The Patron Saint of the Arbors

I.

There’s a handsome young gentleman who lives in my apartment complex who, the first year or so that I lived here, I thought was not a he but rather a she. This is a mistake many of us make when presented with a non-human creature: too often we address the cool, tough, intense, or energetic creatures as he, while the softer, gentler, more demure ones we call she. When we see a hawk or a bad-ass dog or a cartoon of a fierce dinosaur, we say, “Whoa, look at that guy!” With pretty birds and adorable pups it’s always, “Who’s a pretty girl?” This is crazy, though, and it reveals how deeply held our prejudices are.

So this gentleman in my complex, for over a year I referred to her as Honkers, a name drawn from her meow that is only barely deeper and bolder than a squeak. It’s a soft little Owmp, which in its pitifulness matches the cat’s scrawny size. Honkers is only seen at night, hanging around outside the apartment of one of our neighbors on the floor below us. She sleeps out there just outside the door, on a bed that her person put there for that purpose. But more often Honkers can be seen about ten feet down the way, sitting erect and looking out through the little wrought iron fence that blocks the walkway from the courtyard below. Always sitting there, Honkers just looks out on the nighttime world. When we come up from the car, she greets us with her little noise, honking and bonking and rubbing and purring. For a stranger, Honkers is the perfect cat.

Once or twice, I’d be talking to Honkers about what she’d seen and done since the last time we’d seen each other, when her owner would crack the door to see who was out there. Acting more skittish than the cats, I would dart away for fear of getting caught being the weirdo that I am. Eventually, though, I did get caught. On that occasion, my wife was standing there with our groceries — I had set my bag down, knowing that Honkers was, wisely, afraid of shopping bags — and she was patiently indulging me as I pet the cat. Then the door opened too quickly for me to gather my groceries and run away, so I tried chatting a bit with Honkers’ owner.

As friendly and chatty as Honkers is, her person is the opposite. But I was able to learn from her that Honkers’ real name is Tiggs — presumably short for Tigger, a terrible and obvious name for a cat — and that she is a boy cat. More accurately, she’s a grown-ass man cat. Tiggs just showed up at the person’s door one day and has been attached to her ever since.

After my conversation with Tiggs’ person, I still take time to say hello to him whenever I can, and avoid her at all costs. Also, while common sense suggests his name is short for Tigger, I assume it’s actually an elision of Taye Diggs, so that’s what I call him. I don’t work nights anymore so I don’t see him as much, and besides I think he’s usually allowed to sleep inside when it’s below freezing, as it has been lately. But still, on warm nights sometimes he’s outside when I’m leaving for my pre-dawn run, and at the risk of disturbing his slumber I still usually exchange good mornings with him. Recently I saw him on the opposite side of the apartment complex, an area to which he rarely strays except for those occasions when he’s feeling so sociable that he follows my wife and I to our door. When he follows us, he usually lays outside our apartment for an hour or two, driving our cat Puss — full name Hunter Paxton Pusserton — absolutely crazy as he spies from the window.

On this occasion, though, Taye Diggs was on the landing half a flight of stairs up from the laundry room, pacing distractedly. I said hello, of course, and scratched him a bit behind the ears. Then I continued to the laundry room, to do those things that people do there. Then it became clear why Taye was just a half-flight of stairs away: his person was doing her laundry, and he had chosen to accompany her. We all always knew Taye Diggs was a true gentleman.

Continue reading “The Patron Saint of the Arbors”

“Extended Kittenhood” Sounds Great, and Terrifying

I’m a bad sleeper. This morning I woke up at about 4 a.m., after going to bed at 1. As I like to say, I “got a bug in my head,” which means that some anxiety or another entered my brain and I couldn’t shake it. So naturally it was only a matter of time this morning before I found myself laying on the couch reading the Wikipedia entry about domestic cats.

It’s a great read. The photo captioned “A cat that has caught a mouse” is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Here’s a sentence that really struck me: “Ethologically, the human keeper of a cat may function as a sort of surrogate for the cat’s mother, and adult housecats live their lives in a kind of extended kittenhood.” Extended kittenhood! Is there a more adorable phrase in the English language? Absolutely not.

Think about this for a moment. Kittens are the best. They’re small and adorable and playful and happy and squeaky and wonderful. Evolutionarily speaking, the domestic cat is barely removed from its ancestor, the African wildcat. So we’ve taken this wild creature, and in the process of domesticating it we’ve not just made it comfortable in our homes, we’ve also forced a sort of juvenile dependency on it. Under this understanding of cat ownership, my male cat, Puss, ruthless killer of mice and chaser of shoe strings, thinks of me as his mom. And since I’ll never leave him (never!), he’ll never quite grow up.

Cats are the Peter Pans of pets.

Of course, the flip side of this is that stunted development is scary. Are cats the Peter Pans of pets, or are they the Seth Rogens? The overgrown man-children of the pet world, capable of behaving like grown-ups and fending for themselves, but choosing instead to sit by an empty bowl on my kitchen floor and scream until I feed them?

(Notably, that Wikipedia article also suggests that cats’ high pitched meows are designed to mimic human babies. Which is hilarious and wrong because, you know, my cat has never met a human baby. But maybe that’s an evolutionary thing? Seems doubtful.)

Obviously I’m reading too much into this, and doing it on too little sleep. The relationship between cats and cat owners is a symbiotic one, even more so than between dogs and dog owners as cats are closer to their wild ancestors and less dependent on humans. Of course each cat develops differently than it would if we had never domesticated Felix cattus, but “extended kittenhood” is a little bit of a stretch.

Also, here’s a picture of a cat that has caught a mouse:

From Wikimedia Commons.
From Wikimedia Commons.