister Layla roar around the track, which twists and turns through the entire house. It would seem to defy the laws of physics that such relatively small vehicles could produce such a tremendous amount of noise, but the thunderous uproar increases with each successive lap, as the excitement builds to near-intolerable fever pitch.

Despite the fact that NASCAT racing only occurs between 2 and 3 a.m., each race is well attended (by us, our golden retriever Molly, parrot Plutarch, and parakeets Taco, Belle and Laredo): It’s impossible to sleep through it. Athena is usually too busy preparing for her next space mission to pay much attention, but on her nights off, she’s been known to join Linus and Layla for a lap or two. We’re sorry to have to disclose that there have been several crashes in the course of the NASCAT races, but so far, Linus and Layla have emerged unscathed from the wreckage.

FASA. NASCAT. Did somebody say nighttime was the time for sleeping? Obviously, they’ve never lived with cats.

             ‘Til next time,



Cats behaving badly. June 30, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,

Silence Dogood here. Nothing looks more angelic—seraphic, even—than a sleeping cat. But once those big, luminous eyes open, watch out!

Now, I’m not talking about the usual cat-related disasters, like coughed-up hairballs. (All cat owners know that distinctive pre-hairball noise, which inevitably occurs in the vicinity of one’s oriental carpet or antique furniture or bedspread as opposed to, say, the kitchen or bathroom floor. At which point, the cat owner breaks into a peculiar lurching run-and-tackle worthy of a pro football player in an attempt to move the offending cat to a hard, impermeable surface before irreparable damage occurs.)

Other typical bad-cat horrors involve stepping in a pile of last night’s thrown-up dinner (or worse) or, God save us, on a fresh mouse liver while staggering towards the bathroom at, say, 3 a.m. (AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!), or worse still, stepping on a squeaky toy while on the same errand (GAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!). Or break-dancing to avoid breaking your neck because a cat has insinuated itself behind you while you were busy at the kitchen sink and you started to step back before realizing that the cat was there. (And yes, this would make a screamingly funny video, assuming the intrepid cameraman survived the filming—something that definitely would not happen at my house. RIP, you know who.)

No, I’m talking about the ingenious, original ways cats have of just being plain old baaaaad. I’ll share some of our cats’ worst moments with you—well, more accurately, our worst moments, doubtless the cats’ finest hours—and hope you’ll share some of your own bad-cat stories with us. Deal? Let’s go!

Two of the all-time worst episodes involved my Maine coon cat, Jessie, whom I’d bought to console myself after losing my first-ever cat during an (otherwise fairly amicable) divorce. Despite the horrific conditions of her life to that point—Maine coons are big cats, and when I encountered her, she’d been stuffed into a small cage in a pet store with an even bigger Maine coon for nine months—Jessie was a loving cat, and was fiercely devoted to me. But she certainly had her moments.

The worst came when I was living in the post-divorce apartment and Jessie had somehow managed to break her front leg, which was encased in a plaster cast at the time of the Incident. Now, as you know if you know cats, for some reason they have a thing about accompanying you to the bathroom. (Maybe they were hall monitors in a previous life.) So there I was in the bathroom when someone knocked, loudly, on the bathroom door. I was living alone at the time, and no one was visiting at that moment. Mind you, when one is in the bathroom, one is, perhaps, a bit distracted, but when I heard the knocking, I was convinced that someone had broken into my apartment and was trying to kill me. Why I would have assumed that, after breaking into the apartment, the murderer would have politely knocked on the bathroom door is beyond even me, but as I say, I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. Talk about a test of my cardiac fitness! There went three of my nine lives, at least. And yes, you astute readers who weren’t living through the incident at the time have doubtless drawn the correct conclusion, that it was in fact Jessie hammering on the door with her plaster cast.

Jessie struck again many years later here at Hawk’s Haven, which is surrounded by farm fields and thus has its share of mice, both grey field mice and the adorable brown-and-white deer mice. At the time, we didn’t have an outdoor cat population to keep the mice from fleeing into the warm house in winter. Jessie was a good mouser, and she, our friend Ben, and I had developed a routine: She would catch a mouse, almost always at night, make the “look-at-me-the-mighty-huntress” cry, and our friend Ben or I would stagger out of bed, throw on the light, don one of the fireplace gloves, and go to the front door. Jessie caught the mice but didn’t hurt them, and putting on the glove and going to the door, while lavishly praising her, was the signal. She would trot to the door and drop the mouse, at which point we’d scoop it into the glove and toss it to freedom in the dark yard.

