What’s in a Cat?

Frisky Tessie-cat

Proof that God has a sense of humor is that he created cats.

We share our apartment with a sleek, black cat, whom we call “Tessie,” a high-strung Burmese (or something thereabouts). I call her my Spooky Cat, because she has always been terrified of any living creature, and a few dead ones.

When we went to pick her up, to take her home, she was hiding behind the couch. Her sister Nicki, just as sleek and just as black, was hobnobbing it up with everyone in the kitchen. My friend Dave and I—not his real name, but the same “Dave” that I mention in the Love-Idiot book—we had to move the couch to get at her, all the while screaming at her to get her ass up here, because we had a fricassee going and nothing to put in it.

No, seriously, we were as quiet and gentle as we could be. But as cats are wont to do, she tried to run away. Fortunately, I was smarter than she was, she being just a kitten and I being an old man in my 20-somethings. So I grabbed her, at which point she attempted to scratch my eyes out.

She was so tiny, only about as big as my hand. “Awww. Ain’t that cute!” I said, overcome with emotion. “She’s trying to scratch my eyes out. Ain’t that the sweetest thing you ever seen?”

She was clearly upset, but I held her and tenderly stroked under her chin and down her belly. I don’t think she ever forgot that, because she instantly became my friend. The Missus, too. We both liked her. So we shoved her in a box with a bunch of packing material—don’t worry; we left air-holes—and took her home.

At that time, we also shared our apartment with a cinnamon tiger named Cheech. (He had a brother Chong, but they had been separated since they were kittens.) Cheech was big and overweight, the cat equivalent of Refrigerator Perry, except not as physically fit, because he hated to exercise. But despite his size, he was also sweet and easy-going, a powderpuff.

When we got Tessie home, Cheech took one look at her and thought, Cool! A new playmate! We’re going to have loads of fun doing nothing that requires physical exertion together!

And in reply, Tessie hissed, “Don’t you come even one step closer, you, big, fat— ORANGE THING!” And then she added, “Or else I’ll scratch your eyes out!”

Cheech did not find that quite so cute and endearing as I had. Instead, in the face of this tiny, black kitten no bigger than my left hand, this two-ton giant of a cat actually shrunk back, managing a defensive hiss of his own before slinking off to hide.

And so began a lifelong friendship. Yeah, it took a couple weeks of Tessie camping out on our bed, which compared to her was the size of the Grand Mesa. And Cheech got pretty lonely, because she positively wouldn’t let him up on the bed to cuddle up next to us, or to sit on our faces while we were sleeping. But she was awful cute, slipping under the covers between the Missus and me and sticking her head out, like she was a real person.

Nowadays, I can always count on Tessie to keep me company during the long, lonely days, by which I mean that as soon as I turn my attention to focus on something I need to do, she sneaks up behind me and meows.

And it’s never a just a friendly “Hello” meow. It’s always a mournful, pitiful “MrrrOWWWW!”

So I’m in the middle of something. I’m busy. And that’s apparently why she needs my attention, just at that particular moment. And I can’t simply ignore her. No. She’s like a 3-year-old kid, badgering, badgering, badgering me, until I finally give in. If I try to ignore her, her mournful, pitiful “MrrrOWWWW!” turns into a long, loud, repeating “MeOOOWWWW! MeOOOWWWW! MeOOOWWWW!” And just when it seems she’s about to take a break, so I might hear myself think: “mOWWWWWWW!!”

Unlike most cats, if Tessie wants my attention, she refuses to just come and get it. Now, Cheech, if he wanted attention, he would just up his flabby, fat gut on top of you, no matter where you were sitting, and stick his smelly mug in your face.

But not Tessie, because she’s a Spooky Cat. In fact, if I try to put her on my lap, she’ll freak out and jump back to the floor. And then she’ll begin again her “MeOOOWWWW! Why aren’t you paying attention to me?! mOWWWWWWW!!”

My only option is to lean over the armrest in an awkward position—the more awkward the better—and stretch out my arm to pet her. And I really mean stretch out, because if I just reach my hand out to her, that’s not enough.

So she’s on the floor, and I’m on the couch, my computer in my lap, half-sitting, half-stretched over the armrest like a rubber band. I’ve managed to reach my hand to within 2 inches of her face, and I simply can’t get any closer. And she whines at me, “MeOOOWWWW! Why aren’t you paying attention to me?!”

“You stupid cat! I’m right here!”


Meanwhile, I really do need both hands to work, because otherwise how can I use my computer. So I take my hand back.

At this point, she props her front paws on the armrest, sticks her face as close as she can get to my ear, and “MEOWWWWWWW!!!”

Now, what was I doing? I got distracted.