In Part 1 of Cat Talking, I conceded that, although it’s been scientifically demonstrated that people who talk to their pets–anthropomorphize–are more intelligent than those who don’t, I might not be quite so smart as other pet talkers. In fact, I admitted my IQ might be three points below that of the sea sponge.
For the moment, however, let’s forget all that and assume I’m as smart as all the rest.
Yesterday’s subject was William, who doesn’t take direction.
Today I write about Ernest, who, wonder of wonders, does.
We’ve had our battles. He clings. He stomps on me. He stomps on the keyboard. He stomps on me . . .
An article posted on Facebook–my chief source of information these days–states that people who talk to their pets are smarter than those who don’t.
This is not news. We pet owners have always known we’re more intelligent than the rest of the population. If the rest of the population didn’t know this, that wasn’t our fault. But now everyone knows it, because everyone belongs to Facebook.
It seems that talking to pets is an example of anthropomorphizing, the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. I was familiar with the word but had been told it meant my IQ was three points below that of the sea sponge. Obviously, that was wrong.
I have one question: Does talk mean traditional adult speech or does it also include baby talk?
For example, I say, Go stairsies? to my cats; would a scientist say that’s evidence of my mental superiority? The phrase means Do you want to go downstairs? or upstairs, depending on where we are. Ernest usually wants to go stairsies as soon as he’s asked; William mulls over the possibilities and decides later. He wants to make sure it’s his idea.
I tell William and Ernest they’re sweet puddy tats (readers my age will know where that comes from). Sometimes they’re feet puddy tats. Or they’re feet puddy wuddies. I tell them I wuv them (I wuv ooo). When I step on a tail, I say, I sowwy.
I ask them if they’re hungwy and want some breakbus, which is silly, because they’re always interested in food.*
This afternoon, William was hungwy. He jumped onto the arm of my chair–something he rarely does, because he doesn’t want his humans to think he likes them–and headed for the plate of bread crumbs on the table beside me. I moved the plate to the other side. William stayed where he was. I went back to work and forgot about him.
Suddenly he was in front of me, standing on the keyboard, again focused on the plate. I pushed him backward, then forward, but he weighs more than twenty pounds and is passive aggressive. He stayed where he was.
I finally gave up and let him cross in his own time, but not before he’d typed gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg and sent an email comprising one sentence, one fragment, and the line of g‘s. It was a business email. By the time I realized it had been sent, it was too late to Undo.
At that point, I wanted to say something that wasn’t baby talk but I kept my peace. William ignores criticism. Orders. Suggestions. Requests. Invitations. Pretty much everything. It all has to be his idea.
I’ve just realized this post has taken an unfortunate turn. I began by praising myself for being an intelligent cat talker, and am ending with a story about allowing my cat to send an email. Which suggests the cat is pretty high in the IQ department. And maybe I really am three points below the sea sponge.
*A relative I won’t identify used to ask her little boys what they wanted for lunch–eggy-do or soupy-doup. I have not yet fallen so low.
William visited the vet Monday to assess the efficacy of the weight loss program he began in December.
Before continuing, I’ll note the difference between this visit and the one last December: On Monday, David took William for his checkup, and a good time was had by all. In December, I took him, and he bit me, and I had to go the emergency clinic so my arm wouldn’t fall off. And the vet tech was doing the same thing to him both times. But I needed a tetanus shot anyway.
To resume–I wasn’t surprised when David reported there had been no efficacy at all.
For the past three months, we’ve fed the guys less, and better quality, cat food, but William’s waistline hasn’t shrunk. Neither has Ernest’s, and he could stand some shrinkage, too. They rarely ate all they were fed. But even less food was too much.
Solution: No more grazing. No more nocturnal snacking. When they finish a meal, food disappears. That’s it. No more. Nada.
