I DON'T TALK BABY-TALK to my cats. I never say, “Is-uhms, was-uhms, look at my baby” and lift the cat above my head; I think of that as an affront to the dignity of cats and certainly to my own. I never pick up a cat and put him over my shoulder or even in my lap. My thought is that if a cat wants to join me he’ll let me know.
None of that means that I don’t enjoy the feel of a cat in my lap or next to me in bed; and none of that means that I haven’t had cats in my home for as long as I can remember. I love cats.
My first cat was named Josephine and my second cat was named Thomas J. Cat. Having named the cats of my childhood, I should now name all the other cats who have lived with me over the years: Kaboodle, Klondike, Bridget, Gus, T.S. Tatiana, Jimmie and Alex. Jimmie and Alex live with me now.
Alex is the smartest cat I’ve known. He keeps track of all objects on the floor of our apartment, anything that’s at his eye-level. Move an object or add an object within his territory, and when he comes upon that object he will stop and approach it at a crouch, ears pivoting, nose forward.
Ah, a shirt; it’s okay.
That last was anthropomorphic. Alex doesn’t say anything; his understanding isn’t verbal. Instead his understanding comes out of an intense configuration of senses, smell being the greatest, and is binary: Danger, no-danger; bad, good.
A shirt on the floor is no-danger, and Alex walks on.
Alex greets me every morning. I walk into the living room in my underwear trying to find the kitchen and my orange juice, and Alex runs to me and falls on his back. I rub his stomach, his beautifully patterned tabby stomach, and say hello—some cooing from me maybe but no “Is-uhms, was-uhms, look at my baby.” He then runs back to the kitchen or to Catherine and her newspaper.
Jimmie is less complex. Jimmie’s operational binary is hungry, not-hungry; he tends not to worry about items on the floor. His much-loved food is at floor-level. How could anything on the floor be bad? When he’s hungry and an inspection of the kitchen floor reveals an empty bowl, Jimmie comes to me and paws my leg until I get up and feed him, and then he sleeps.
Sometimes he sleeps with me in my chair. When I’m in my La-Z Boy and tilted all the way back for a little nap, Jimmie will jump onto the arm of the chair and then step into my lap and lie down Here’s a photo of us in the chair.
Sometimes he will lie on his side, and before going to sleep he will look at me. He might then perform his air-knead: he puts his paws in the air and flexes his claws. He seems happy, but “happy” is yet more anthropomorphism. I mean by “happy” only that he’s not pawing my leg for food, and he’s purring. We don’t really understand purring; purring doesn’t always indicate contentment in a cat, but I choose to believe that it does when Jimmie is in my lap doing his air-knead. You can’t hear it, but he’s purring in this photo.
I love cats; I love my cats. I have dismissed people from my life based upon what they have said about my cats. A former friend once joked about a serious urinary problem that Alex had, a blockage that can kill a male cat. “What happened? Did he swell up like a balloon?” my ex-friend said; and then he laughed. Har-har. Goodbye.
But then I think, Who am I to judge? Look at me. I haven’t shaved in three days, and I’m wearing a hat indoors. Consider the area around my chair and look at my shoes.
I never graduated from college; I was an actor. I use a walking stick on city streets. My teeth are bad, and I spend too much time screwing around with coffee. I drink an excess of cheap red wine. I’m just a little bit paranoid, say things like, “Why are you looking at me?” forgetting that I was an actor for twenty-seven years and did a bunch of TV and films, and those facts could explain why people are looking at me. I spend too much time alone and scream when I drop things. I talk to the dishwasher. I have eight dollars in my wallet. Sometimes I feel disreputable, that I don’t deserve my cats. I fear that by their association with me, my cats’ reputation will suffer, that the reputation of all cats will suffer. Dissolute. That’s how I sometimes feel.
But I did go to an excellent military school that is now an excellent prep school, and I recently went to a class reunion there where I was given a tie and inducted as a member of the Golden M Society. Here I am wearing the tie; I now have an old school tie.
Furthermore, I attended excellent colleges even though I never graduated. I spent time at both Northwestern and Birmingham-Southern College.
What else? I was honorably discharged from the army as a Specialist 5, E-5, and while in the army spied on the world by way of my participation in the Army Security Agency, which was part of the glorious National Security Agency, the same agency that is at this very moment spying on you and me. And, finally, I am currently a member of AMPAS, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Oscar® (don’t forget that ®) people; and I vote for the Academy Awards. If you don’t mind. Mel Gibson is also a member.
What could I be talking about? What is this babble? Memberships? AMPAS? The Automobile Club? AARP? Old school tie? Babble. Am I worthy of my cats? That's the question on the table. Are we worthy of cats?
Look at Alex. Look at Jimmie.
Worthy of cats? Of course not. ###
13 October 2006 (revised 19 October2006)