Unfortunately (well, maybe fortunately for him), Ben was MIA on the night this particular Incident occurred. I was deeply asleep, and failed to hear Jessie’s triumphant “look-at-me” cry. Distressed by my lack of recognition for her mighty deed, Jessie decided to bring the mouse up onto the bed so I could see it. But we have a very high antique four-poster. The effort of leaping up onto the bed and holding onto the mouse proved too much for the aging Jessie, so she dropped the mouse, which promptly ran over my bare arm in its bid for freedom. YAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! I can say with absolutely no doubt that I have never, ever, experienced such a rude awakening. Another bunch of lives down the drain. I think I’ve gone over to the negative side of the ledger at this point.

Then there was Seamus. Diamondridge Seamus Beaumaine was the biggest, fluffiest, most lovable Maine coon you ever saw. But he was not the brightest. Like few cats of other breeds but like many Maine coons, Seamus was fond of water. He enjoyed padding around in the tub after I’d had my morning shower, getting his paws damp and having a good old time. Unfortunately, the tub in that post-divorce apartment, where Seamus had joined me, Jessie, Plutarch the Parrot, and ultimately Marcus Hookbill, as well as some fish and a parakeet, did not always drain well. This was the case when, one day, post-shower, I was sitting peacefully on the sofa when I heard a horrific ripping noise, followed by the sight of a sodden Seamus Beaumaine bolting past at 160 miles per hour. Heading back to investigate, I saw a completely shredded shower curtain that looked like a set piece from the shower scene in “Psycho.” Poor Seamus had obviously hopped into the tub as usual, not realizing that the water was still in it, then burst out with the force of a cannonball, leaving a trail of aqueous destruction in his wake.

Okay, maybe in retrospect that was kind of funny. But there was nothing funny about his other favorite stunt, which was breaking priceless, irreplaceable objects. Not that he meant to break them. But Maine coons grow slowly—it takes them two years to reach their mature size—and Seamus was the biggest Maine coon I’ve ever seen. He just kept growing and growing, which meant that for several years, he was unable to judge how much effort it took to leap anywhere, since it seemingly changed from week to week. As a result, he was constantly misjudging distances, then grabbing at any passing object to attempt to reverse course, almost always with disastrous consequences for the object involved. To this day, my beautiful antique furniture bears the marks of Seamus’s passage to adulthood. And many an art object has vanished, with tears and pain, into the trash heap of history.

Even now, I can’t bring myself to tell you about the worst of Seamus’s inadvertent depradations. Suffice it to say that Ben and I now house our collection of Pueblo pottery in a special Cat-Free Room as a result. But back in the day, we wanted to display our exquisite Pueblo pots in the living room where we and our guests could enjoy them. And here’s a little morality tale for you: I had bought one particular Casas Grandes pot to commemorate a series of novels I was writing about a potter who would have, I felt, made just such a pot. As it turned out, a good friend of ours was outraged that I bought this particular pot, since (he said), he had intended to buy it for himself. (He might have mentioned this before I bought it, IMHO, but what’s done is done.) A fight of sorts ensued, and we all felt very bad.

Then Seamus decided to take matters in hand, er, paw. In a once-in-a-lifetime maneuver, he leapt up onto the high bookshelf where I’d enshrined the iconic pot and sent it crashing to the floor. It shattered into a thousand shards, so there was no hope of restoring it. It was just… gone. Nor have I ever seen another pot like it from that day to this. I can still see that pot, its uniqueness, its beauty, the incredible talent of its creator, in my mind. I still grieve for it, and for everything that Seamus destroyed before he finally stopped growing and could gauge distances correctly. But at least our friend managed to overcome his anger with us, and we’re still good friends to this day. Not all was lost! But dammit, Seamus, did you have to choose that pot?!!

Our current cats are not perfect by any means. Our smartest cat, Layla, apparently has a foot fetish, attacking my toes with undisguised enthusiasm if I stick them over the side of the bed in an attempt to cool down, sinking her claws in while screaming ecstatically. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! Gack! Yet another rude awakening. And our dumbest cat, the huge, beautiful, lovable Linus, has an absolute penchant for investigating wineglasses and plates, often with disastrous results. But their misbehavior seems comparatively mild when I think back to the days of Jessie and Seamus. Such beautiful, wonderful, BAD cats!!!

                ‘Til next time,