Today we began serious dieting. Breakfast was served between 10:00 a.m. and noon. (I got a late start, so they did, too.) They left half uneaten. I trashed it. Dinner would be served at 6:00
In the early afternoon, they appeared in the living room. Ernest did his usual thing–positioned his posterior on the arm of the recliner and propped his front end on my shoulder, then tried to scooch the rest of the way across and drape himself over the rest of me. I can’t see the keyboard that way, so I did my usual thing and resisted.
But William did the unusual–he sat in front of my chair and stared at me.
By mid-afternoon, I felt like a swimmer in a shark tank. I typed, they circled. Then both sat and stared. Then they sashayed back and forth from me to the empty dishes.William meowed. Most days he speaks only to Ernest and to David, and in a conversational tone. My meow sounded like a cuss word.
I promised their papá would serve dinner at the appointed time.
An hour later, the situation had worsened . They trotted around the house at my heels. They emitted faint little mews: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”
I truly sympathized. I felt their pain. I suggested they do something to take their minds off their stomachs. That’s what I do.
Such as, once about a zillion years ago, when I was in the third week of a medically supervised liquid fast, I took my mind off my stomach by feeding the sad, hungry stray dog that had occupied the garage for a week, thus ensuring I would feed him the next day, and the next, and every day after that for the rest of his life.
(And to put minds at ease, I’ll add that what the other participants in the program and I commonly called a fast was not the kind Gandhi went on, that doctors were in charge, that I was adequately fed, and, after the third week, not hungry, and that I never felt so good in my life as I did during the seven months I lived on 520 calories a day. There is nothing so energizing as a ketosis high.)
Well, anyway, the guys pooh-poohed the stray dog idea and kept on channeling Oliver Twist.
I couldn’t stand it. “Three bites, I will give each of you three bites. That’s it. Three bites.”
Ernest vacuumed up his bites as soon as they hit the dish. William sat on his haunches, looked at the kibble, looked at Ernest, looked at the kibble, looked at me. I’ve known for a long time that William is passive aggressive.
Finally I said something like, “Eat the (*$))T(#@^&^ food.” I don’t approve of strong language, but I was trying to hold Ernest back from invading William’s territory and scarfing down a total of six bites. Cussing seemed right. Especially since William had already cussed at me.
When he was ready, William ate, slowly and daintily. He then padded into the living room and lay down on his rug. Poor old Ernest kept on begging. His metabolism is faster than William’s. He moves around more. Sometimes it seems William has no metabolism at all.
And that’s what makes this kitty diet challenging–two cats, different needs. Could I try feeding them on opposite sides of a closed door?
Not unless I want the door to be shredded. Which I don’t.
It’s now nearly midnight. Two kitty dishes sit on the kitchen floor. They’ve been there for four hours, too long, really. One is empty. The other appears untouched.
Ernest just ate a bit more and now sits on his rug, washing his face. William sits there washing his feet. I don’t know when he last partook.
I wish I could make them understand that soon I will remove both dishes. When they want their midnight, or whenever, snack, it won’t be there.
I don’t want them to overeat. I want them to satisfy their nutritional needs. I want them to eat enough. Just enough.
Just enough to keep them from goose stepping all over me in the middle of the night.
Just enough to stave off hunger pangs so I may wake in the morning, all by myself, refreshed, no cat standing on the pillow batting at my nose.
William bit me at the vet,
Didn’t like the aide’s assistance,
Used his claws and fangs to set
On the path of most resistance.
Say I’m teary, say I’m mad,
Say that pills and needles hit me,
Say my arm’s inflamed, and add,
William bit me.
Jane Carlyle, wife of philosopher Thomas Carlyle, was not a demonstrative woman. But one day when writer Leigh Hunt arrived for a visit, Jane jumped up from her chair, ran across the room, and kissed him. Surprised and delighted, Hunt memorialized the event in a poem: “Jenny Kissed Me.”
Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.
Today I’m at Writing Wranglers and Warriors with a post about weight management, not really about cats. Unless you’d rather read about cats, and then it’s about them. Either way, there’s something IMPORTANT about midway down, and that’s the truth.
