T.S. Eliot Must Have Spent Some of That Nobel Prize Money on Cat Pills
Mostly, though, I've known a lot of cats secondhand through knowing cat lovers, and from my external view, I really don't see the tradeoff. Admittedly, I can't touch them for long myself without taking a chemical shower, but even barring that, I have to wonder. Play with them, and they scratch and bite in ways that leave an (often infected) impression. Leave them alone for even two days and your house smells like it contains boxes of shit. They'll jump up on anything you're reading or writing and sit on your face when you're sleeping, et cetera. Beyond that, though, there must be something addictive about them, kind of like tattoos, because I know almost nobody who has contented themselves with a single cat. In a way, I guess this makes sense: if you've resigned yourself to having ruined furniture, you may as well get twice the purring at least. But this has resulted in things like another friend of mine in Tallahassee (one of about six Ashleys I met in the south) who I once found on the phone talking to a friend of hers and sharing tips about how to adminster cat insulin. Two women, and three diabetic cats between them. If this were a human relationship, I'd observe, shake my head and think, "Well, the sex must be amazing." Cats, though: I don't grok 'em.
And yet by some fluke, I've TWICE been forced in the past few weeks into close cohabitation with cats. First I was housesitting for my friend Tracy for a week (Hi, Tracy! You're not named Jen!), where one of the conditions of the deal was that in addition to keeping her two cats fed and alive, I also had to apply eyedrops to the infected left eye of one of them twice a day. "How do I do that?" I asked. "Well," she said, "you can let him into your lap and pet him into a slowly purring, helpless state, and then grab him once he's limp. Or you can do the firm but determined power grab." I went with number two, so I didn't have to wind up taking multiple disinfectant showers. But man, did that cat hate me. Fortunately, although her apartment was lovely, it didn't have many hiding places. She also added, "If the other eye starts to look a little goopy, I've left some cotton swabs and some eyewash you can use. Also, you may notice that the other cat also has a kind of regular brownish-red excretion from his eyes. That's just how he is. Ah, the joys of pet ownership." That cat, Cat #2, who had a tendency to leave brown eye-smears on things, was also quite affectionate. So in many ways I preferred Cat #1.
Now I'm in Vermont visiting one of my oldest friends (I've known him so long, he's actually male, dating to before I knew women were mostly better), and he also has two cats. I am a forgiving person, and though I don't love cats, I generally bear them no ill will. So the deal was going to go like this: Cary would clean the house, and put towels down on the (I guess thickly be-dandered) furniture, and I would stay very still, hopped up on Benadryl, and try not to attract any feline attention. It's worked before, and since I'm from Manhattan, it was absolutely worth it to visit my friend and live like a human being for a few days.) But when I got to his house, I set my bags down on the floor, and he looked concerned and said, "let me get a large plastic container for those. If bags are left lying around, one of the cats pees on it, and it smells awful." Yesterday, he asked me, "Did you need a hamper for your dirty clothes? Because if you leave them lying out, I can't promise anything." Cary's cat ownership has been a boon for the makers of Tupperware and Sterilite.
Ultimately, I guess what I'm saying is that I feel about cats much the same way I feel about Kansas City: "This is an occasionally beautiful place," I asseverate, "but I'm glad someone else has to deal with it." But if anyone ever asks me, "Why don't you get a cat?" it's experiences like this that have hardened my opinion.