Cats: other people’s cats, the neighbor’s cats, cats you see on television, the ones in those cat food commercials, photos of adorable cats doing stupid things that adorn greeting cards and the walls of dentist offices, the stuffed animal like cats that act in movies and children have as toys. Those are the kind of cats that people profess that they adore, all the while telling you what great fun they are, almost making you think that owning one’d be a good thing to do. They are, after all: so frigging cute, so adorable, so prone to making you go “ooh” and “awh”. Yet unfortunately the actual truth is that living amongst them is nothing like what you might think you see on TV or occasionally witness while standing in front of a pet shop’s window watching a couple a the cute ones batting yarn balls around.
Unfortunately as luck would have it my mother has become one of those women that you read about in the newspapers; the ones that amass great herds of cats and then will their entire fortunes to them. Her house, nothing shabby and in a rather nice neighborhood, is currently being taken over, one tattered floor rug at a time, by marauding gangs of feral cats. So while she’s away on vacation revisiting the fjords and frozen tundra of my youth I’ve been enlisted, no, let’s be real about this, emotionally blackmailed into taking care of her beastly brood. As apparently my mother reads my blog and when she isn’t sending me emails inquiring if I’ve ever entertained the notion of seeing a doctor in the hopes of getting prescribed antidepressants she’s simultaneously offering alternative housing opportunities – read “cat/house sitting opportunities” – under the guise of helping clear up my current case of lingering black lung.
And that’s why, after kowtowing down to the pressure that only indentured offspring like myself can relate to, I find myself getting ready to leave my dismal soot incrusted neighborhood for the promised fresh air of San Francisco’s Marina District. After packing my bag with black clothes, iPod, laptop and jars of hair goo I head on over to the promised land driving in the un-aforementioned Toyota Prius – Ok, so not everything about taking care of mom’s house is bad. Driving up I notice a quick succession of little furry cat heads popping up in the building’s front windows. Getting out of the car I notice one large and rather possessed looking Persian hanging off the curtain trying to stare me down. Only once our eyes meet he leaps backwards in a blur of orange fur – his landing a resounding thud that can be heard from where I standing in the driveway.
While I insert the key into the front door there’s a thunderous uproar of what sounds like a stampede of, well, elephants, for a lack of a better example. And then there we are, face to face, twelve sets of beady eyes unblinkingly staring at me as I enter the foyer, luggage in hand, the taste of apprehension in my mouth. Obviously they we expecting someone else, obviously they were expecting my mother and now whatever it is that’s going on in those little kitty brains of theirs is making them loopy – though hopefully not as seemingly prone to violence and anger as the Persian one upstairs.
Suddenly, as if they were one animal, the entire tribe about-faces and b-lines up the stairs dispersing in different directions apparently fleeing for their very lives. Alone at the bottom of the stairs I’m left wondering if they’ve ever had a similar encounter as the one we’ve all just lived through – because from the way that they all acted they have and it apparently wasn’t very pretty. Obviously some stranger before me has dropped by unannounced and massacred half of them with a meat cleaver and now instead of trusting any humans that they don’t know they’ve become very very cautious. Although I’m pretty sure that my mother would have mentioned something about a cat massacre, especially if it had happened in her house, and especially if there had been a meat cleaver welding individual involved as well. Maybe they’re all just overly sensitive and prefer instead to be introduced properly before extending their little paws for a handshake.
As I climb the stairs I can still hear them scattering to the furthest corners of the house. Gaining the landing that leads into the main hallway I’m suddenly hit with the scent of kitty poo. At my feet is a flattened catnip mouse, its eyes torn off, a hole in its butt where a yarn tail might have been. There’s an almost Voodoo doll like quality to this somewhat trampled mouse and if I were one for heeding omens and signs of the devil I’d probably just turn around and go home.
Down the hall are the bedrooms, the one off to the left, the guest room, is mine. Stepping inside I put my bag on the bed while behind me I can hear what sounds like a mad dash of claws and paws as the little buggers make their way past my door on their way to the living room. A single meow causes me to turnaround. At my feet is a tabby kitten that looks so cute and angelic as he stares up at me with these big yellow eyes. Without even thinking about it I bend down to pet him but before I can even touch him he screams and tears ass backwards outta the room.