At the outset, this post contains no advice at all, just what I’ve heard, and it will look like it’s about my cat (again), but it’s actually about weight management. But to get to the heart of the matter, we’ll have to go through the cat.
William is on a diet. He’s nine years old and it’s past time for him to take off the weight I’ve allowed him to put on. I want to prevent diabetes and all the ills the older cat is often heir to.
The vet advised me how I might begin, but with two cats, it’s difficult. I can’t isolate him because he wouldn’t eat without Ernest eating first, and isolation brings the risk of his clawing a hole in the door. With cats, you don’t close doors, period. And the last time William and Ernest were separated for any length of time, William stopped…
In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.
After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.
The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was
determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.
Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
When this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.
If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.
It is 3:30 a.m. I stayed up working on a website for a friend. Then I replied to some emails. Then I wrote several more emails to the same people, as if I thought they were awake and waiting for them. In fact, one of them was awake, and she read my email and replied, so I replied to her.
Then I checked out a page of Shakespearean insults. Earlier in the evening I had found a blog with a title very like the one at the top of this page, so it’s obvious I need a new one–the fact that I’m down to a cow as header is another clue things here are wearing thin; I love cows, but I don’t consider them header material–and before I can do anything else, I must have a title, and the title must be literary. And since Lewis Carroll is pretty well taken up, I turned to Shakespeare. Why I chose insults, I don’t know, except that a while back I found a perfect title there–Guts and Midriff. It’s from Henry IV Part I: Act 3, Scene 3. The entire quotation goes this way:
There’s no room for faith, truth, nor honesty in this bosom of thine. It is all filled up with guts and midriff.
For vivid imagery, there’s no one better than Shakespeare.
Except for Mark Twain. Finding no insult that seemed appropriate, I turned to a site of Twain quotations and, of course, ended up on the cat page. Twain liked cats. A lot. And his family had a passel of them. Put Mark Twain and cats together, and I’ll read quotations all night without a thought of a blog title.
I think my love of Twain comes from growing up among men who talked like Twain wrote. My father and his Woodward uncles, one of whom lived next door, had the same–I don’t know what, but they had it. If a stenographer had followed them around, the transcripts would have had a lot of Huck Finn in them. When Huck says that Pap has a couple of his toes leaking out the front end of his boot–I can hear my dad saying it. One of my greatest regrets is that the last time he and his three brothers were together, I sat there for three or four hours listening to them remember but didn’t get up and go into the next room for the tape recorder. Well, spilt milk.
Anyway, in my moseying through the Twain and cats page, I discovered the quotation at the first of this post–not something Twain wrote, but something he said to his secretary about the cat that was shredding her dress–and thought it would make a decent post. But when I got it on the page, it looked so small all by itself, so I decided to add a few words of my own. And now I have, so I without further ado, I shall sign off.
Have I mentioned that I can open a locked 1977 Chevy Malibu with a large paperclip in under a minute? And a locked 1977 Buick LeSabre with a metal coat hanger in under thirty seconds? That’s if the metal hanger is coated with plastic and if you discount the time it takes to go into Wal-Mart to buy it.
I was musing on cars and paperclips this afternoon during a pause in my drive home from Writers Who Write. I’d arrived at the coffee shop where we meet feeling rather jiggly in both mind and body, possibly because I’d been awake for only thirty minutes, most of which I’d spent en route. The banana and iced mocha I counted as breakfast didn’t help, so three hours later I left feeling just as jiggly as when I’d come in.
On the way home, I pulled into Trader Joe’s. The voice inside my head–the same one that told me to slow down only seconds before I hit the Black Angus cow back in 1996–had already warned me to go straight home. But guilt over ceding grocery shopping to David for most of the past four years overcame intuition, also known as good sense, and I stopped anyway.
There I faced a dilemma: what to do with the laptop lying on the passenger seat. I knew I should take it in with me, so I reached into the back seat, brought forth several large grocery sacks, and piled them on top of it.
