Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Story Time with Uncle Leab: Furry Children

You get two posts today, folks. Joy.
During my sophomore year of college, I was with my Ex (I never use her name, I just refer to her as, "my Ex.") walking around the neighborhood we both lived in (I was at 6652, she was at 6625). As we stroll around the neighborhood, we find this cat all alone with no tags. Now, I know better than my Ex, but she doesn't listen to me.
"Honey, it belongs to someone. Let it go home."
"No," she says, "It's a lost cat. We can take care of it. It can be OURS."
"But it IS someone else's cat."

We start walking away, but this cat, a beautiful Chartreux, follows us.
"See?" she says.
"It's just wanting attention. Keep moving."
We do, but the cat follows us ALL the way back to her apartment. So, we take the cat in for the night. However, we need to go get a litter box and cat food I am told. So we do, and the cat stays with us for that night. The next morning, as I leave for class, the cat comes outside with me and bolts across the way to another apartment complex. I watch as this cat climbs the fire escape and scratches at a window. My Ex and I had been played. The cat was just looking for a free meal.
I relayed this information to my Ex that evening.
"I want a kitten."
"I'm sorry," I say. "Could you repeat that?"
"I WANT a KITTEN," she tells me forcefully.
"Uh-huh. Is it going to stay with you?"
"No," she tells me. "Libby (her roommate, but not her real name) is allergic. I thought it could stay at your place."
Obviously my Ex could tell I was not really in favor, so she started telling me about how I had more space then she did in my apartment (I was in a whopping 500 square foot apartment, she and Libby were in a three bedroom 1,200 square foot apartment). I was young, stupid, and in love. I made a poor decision.
"All right. We'll go tomorrow and get a kitten."
I had never owned an animal by myself before. While other kids had a turtle, or fish, or whatever, I shared a dog with my other family members. Usually my mother took care of the pets. She was used to them. We have bad luck in my family when it comes to dogs. Over the course of my life, my family has owned nine dogs. They were unlucky. A few run over, some cancer here and there, and one that my mother hated so much she put a concrete slab over where he was buried. This dog was the only dog I have ever seen walk up to my father and pee on him. Funny, but also dangerous.
When it came to cats, however, there were only ever two. Cats are incredibly easy to take care of and very independent. Still, I had never really had a pet that was just mine.
The next morning, I read in the paper about an animal shelter that was bringing cats for adoption to a pet store. Armed with this knowledge, we headed to that store in the afternoon. It was surprisingly empty. Most people did not want to adopt a cat (no, they wanted puppies).
I head to the back with my Ex and look at the place where these kittens are supposed to be.
Inside of a glass case with three levels is a small grey and white kitten and an orange tabby kitten.
"LOOK AT THE ORANGE ONE!!!!" My Ex screams so loud a child turns and looks at us.
"He's cute, but I like the other one. He seems playful."
It's at this point the Humane Society member, who has been lurking, sweeps in to me.
"You know," the gal says, "if you get both, they can play with each other instead of the furniture. They'll take care of each other, which means you won't have to worry."
"That sounds great," my Ex says.
I was not sure, however. The gal from the Humane Society could tell I was wavering.
"Look," she says. "You adopt these two cats, and I'll do this: This cat (the grey one) full adoption price. This one will be halved."
I don't want two cats. "I'm still not sure."
My Ex could tell what the problem was. "Look, graduation is only a few months away. I'll take the orange one with me when I go, and you can keep the grey one."
That sounded good, but I wanted more from the Humane Society (yeah, I'm going to Hell).
"Ok," I said. "Throw in two bowls, some food, and a litter box, and you got a deal."
"Great!" she says.
The gal opens the case and hands the tabby to my Ex, who squeals with delight. Then she takes out the grey one. As he leaving, a little black head appears and mews at me.
"I didn't see this one," I say.
"Oh. These three came in together," the gal tells me.
Immediately, I am wracked with emotion (it sucks, let me tell you).
I don't want three cats. I don't really even want two, but I get this feeling I cannot split them up.
The black cat mews again. My heart rips itself into pieces at that sound and then comes together again.
"What about the black one?" I ask.
"Weeeelll," the gal starts. "How about this? You pay full adoption fees on the grey one, half on the orange one, none on the black one, aannnnnd you get a free food bowl, but you have to pay for litter, litter box, and food. I will, however, pay for your first vet visit."
I mull it over.
My Ex is giddy at this point and squeezing my hand so hard it might break.
It's at this moment, on October 10th, 1997, I become a pet owner.
The first few months would be difficult but very fun. All three cats stayed with me at my little apartment.
It wasn't long before hair was on my clothes, and people who dropped by would lift their noses to the air and say, "You have cats, don't you?"
My father was worried sick about it. "He's a theatre major who owns cats? That's not good."
It was amazingly fun watching this little beings with giant heads scurrying around my apartment. They would all cuddle with me in the bed and would lie all over each other all the time.
Their names were hard to come by. My Ex and I argued, and I was able to strike a compromise: I would name two of them, she would name the one she was to take with her (the orange cat). She had her name right away. The orange cat became Oscar, named after her uncle.
I named the grey cat Ulysses (yes, I am a bibliophile).
The black cat was given the name Sam Spade (still a bibliophile).
I even came up with ways to remember their names.
Oscar the Orange was a mighty viking.
Sam Spade wore a black trenchcoat.
Ulysses S. Grant fought the Grey Coats.
Yes, I am a nerd.
The plan stopped working when my Ex graduated. Instead of taking Oscar, she looked at me and said, "I only liked him when he was a kitten. Now, he's not pretty anymore."
Thus I was left with three cats.
Many of my friends would joke we were like The Brady Bunch.
This is the story of a man named Leab
Who was bringing up three boys on his own.
All of them were really hairy, like their father.
The youngest one was grey.
I heard it a great deal. It was funny, but slightly annoying the six hundredth time.
I have now had my cats for almost nine years. My wife graciously accepted the fact I had cats. When we started dating, she had lovebirds, but she gave them up for the cats. They love her as much I do. In fact, Ulysses cares for her more than me.
They say cats cannot think, but survive on instinct alone. I disagree. I have seen my cats work up plans.
I once was so drunk that my cats talked to me about life and what I was doing wrong.
Let me introduce you to them:
The unquestioned alpha cat. He is now totally my wife's cat. She calls, he runs.
My wife likes to say he is the most human of the three. He's done the following:
1. Learned how to open doors. It's creepy, but he can reach up and turn a handle.
2. Tries to use silverware. We had fish the other night. He really wanted some, so he started pawing at my wife's fork in order to try and use it. It's still the damnedest thing I have ever seen.
3. Gets in the shower. This is a cat. Cats usually hate water. He's not super keen on it, but he'll try to shower with me most mornings. I think he just wants the attention.
4. He goes limp like a baby when you pick him up. He loves being held by my wife.
The greatest Ulysses story deals with when he tried to catch a bird. My wife and I were living in a second floor apartment in Brooklyn Center and used to let our cats out on the balcony. A bird lands on the railing, and Ulysses REALLY wants it. SO he jumps...and misses. He plunges down to the ground. My wife sees this and freaks out. She bolts out the door and runs to the front of the building. Ulysses is fine. He's just obviously mad at missing the bird. She brings him in the building, where another tenant brings out her dog, he freaks out and bolts up the steps. The owner pulls the dog outside. Ulysses, still panicked, runs away from my wife's loving arms and bolts back down the steps to try and get back outside. One problem: it's a glass door. Though I wasn't there, my wife tells me it was the ultimate accordian cat. He crumpled up and then expanded again. Still, he wasn't willing to show he was in pain, so he tried to play it off. That's this cat.