The agreement was for nine days of cat care, the agreement was for me to stay here while she’s away, the agreement’s starting to look pretty damn dismal at best. The sound of a loud crash reverberates down the hall toward me, just as abruptly the sounds of scattering feet, claws on hardwood, start to ensue. Somewhere there’s a high-pitched whiney squeal, from the bedroom next-door comes a series of loud hisses, from under the bed there’s a subdued “mew”. Quietly I move my bag of clothes to the floor while ignoring the chaos, I take the linens from out of the closet and make the bed, with one foot I sweep the mewing cat out the door, close it behind me, and then head for the bathroom.
Only to fine that when you have a million cats like this you don’t get any time to yourself and moments that used to be private suddenly become something a little closer to what I’d consider spectator sport. Because as I sit on the toilet I notice a grey paw come under the closed door and then there I am sitting there going about my “business” while three deranged and highly interested felines stare at me – waiting for god knows what to happen. It’s not like I go around staring at them while they fill the sandboxes with their piles of shit. And speaking of sandboxes, there’s three, count them three sandboxes strewn throughout the house while there’s only two human bathrooms. God forbid that one of these freaking cats would have to be more than one room away from going to the bathroom. God forbid that these cats would be forced to go outside to the backyard to take a shit.
Leaving the bathroom my audience disperses without much fanfare – obviously unimpressed. Turning the corner I walk into the kitchen where there seems to be even more cats. Everywhere that I look, on every flat service, there’s either a lounging cat or a sitting cat or a preening cat licking his paws. Off in the corner is the feeding zone: piles of bowls and water dishes sit, some upended and on their sides, others left standing, but all of them empty. On the kitchen table there’s a yellow legal pad of paper with what appears to be no less then 10 pages of instructions – illegibly written in my mother’s unique handwriting – with paragraph after paragraph detailing the intricacies of caring for each and every one of these cats: their current medicine regime, their current dietary do’s and don’ts, their current inabilities for socializing nicely with their fellow felines. Apparently some of them don’t get along so well, apparently some of them need to be fed separately, as in shifts. Yet what’s also becoming very apparent is that some of them are obviously gonna be starving to death because there is no way in hell that I’m going to be able to adhere to any of this as unlike my mother I’ve got to go to work during the day.
A cute little kitten with needle like claws starts climbing up the back of my pant leg. With a startled cry I disengage him as he starts to pierce my skin through the cloth and put him back down on the kitchen floor. He immediately starts to climb my leg again. I take him off. He climbs again. I take him off, resisting the urge to drop kick him into the dining room and slip him into one of the drawers that contains napkins and pot holders and quickly close it.
Turning the pages of legal pad I read a few of the paragraphs noticing that she wants certain cats to be fed in the kitchen and certain cats to be fed in another room – primarily I gather to keep them safe from having their food eaten by the larger stronger cats – and suddenly I’m getting an understanding of what’s going on here. Nature is being bested by my mom. The natural food chain pecking order, that survival of the fittest thing, is being circumvented because my mom wants all these cats to ignore their naturally inherent killer instincts and play nice instead. No wonder they’re all psycho hiding under beds screaming at shadows.
Picking up all the assorted bowls and food plates I rinse them off and stack them in the dishwasher. In their place on the floor I put one big bowl full of dry food and one big bowl of water. Next to that I place one large bowl full of wet cat food straight outta the can and walk away into my room to put away my clothes that are already unexplainably covered in cat hair.
The ensuing caterwauling, hissing and screeching sounds reminiscent of a few knife fights that I witnessed many years ago while kicking it with my homeboys on the yard of one of California’s finer correctional facilities. The thumps, groans and muffled yelps only confirm what I’ve already suspected. The survival of the fittest is now being played out and soon anarchy will be replaced by order as nature takes it course and the rightful order of things will prevail.
Exhausted I walk over to the bed and lay down on my back staring at the ceiling. The sound of a body being hurled against the room’s closed door makes me flinch. As I rollover into a fetal position I can only think that this is going to be a very long nine days.