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.