Friday, November 26, 2010

Serendipity Part 2: Breaking in the new pet

It took three weeks of rigor, determination, discipline, indoctrination, intimidation, and sheer brute force, but Grendel eventually bent me to his will.

Rise and shine (and FEED ME!)

Our first tussle developed around the definition of morning. First light is far too late in the day for Grendel to even consider as a suitable time for getting up. Indeed, it is so far gone in the day as to be nearly time for the day's first nap. Besides, breakfast, that magical time of the day, was in the morning. Nothing was going to keep Grendel from food.

He tried many methods of getting me out of bed. Of course there was the simple meow, but he soon learned to his dismay that I could ignore that—or worse, that I would consider it conversation and talk back to him. His most ingenious ploy was the scientific application of weight. If I was lying on my back, he would plant himself on my chest and subject me to a sort of peine forte et dure until I gave in and fed him. It didn't please him that I enjoyed him sitting there. 

He later figured that sitting on me or standing on all fours dispersed the weight too evenly. He then tried standing on two feet only, alternating the feet in a sort of stomping fashion. I have to admit that that became a little uncomfortable. Seventeen pounds of cat applied to the footprint of two small paws comes to probably something like 10 pounds of pressure on each paw. After a while, it gets to you. However, the absurdity of what he was doing always made me laugh and I think he figured that he was having no effect.

His next, and most persistent ploy, was to fiddle with the things in the bedroom. I had a small palm in the room as well as pictures on the dresser and nightstand, and an alarm clock. All of these were fair game for Grendel. He nibbled at the palm, knocked over pictures—with a great clatter—and drove me crazy chasing after the clock radio's antenna, a curly wire that hung down behind it. I finally dealt with these distractions by chasing him out of the bedroom and closing the door. But then he mewled so pitifully that I felt like an ogre for locking him out. Besides, he would thrust his paw up under the door and claw pathetically at the air, I assume in the vain hope of grabbing me and pulling me through to suffer along with him the fate of the being shut out like a leper at the gates.

Somehow, I managed to come to a sort of détente in which Grendel would only torment me for two hours before I got up at 7:00 AM to feed him. But those were the halcyon days of sleeping late. Things change.

Territorial dispute/grazing rights

The next—and everlasting—contest is over the kitchen counters. All the passion of Locke, Rousseau, Paine, and Jefferson for the Rights of Man pale in comparison to Grendel's passion for the Rights of Cat when it comes to the freedom to tread where he will when he will in search of food. As his persistence in getting fed may indicate, Grendel loves food. His, yours—no, wait! There is no yours when it comes to comestibles; if it's edible, it's his.

Every culinary activity I undertake, from inception to indigestion (and, frankly, beyond—there is no privacy), is thoroughly scrutinized by Grendel. I have learned to prepare food with one hand while using the other to keep him at bay. Even when food isn't being prepared, he exerts the right to haunt the countertop in expectation that he will find overlooked morsels or perhaps that food will magically appear.

Setting out food is an act fraught with danger. For a big cat, Grendel can jump high quickly. I can set out food, turn my back for a second, and turn back again only to find a cowcat devouring it.

Eating, too, is more complicated since Grendel came. Every meal is incomplete without Grendel sitting by me, his face a perfect expression of indignation as he expects at any moment I will surrender and hand over my meal to him.

With some foods it becomes an actual tussle for control. Grendel loves cheese. The smell of it drives him into paroxysms of frenzied delight. As I slice the cheese, he's poking his face in so close that I'm afraid I'll take off a bit of his nose. When I go to eat it, he paws at me and mewls. I don't know if I'm helping or making it worse when I give him small bits of cheese to keep him occupied while I wolf down what I can. It's actually curtailed my cheese eating, which is probably good for my cholesterol.

You might be thinking by now that I'm a pushover. You might be right. However, I do try at times to keep Grendel under control. I tried a few tricks at first to keep him off the counter when I prepare food. The tried and true method of shouting "Scat!" while clapping my hands is a complete bust. Grendel just looks at me with an expression that says, "You must be kidding."

At a loss, I finally bought a large industrial-grade squirt bottle. The first time I employed it, I had to squirt him until he was nearly soaked through before he gave up and jumped off the counter. I thought that would fix him for a while at least, but he no sooner hit the ground and gave himself a few licks than he launched himself back onto the countertop. He doesn't give in easily.

Who's bed is this anyway?

The next challenge was determining who gets the bed. I'm still struggling with this issue.

On the day I brought Grendel home, I went out to PetSmart to get all the cat furniture I thought I needed. One item was a nice, large cat bed. The perfect place for him, I thought. He's never slept a moment in it.

The first night, he bounded up the stairs at bedtime and found a spot on the bed. The best spot. Right in the middle. The Immovable Object has nothing on the cat who's found his place. Try as I might, I couldn't make the little furball accept a spot on the side. I could nudge him over, but I always seemed to wake up in the middle of the night to find myself nearly falling out of bed, while Grendel was sprawled out in the middle.

I finally managed to trick him by setting out a faux fur thingummy (for a lack of a more technical term) on the edge of the bed that he is drawn to. He's not clever enough to know how to drag it to the middle of the bed, so as long it sat at the edge, he'd jump up, knead the faux fur as he purrs, and eventually settle in and sprawl his ample self where he was out of my way.

Of course this arrangement couldn't last forever, but that's another story for a later post.

Cat and mouse

The final battle of wills is over desktop computing. Even as I type this, a large cow-colored cat sits nearby, brooding over every keystroke and mouse click.

Cats don't understand computer use. They understand my other activities—and especially my inactivities, such as watching TV. They spend most of their lives inactive; they can relate. But the computer leaves them at a loss for comprehension.

