Catnapped, by John Ostrander
I love dogs. Most of my life, I’ve had at least one dog and often times two. Some have been wonderful, smart creatures and some were just thick as a brick. All were good companions and I have specific stories relating to each and they are bright in my memory.
All that said, dogs are a lot of work. It’s not simply the feeding – you have to walk them, no matter the weather, no matter whether they want to go out in that weather. They should be played with and exercised and they live for your attention.
I’m finding that, as I grow older, that I’m becoming more of a cat person. No, not like “Curse of the Cat-People” cat person. After our last French bulldog, Mojo, passed away, I’ve declined to get another dog. Maybe I need more exercise myself but I just wasn’t into walking a dog that much anymore. It was becoming work and that’s not fair to any dog.
So we now have two cats instead – Windermere, aka Windy, and Micah the Wonder Kitten. Very different in temperament and Micah has a story that I should tell you about some time; he really shouldn’t be alive. They suit me right now. They can be fun, affectionate, a little crazy, but there are also times when they go off and sleep somewhere and don’t seem to care what I’m doing.
Mind you, they also prompt me to do some of the most useless things that I do with my life. There are times when I have caught myself trying to explain the rules of the house to our two felines. It assumes that a) they know English, or b) they know what a rule is, or c) that they would care. I have patiently explained to them why they are not allowed up on the kitchen counters or why they should not dash right under my feet when I’m walking down the stairs. I’ve done this many times. They seem to be paying attention but I’ve discovered it’s only in hopes that I’m going to feed them. I’ve explained to them when mealtimes are but they don’t care about that, either. Like small human children, they have no concept of “later”. It is either “now” or “never.” Very binary.
Cats may understand “Don’t get up on counters” if they get wet when they do it. This can be done by the sink sprayer or with squirt guns that we have sequestered around the house. Windermere hates it although it doesn’t prevent her from trying to get up on the counters if she thinks I’m not paying attention. It simply means a sharp word will make her run for the hills. Micah, on the other hand, can get pretty wet and doesn’t seem to care. He just gives me a look as if I’m the one who is demented and appears to be asking, “And you did that – why?”
Artists sometimes fall in this general category as well. It’s happened with Tim Truman, Tom Mandrake, and Jan Duursema – my three biggest collaborators over the years. I’ll explain what I want and they’ll pretend to listen and then go off and draw whatever the hell they want. Maybe they’rethinking of food, too. I haven’t tried the water conditioning method with any of them because any of the three could pound the poo out of me.
The lovely Mary Mitchell is also an artist – a fabulous one, in fact – but she’s omitted from this list because I have to sleep some time and I’m not thatstupid. However, I have strayed from the topic.
The only thing that is more useless than explaining things with cats is arguing with them. This sometimes follows in the wake of failed explanations. You confront them and they give you back attitude (a cat is nothing if not attitude) and I hear myself saying, “I told you not to do that! Well, didn’t I?Didn’t I? Are you listening to me?! Oh, you’re asking for a time out!”
On the one level, my cats are very basic. They like their food, their treats, they like to be petted, they like to play, and they hate each other. On the other hand, they jump into toilets, upend the garbage (Micah just did that as I write this) and when you’re petting them and being nice they will sometimes turn and nip and/or claw you for no damn good reason whatsoever. They’ll act like they want to play and so you start playing and then they’ll just stop and watch you as you try to get them to play. You wind up looking pretty stupid and maybe that’s their idea of amusement. I just don’t know. Maybe that’s their enigma, their aura of mystery – you just never know with cats, do you?
All of which makes me feel that these are cat times. Dog times are direct and simple. You know what is what. Loyalty is valued and rewarded. Answers are straightforward. Love is simple, given without question. Do a trick, get a treat. Dog values. When I was ten, those were dog times. The Sixties were dog times.
Cat times are more complex. Their attitude appears to be – I may love you but don’t look at me right now. One’s first loyalties are to oneself. If I had an opposable thumb and could manage a can opener – eh, I might not really need you. I am the center of the universe; what do you bring to the equation that I don’t already have myself? I’ll pretend to listen to you in the hopes of getting what I want. You did not see me land ungracefully; it never happened. Who are you going to believe – your eyes or me? Piss me off and I’ll poop in your shoes – guaranteed. Why aren’t you paying attention to me; what could possibly be more important than me? I say that you will pet me now. Here’s just a touch of claw to remind you who the cat is around here.
Like I said – these are cat times. Not better than dog times or worse. Just the times as they are.
Despite that, we don’t seem to have many animated stories about cats. We have some great ones about dogs – Lady and the Tramp and so on. Cats? They get the Garfield movies. Clear animal abuse – making us watch that. Even rats got Ratatouille. The closest thing we’ve had to a good movie that’s about a cat who really acts like a cat is Puss’n Boots in the last two Schrek movies – where he almost stole the show both times. The best cat (who acts more or less like a cat) in comics right now is Mooch in the strip titled, strangely, Mutts. There’s been more than a few times when I’ve laughed out loud at something he’s done and then shown it to Mary because it’s so close to what one of our cats does or has done.
The best cat stories in print, however, have to be in the Japanese manga collections of What’s Michael? Michael is more a type of cat than a specific character and, in that, the series captures all the contradictory glory that belongs to cats. As often as not, the stories are about the humans who live with the cat and their relationship and what the cat brings out of them. Highly recommended.
Mary and I also still get the Kliban Cat calendar every year. Surrealistic rather than realistic and yet they seem to capture so much of the essence of what cats are. As Kim used to mutter, “Mysterious little critters, ain’t they?”
Now you’ll have to excuse me. If these are indeed cat times, they are shedding all over me and I need to find a sticky roller brush.
That’s John in the photo above, bragging nostalgically. His Star Wars collaborator, Jan Duursema, is sitting next to him, thinking about what happens when a LightSaber’s batteries die.