Saturday, 4 February 2012

Cat Compensations

5:30 in the  morning. We don't need an alarm clock; we have cats.

It's below zero outside, the ground frozen hard, ice everywhere. We've got another 15 minutes before we have to start the whole ball rolling -- another precious 15 minutes, but we're not going to get them. Mitzi wants to party. She's tearing around the room, chasing something under the bed. For one horrible moment I think she's brought in something tiny, scared, and wounded -- something that could be leaking body fluids and worse all over the place as it runs for its life. But no: I see she is hotly pursuing an earplug. The very one I was looking for last night, as a matter of fact, which I knew I'd left in the middle of my bedside table. But just like the wash I hang neatly over the laundry caddy, or the towels I fold carefully over radiators, it's no match for my  hell-bent-on-chaos cat. With Mitzi around, clean laundry ends up on floors, under dusty beds. Small but necessary items -- keys, memory sticks, earrings, pens -- don't stay where they've been put. Foodstuffs have to be wrapped and stored like plutonium.

Finished with suspending disbelief, Mitzi has started to meow. I've had dozens of cats in my life -- well over a hundred, probably -- but I've never heard any cat meow like her. Her meows are loud and operatic, lasting many seconds, with trills, pitches, and arpeggios. Maverick, her companion, has a simple, wimpy meow which is more of a mee, over in half a second. Mitzi puts him to shame. In fact, in every way she outdoes him: as she engages in manuever after manuever to get us out of bed, he does nothing more than stand there like a sentinel, wearing an expression that manages to be both benevolent and clueless.

We burrow down into the warmth of our bed and pull the blankets over our heads, so she launches her next assault: the highly effective flying-leap-onto-human-bladder attack, followed (if we don't manage to catch her), by the even more effective dancing-about-the-human-head ploy. She's a hefty cat, but we finally manage to grab her and fling her off.

But she doesn't give up. This is the one thing that amazes us about Mitzi: she never, ever gives up. Her next attack is the one that finally works:  the mattress assault. Our mattress is a good one and relatively new too. I can't let her do to it what she has done to the carpet. Groaning, I heave myself up. Both cats race joyfully out of the room as soon as I push the door open, which infuriates me -- as though the very first action of any groggy, fresh-out-of-bed human being is going to be filling their bowls.

A few minutes later, I am standing in front of the cupboard, saying, through gritted teeth, what I say every single morning: If you do not get your *&$£"!! paws and tails out of my &$(£*-ing way, then I cannot fill your &^%(*&-ing dishes! They never get it, of course. Not even the occasional crushed paw will keep them from weaving in and out of my legs, getting in my way as I attempt to find their food and fill their bowls.

Then we make our way down the stairs, one foot at a time, gingerly -- because when you've got cats, you've got a built-in obstacle course, only the obstacles never stay in the same place where you can see them.

You non-cat people are shaking your heads at this. Why, you wonder -- with very good reason -- would anybody put themselves through all this trouble? Why do people pay to keep cats, to wake them up in the morning, get in their way, shed on their clothes, shred their furniture, and foul their houses with the bodies of rodents? And believe me, we ask ourselves the very same question, all the time.

On the porch, my husband and I see yesterday's mail: university brochures addressed to our youngest daughter. "At least we'll never have to send Mitzi or Maverick to college," I say. "Mitzi could probably get a scholarship," my husband replies. But then we are quiet. Because we can both remember a time when it wasn't just cats who woke us up in the morning, who trashed the furniture and made noise and clamored for their breakfast.

When we get home, Mitzi is waiting for us at the gate. She greets us with one of her operatic meows and follows us up our drive. Maverick waits with admirable patience while we unlock the door. Later, while we eat, they put on an impressive and highly entertaining floor show, leaping from table to welsh dresser to counter top. After dinner, Mitzi curls up on my lap and purrs; Maverick chooses to settle on my husband's feet. So, you see, there are compensations.

When our daughter leaves for university next year, there will be even more.


Lisa Shafer said...

My good buddy Max puts up with his cats because he hates mice. I'd rather set traps.
Glad you enjoy your pets -- but I'm glad they're not mine!

(I grew up with pets, but they were OUTDOOR pets. Only on the coldest nights were they allowed into the laundry room and shut in where they couldn't do much damage. Both the dog and the cat used to greet us at when we came home and all the rest, but we were spared many of the trials you mention because they lived outdoors 99% of the time. However, this is not possible in you live in an urban rather than suburban neighborhood.)