Several times while I work, Grendel will pop up on the desk and walk across the keyboard or stop and stand in front of the screen. Or, he'll just sit on my laptop.

Sometimes, he'll start the kind of distractions he once tried as ploys to get me out of bed (except that with me being vertical, he can't scientifically apply weight to my chest). I'll hear a rattle of something he's fiddling with to break my concentration or he'll start rubbing his face on the monitor.

Mostly, however, he just finds a spot to lay down and slowly sprawl. As he sprawls he'll push away at the keyboard with his legs until it's in my lap.

Other times he'll curl up around the mouse so I can't use it.

I have every expectation that Grendel will pursue our battles of wills until we're both older, slower, and grayer. Why shouldn't he? So far, he's winning.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Serendipity Part 1: The adventure begins

I live with cats. It seems to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. I house, clean, feed, and entertain them and they indulge my need to house, clean, feed, and entertain something. It's a perfect symbiosis.

I used to sleep in, now I'm up at 5:00 AM or earlier. I used to be out all the time, now I'm a homebody. I used to be finicky about hair in my food, now I can't recall what food tastes like without a seasoning of feline follicles. I used to be able to sit down, get up, and move about the house at will, now I attract an immobilizing pile of cats atop me whenever I sit.

But I wasn't always my cats' catspaw. Not so long ago I was a free human. And then I went looking for bookends.

I bought a townhome in 2006. A pristine townhome without scratch marks on the walls, stains on the carpets, or fur embedded into every nook, cranny, and crevice in the place. After moving in and surveying my new kingdom, I determined that I needed some nice bookends to hold up a few collectible books atop a small bookcase. The bookends needed to be as distinctive as the books: a couple of mid-19th century tomes on Egyptology, a century-old set of books on naval warfare, a collection of Robert Burns poems, an old, old copy of Prisoner of Zenda. Then I remembered a fossil shop in the Seattle neighborhood where I used to live.

I left work early one day to head up to the Greenwood neighborhood where the fossil shop was. I hoped to find a nice set of bookends with fossilized trilobites or some such embedded in them. But on arrival, I discovered that a Greek deli stood on the old site of the fossil shop. Not a happy outcome. In the words of a sign that used to sit in the fossil shop's window, coprolite happens. No fossil bookends for me.

Stymied, I let my gaze wander about the street until my attention was arrested by the sight of PAWS Cat City annex. And then it came to me: kittens! I thought a brace of kittens would be just the thing my new home needed. I strode purposefully across the street only to stop at the front door when I was accosted by the sign reading CLOSED.

Undeterred, I came back the next day early enough to get in before closing. I filled out my paperwork and went into the little front room where the kittens cavorted. I wasn't interested in adopting an adult cat. Unfortunately, all the kittens in the place were already adopted and just awaiting spaying or neutering.

As I stood uffishly in the kitten room wondering what to do next, I heard a persistent meow reverberating through the shelter. Little did I know then that I would hear that high-pitched, insistent, unremitting mewl again and again. Innocently, I inquired of the PAWS staff as to who was making all that noise. I was lead to the back corner of the shelter where about six cages were built into the wall. In one of them sat a two-year old black and white cat who was clearly not happy with his lot. The name on his paperwork read "Oreo" and when I crouched down to look into the cage, he looked back at me imploringly with his big green-yellow eyes and stuck his paw out through the front of the cage. This was a sign. I was about to forego coprolite for kitty roca.

I have to say, however, that I had never looked with aesthetic approbation on black and white cats. They were just so bovine. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by him. It was too late in the day to visit with him or adopt him, so I put a reserve on him and made an appointment to come back the next day.

When I arrived the next day, Oreo was in a back room ready for my visit. I arrived expecting the same enthusiasm he showed the day before. But when I entered the room, I found him sleeping with no inclination to pay me any notice at all. I tried to pick him up, he just went inert. I petted him, he couldn't care less. I flailed about with cat toys on sticks trying to catch his attention, not happening. I talked to him, he didn't listen. I stayed there for a long time trying to provoke or inspire a reaction. I figured he might be shy. Little did I know I was mistaking disdain for diffidence. I kept expecting someone on staff to come by. I finally opened the door and poked my head outside to say, "Um... Is anybody there?" When staff came back to me and asked how it went, I could only relate that he had excelled himself in ignoring me and then I surprised them by saying that I wanted to adopt him anyway.

The only problem completing the adoption came when the staff went to put him into a cardboard carrier. I said to the staff guy helping me that his paperwork said he was 17 pounds. The staff guy said that's impossible, but when he lifted Oreo to put him in the carrier, I thought he would herniate himself. The carriers are intended to be one size fits all, but Oreo stuck out from the opened carrier like a muffin top and no amount of cramming would put him in. I had to borrow one of the shelter's larger metal and plastic carriers to get him home.

Feeling a little apprehensive about what I'd just committed myself to, I shlepped Oreo in his carrier back to my car, stopping a few times en route to rest because, after all, he was 17 pounds. When I got to the car, I put the carrier on the passenger seat and rechristened him "Grendel," a name I'd predecided on for a pet, dog or cat, some time before. As time went on, I learned that no cat was ever more aptly named. Either the name found him or he grew into it.

He mewled all the way home and walked about the house mewling once we got there. I thought he might be looking for someone. He'd been in the shelter for maybe three months. It was likely he was looking for the kids he used to live with. Eventually he settled down on my dining table and let it be known that he, Grendel, was now master of the house.

I didn't realize it then, but I had crossed over from freedom to servitude. Once a free agent, I was now a bipedal humanoid cat-minder unit. One of millions around the world  who sacrifice time and autonomy to cater to the whimsy of creatures who know they are your superiors in every respect. And I loved it. Quite by accident, I had become a cat-lover, an ailurophile.

And Grendel was only the start.