By lex, on March 3rd, 2004
We have cats. Two of them, in fact. I am not exactly overwhelmed with joy about this fact, but there it is.There are many things one misses, when one goes down to the sea in ships for protracted periods. You miss birthdays, anniversaries, and parent-teacher conferences. You miss holidays with the family, taking the prom picture and team championships. Somehow, you must learn to live with this, or you must leave the service.
You also miss the opportunity to influence the answers to important questions, such as “precisely how many cats must we have in order to preserve domestic tranquility, if in fact that number is non-zero?”
So it came to pass that I was at sea in the Arabian Gulf in the summer of 2001. It was breath-takingly hot, the kind of hot that causes you to spread your toes while sleeping at night. We did our bit, got relieved by the oncoming carrier, and were very glad to see the last of that particular stretch of water, at least for a while. Singapore and Hong Kong on the way home, then Hawaii to pick up our “Tigers.”
Tigers are family members, who ride the ship from Hawaii back to homeport. My son was one such Tiger. We had a pleasant time getting re-acquainted in Hawaii. At one point, when I asked how things were on the home front, and he told me about how the girls were all goo-goo over the cat.” The what?”
I had to ask. Because you see, when I had left home some months before, there had been no cat. There had been a dog. A perfectly suitable dog in fact, conscious of her duty, affable and kindly to children and the elderly.
There had always been a dog. Never had there been a cat. Nothing in the correspondence I had received over that deployment had mentioned a cat.
“The cat,” my son replied, suddenly aware that he was treading on previously untrammeled ground.
“Ah. The cat.”
I do not hate cats; I wish to make that clear up front. I just don’t like them very much.
If a cat deigns to recognize your existence at all, it seems to feel that you are one of the servants. When you leave the room, you sense them counting the spoons. Alternatively, they often walk about the house appearing to think that the human occupants are some class of ghosts, occupying a near-parallel plane of existence that never quite meshes with their own, and isn’t worth thinking about. Except perhaps at meal times.
Also, they have an off-putting habit of getting underfoot at the tops of stairwells. You wonder if you’re quite literally being set up to take a fall.
Sometimes a cat will stare into your eyes, and you can almost sense a sort of calculating intelligence. As though they were contemplating whether you could in fact be eaten, and how you might taste. When they blink and look away, I am persuaded that they have decided that we are not worth the effort: Too much trouble to eat this one. Such a bother. Maybe I might kill and drag a baby rabbit into the house tonight, to entertain myself with the wailing and the tears of the children tomorrow. That would be nice.
A dog is always loving, ever loyal. It may seem a little slow on the uptake at times, and you do have to suffer through puppy teeth with all of your most treasured leather products and furniture, but this will pass in time.
A dog will not continue to arrogantly sharpen its claws on your coach, in your plain view.
A dog will not cough up hairballs on the kitchen floor, when the boss is over for dinner.
A dog will not turn around and bite you, when it has had enough of petting.
A dog will not jump up on the table, sending the china crashing to the deck, and proceed to calmly lick its paws, as though nothing at all untoward had happened.
A dog will bring you the morning paper, and your slippers. At least on “Leave it to Beaver.”
A dog will fetch a ball until the sun goes down, and when your arm is finally tired, regretfully agree with you that it is time to go inside, but wasn’t that fun?
A dog will wag his tale in unfeigned glee when you walk through the door, as though he was truly happy to see you, thrilled really, and didn’t know when you’d ever come back. Even if you’d only just come back inside for moment, having forgotten your car keys.
But when you’ve only just gotten home from a six month cruise, it’s considered bad form to object to a cat, which has after all, spent more time with the family that you have recently. Once you’re re-acclimated to the daily rhythm and flow a few months later, it seems absurd to bring it up.
Until one morning, when you’re picking the cat out of your breakfast cereal where he had been happily skimming your milk while you left the bowl unattended for Just One Moment, and you realize that the cat you’re holding is gravid with offspring. You realize that she is having kittens, and consequently, so are you. That this cat, which you never really wanted anyway, is not merely a prima donna, but also a hussy. You’re living with a feline Paris Hilton.
And the rest of the household thinks, isn’t that cute? While you silently wonder to yourself what the penalties are in the state of California for felinicide, and how much is all of this going to cost, anyway?
Because kittens are not like puppies. You could sell puppies, maybe turn a profit. It’s the American Way.
Kittens you give away.
You set up a cardboard box by Kroger’s, and put your children by the box. The children sit there like Roma beggars, and seek a friendly glance, seek eye contact, look for a smile. And you are left to feel a little dirty. To feel a little bit ashamed.
But it’s ok, because by now you are going away on cruise again, and when you come back in six months (or seven as it turns out) it will all be put to rights. Right?
Wrong. You come back and now there are two cats. Seems like we just had to keep one for ourselves. And this second cat, infinitely more antagonizing than the first, does go on. He talks, constantly. Not that he has anything worthwhile to say, he is in this way like your Uncle Joe. Just wants to talk. Wants you to hear him. Doesn’t need you to say anything, in fact objects if you say something. Raises his voice.