His name is Smokey. And he’s beautiful. Sleek gray fur, slender and lithe. He’s really a very attractive little guy.
And he’s awful.
I’ll be the first to admit it; I am not a cat person. When I was a kid, we had a cat (Rue) and a dog (Prancer). The cat was okay–my brother liked him. But Prancer was mine. And Prance set the bar so high, it’s hard to imagine another pet matching her. I named her–as a puppy, she sort of pranced around; I had no idea it was also the name of one of Santa’s reindeer, but then she had puppies, and going with the theme, they all got named things like Comet and Cupid and Donner. Prance was loyal and kind and lovable. Not a beautiful dog by any means–part toy collie, part sheep, if memory serves. But in every other respect, perfect.
But my wife grew up with cats. Her maiden name was Mason, so they had a cat that purred a lot, and so named it Purry Mason–she says it took her years to figure out why grown-ups laughed when they heard her cat’s name. Kids do that. The dog prances, so Prancer; it purrs: Purry. I had a friend in Indiana who was named Harry Barker; so of course, another smart aleck friend had to name his dog that. I had another friend who got one of those Vietnamese potbelly pigs. She named it Sir Francis Bacon. One of the things my wife and I apparently had in common as children was a knack for unintentionally funny pet names. Then we got married and started having cats. At one point, we had one cat named Ibsen and another named Strindberg. They didn’t get along.
Right now, we have two cats. They don’t get along either. Trouble is fat and sweet and dim–she’s a fairly agreeable cat, as cats go. But Smokey is obnoxious.
For one thing, Smokey loathes Trouble. On those rare occasions when they find themselves in the same room, Smokey hisses at her. Not with much malice, at this point–his hisses have become pro forma with time. But he never doesn’t hiss.
Smokey yowls. Incessently, loudly, constantly. He especially likes to yowl late at night outside our bedroom. His other favorite time to yowl is immediately after I am comfortably seated in my favorite chair, ready to write. He’ll get it into his head that he wants to go out, and he makes such a scene about it. He never purrs, and although he will very occasionally condescend to let Annette pet him, he really hates me. It’s mutual, believe me.
Since I’m stuck alone home with him during the day, I’ve been experimenting with him and music. I can’t write without music playing, and I’ve learned that he HATES Arcade Fire. Put on The Suburbs, and he sprints for the door, yowling. On the other hand, he likes REM. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals–he hates. Aimee Mann–he’s down with. One friend suggests we try him on Cat Stevens. I think instead I’ll try Three Dog Night. (Rimshot). Thing is, I want him to dislike my music. When he goes out, he’s out–he’s not inside, bothering me. He’s outside, where possibly our magpies will torture him. (I could write a novel on the subject of Smokey and the magpies.)
Plus, he poops on the carpet. On our bed, on folded laundry, in corners and rugs. Just the other night, Annette came to bed late–I was 97.43% asleep. She didn’t want to wake me up, but thought she’d briefly turn on a light. Good thing she did–Smokey had left a little present on the pillow. So of course, that meant we had to get up and remake the bed.
And when a cat is elderly and incontinent, it means there’s a problem, and a pooping cat is a problem with one very specific, and quite decidedly permanent solution.
But we took him to the vet, who told us that Smokey, though clearly ill, may be curable, and with some (expensive) medicines, and some (expensive) different cat food, recovery was possible. Getting the medication meant a trip–by me–to Salt Lake to pick it up. I am, let’s remind ourselves, the one who doesn’t like him. But, you know? My wife loves him. My daughter loves him. He’s a living creature we have invited into our home, a creature for whom we have taken responsibility.
And he really is very good-looking.