Charles Gramlich said...

Sometimes cats are unaware of what a thin thread they are hanging by. Or are they? :)

Mike L said...

I think they know they have nine lives and so don't worry about that thin thread too much. :)

Mike L

Mirka Breen said...

Seems your Mitzi is the maverick.

Long ago I knew someone who raised a chimp. (Long story, I should probably turn it into a book.) Your Mitzi ain't got nothin' on that chimp in the thievery department. But she is awesome.

Rick said...

We have five cats- yep, five- so I really understand what you're talking about!

Ruth Kelly said...

Can you believe it, I have my cats trained not to bother me until I am ready to de-bed. I also have a cat feeder so they eat when they are hungry. The water feeder runs out often and I find it right in my pathway as a hint - give me water!

Vijaya said...

This made me laugh. All my cats are talkative, with distinctive meows and trills and I have enjoyed our nightly playtime. I too was thinking about the time when our kids were babies and only the cats, the baby and I would be up, nursing, cooing and generally having a good time at 2 am. I doubt my life would ever be complete without a cat. Thank you for a most entertaining post.

Bish Denham said...

I've had cats, they do all these things and more. Plus, they purr. I particularly liked having a cat sleep on my head while it was purring.

Anonymous said...

Somebody, quick, get Ruth Kelly to divulge her method for training cats to respect human sleep patterns. Cat lovers the world over are waiting...

inluvwithwords said...

Our dogs drive me crazy, but as with most pets, there are compensations. And I think we put up with all the craziness because really, we'd be lost without them.

Mary Witzl said...

Lisa -- Wow. We put up with the cats IN SPITE OF the mice. Do Max's cats ever drag their prey into the house then release them, mortally wounded, to die in smelly fashion under floorboards and behind furniture?

But despite all my whining here, it's great having these guys inside, blinking up at us in gratitude at the warmth. Plus, the purring is nice.

Charles -- My guys are aware. I've got a water pistol and I know how to use it.

Mike -- I still worry about what they're racking up in the way of karma. There may be a big pay-off one day, when they're waiting at the pearly gates and all those little rodent souls come out to tell their sorry tales.

Mirka -- You should write that book -- or at least tell the story!

Mitzi is no match for a chimp in terms of intelligence, but I'm betting she'd win a singing match with one. She really has to be heard to be believed.

Rick -- Five cats -- good for you! Our maximum number was 21, courtesy of a mother who couldn't say no to strays, neighbors who dumped surplus cats on us, and a relative's pregnant Siamese who gave birth to six kittens while vacationing at our home. Our cat food bill that month was right off the charts.

Ruth -- Tell us how you do this! I've considered bringing my water pistol to bed and shooting Mitzi, but my husband is excessively tenderhearted and won't allow it.

Vijaya -- I believe I could live without cats, but it would be a hollow, sad sort of existence (even if I DID get more sleep).

There is something wonderfully healing about the company of a cat -- not a noisy, obnoxious, in-your-face cat, of course, but a quiet, contemplative one. Mitzi is being the latter right now and I'm enjoying it -- while it lasts.

Bish -- I swear that a cat's purring is health-giving, like making that 'ohmmm' sound in yoga. There are few things as wonderful as having a purring cat on your lap.

AnneB -- She could market it, couldn't she? I'd pay to find out.

Mary Witzl said...

InLuv -- Pets are a bit like kids, aren't they? People see how much trouble kids are, they hear your tales of lost sleep and temper tantrums and adolescent angst, and they wonder why anybody could possibly WANT to go to all that trouble for so little. But the compensations are much harder to demonstrate. And sometimes, pretty thin on the ground... ;)

Lynne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynne said...

Cats are wonderful! There is something about cats that make a house a home. I love my cats. Our old kitty Tiki, died before Christmas ~at 18~ and there are still times when I think she'll show up asking to be fed. We're now down to just Chocolate kitty and she's more then a handful at time...but then when aren't they? ;-)~

Aledys Ver said...

Oh dear, sounds like you have a very, very spoilt little ball of fur there! :)
They can be such devils - but they're adorable as well.

Pat said...

Mmmmmmmh! I don't think I am totally convinced.

bristowmom said...

The fact that you can get me to read about cats is a tribute to your writing!

Adrienne said...

Gosh, I'm pretty much in denial over my daughter's college plans - I am really not ready for that. Maybe I need to add a cat to the menagerie.