This is the trickster cat and the beautiful one. My nickname for him is The EVIL Cat! If it's Saturday, and I'm trying to sleep, he'll be there to wake me up.
If I'm, oh let's say, typing, he has to get into my lap. This cat has to be whereever I am. As I sit at my computer right now, he is the chair next to me sleeping. Should I leave to do anything, he'll follow.
When I wake up in the morning and go to shower, he is already sitting on the sink. He drinks from the faucet for a few seconds and then takes off (usually when Ulysses comes in to hop in the shower).
Oscar is the cat my Ex was supposed to take and, indeed, when I first got him, he was with her all the time. He slept on her side of the bed and would always want her to feed him.
Now, he's mine. It's kind of ironic.
Oscar is also the troublemaker. He doesn't want fighting, but when it starts, he jumps in and makes things worse. He likes to pick on Sam a great deal, which is unfortunate.
And finally,
He is the most cat-like of the three cats. I know, that sounds odd, but Sam is afraid of new people, lies around all day on the bed, and pretty much avoids the other cats. He also, unlike the other two, is desperate to be outside all the time. Even when it's raining, snowing, or freezing, he finds a way to walk around outside. The others will hang back, but he blazes the trail.
Sam is the biggest of the three cats. (He's a whopping 20 pounds, but seems to be all muscle, which kinda frightens me at times.) However, he is the only cat that can go anywhere near my neighbors' cats. Again, I don't know why, but he can approach them. The other cats get hissed at and occasionally swatted.

I knew Sam was special the moment he attacked a Doberman Pincher. I know what you're thinking. "Oh my God, Leab, that's awful." It's not what you think.
When I lived in St. Louis, the guy across the alley from me owned a Doberman. This dog was mean. Well, one night while the cats were in my yard, the guy's dog gets away and comes right at my cats. While Oscar and Ulysses bolt for the house, Sam just stands there. The dog approaches, and Sam whacks him. It's almost like Cat-Fu. He just hits this dog full force in the nose, and the dog stops. I am finally able to pick up Sam at this point. The dog (his name was Brute, pronounced Bruteh) is still standing there feeling his nose.
Like I said before, I'm coming up on nine years of owning these cats. I love them. They take care of me, and I of them. If I've had a horrible day, they're there for me when I walk in the door.
I used to be a dog person, but now, I'm not sure I'll ever own a dog. I didn't want these cats when I first saw them.
Now, I'm not sure I can really be happy without them.
So it goes.


Voix said...

That is a totally awesome story. You have some lucky cats.

cat said...

That is a great story. What would we do without our cats??? (Or in my case cat)

MsAmber said...

I have two big dogs and two cats.
They are all wonderful animals, and a joy to have.