That’s one advantage of Austin’s disposable plastic bag ban–I forget mine so often that I have to buy a reusable from the HEB cashier nearly every time I shop. There are enough of those things in my car to hide several laptops and a baby elephant besides.
Now. Here’s where the pause I mentioned earlier started. Satisfied no one could see the laptop, maybe, I shouldered my purse, picked up one of the grocery bags, and headed for Trader Joe’s. No more than a dozen steps later, I did a U-turn, headed back to the car, and peered through the window. Just as I’d expected, the ring of keys still hung from the ignition. Laying my hand on the hood, I felt a vibration. The car was running.
(Said car is ten years old. Because it’s been sitting in the sun, the red paint has begun to oxidize, so the outside looks totally disreputable, but it runs beautifully, knock wood. If the A/C hadn’t been on, I might not have felt a vibration at all.)
Well. My first impulse was to dump my purse onto the hood and follow it with my forehead. So I did. My second impulse was to hide a couple of cars away and wait for a burglar to break in for the laptop. Then I had a better idea. I stood up straight, head up, shoulders back, and asked myself, “What would Nancy Drew do (if she’d left her cell phone at home?)”
I’m certain she would do something more dramatic than finding a real phone and calling Ned Nickerson. But I’m not Nancy. I marched into Trader Joe’s, asked (in the most pitiful voice I could manage) to use the phone, and called David. He said he would run right over. I headed for the produce.
Back at the car, I set my own HEB insulated reusable shopping bag, with groceries, on the trunk. The putative temperature was 68 degrees, but sunshine had warmed the metal to at least 400, and I figured with any luck the salmon I’d bought might be cooked by the time I got home. Later I decided acting on whimsy might not be wise and took both the groceries and myself to a small, sandy promontory in the shade of a live oak tree at the other end of the car. Leaning against the tree’s trunk, I remembered other trees I’ve known:
The first high school I taught in was built around an open patio. Two young live oak trees grew on one side of it, outside the library. They were about the size of the tree I stood under while I waited for David.
The patio was a lovely spot. Students sat on the steps and at picnic tables during lunch, and the honors banquet was held there on spring evenings, and one pep rally that’s best forgotten (and that I’ll write about sometime) took place there. It was, as I said, lovely. Everyone who visited the school commented on its loveliness.
And time passed, and the live oaks flourished.
Then the birds arrived. And things began to go downhill.
The birds took up residence in the trees. Others joined them, and more and more, until the trees were thick with birds.
Birds, like cats, have no idea of the rules. They chattered and shrieked. They flew into glass doors and into windows overlooking the patio, unsettling students and teachers holding class on the insides of the windows. Unlike cats, they displayed no concern for personal hygiene. The patio did not smell nice. People stopped gathering there. They would have stopped walking by it at all if they’d been able to get to class any other way.
The Powers That Were made a number of humane attempts to get the birds to leave. They hung tin pans in the trees. They draped rubber snakes in the trees. They swatted at the birds with tennis rackets. Swatting might strike some as inhumane, but it was nothing compared to the alternative. This was, after all, a community dedicated to guns and hunting. Anyway, the same students who’d been traumatized when birds hit their windows got quite a kick watching the swatters flit about the patio, swiping at thin air.
At this point I must digress. I have admitted elsewhere that I sometimes exaggerate. Hyperbole is my favorite literary device. What I’ve written about the birds, however, is true. If anyone doubts my veracity, I can call on at least a hundred other eyewitnesses to back me up.
But back to my story. I was leaning against that live oak in front of Trader Joe’s, reminiscing, when I spotted my rescuer about three lanes over. I waved. He pulled his car into a space across from me.
“Did you call from a pay phone?” he said. Then he kissed me hello and unlocked the car.
That’s when I remembered, one more time, how lovely it is to have a husband who is as kind as my father was. My father never complained about retrieving my keys from locked cars, either.
Of course, that was before 1977, when I learned to use a paperclip.