By Ed Goldman
Because I’m a bit overdue for an eye exam, I thought a recent New York Times article asked if a cat is a “loofah,” not if a cat is genuinely aloof.
I found the notion of using my beloved tabby, Osborn the Magnificent, as a bath sponge to be not only repugnant, but possibly an example of pet abuse. Born on Bastille Day 17 years ago, Osborn may be an ultra-senior citizen but he hardly deserves to be treated as a furry washcloth. However, when I put on my glasses, preparing to write indignant letters—to the Times, the SPCA, PETA and the estate of Dr. Seuss (because surely the heirs of a man who envisioned a cat in a hat would have serious objections to one being used to scrub my armpits, to choose but one of several disgusting examples I could have selected)—I saw the error of my ways. Literally.
The article in question reported that cats are “just as strongly bonded to us as dogs or infants, vindicating cat lovers across the land.” The findings come from an Oregon State University study published in Current Biology. Let’s “unpack” some of this, as they constantly say on CNN when dissecting the alleged Leader of the Free World’s unending tributary of mendacity. (For younger readers: Leader of the free World is how we used to refer to the President of the United States without irony or nausea. And “mendacity” is the key word to understanding “Cat On A Hit Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams.)
First of all, my love for Osborn needed no such vindication. He’s lived with me since 2007, when my then-fiancée moved him into my home, along with her precious little utterly spoiled “tuxedo” cat, Sabrina, which I instantly despised. (She wouldn’t have spoken well of me, either, if she could utter anything but a plaintive screech most mornings at 3.)
In 2012, when my former fiancée (who was about to become my ex-wife) moved out, Osborn ended up staying with me.
That hadn’t been the original plan: my wife was moving temporarily into an apartment house owned by her brother and she was afraid of leaving the two cats alone all day in a one-bedroom place while she was at work. She asked if she could leave Osborn with me “just for the weekend. I’ll find him a home next week.” I said sure. A few hours later, I climbed the steps of my four-story home to go to bed and Osborn scampered upstairs with me, as, well, a dog will. I crawled into my bed and so did he. Then, as I was falling asleep, he threw one of his paws over my neck. He was spooning me. I phoned my wife in the morning and told her to call off her re-lo efforts for Osborn. I may have said something cinematic like, “The cat stays in the picture,” but I’m sure that’s just wistful thinking on my part. Like many of you, I’m at my most articulate long after the occasion to be so has passed.
Osborn wasn’t anything like that. But because his former owner had thought him a brute—Sabrina used to sneak-scratch his face and if Osborn responded, he was sent outdoors—he lived up to the descriptor, flashing occasional hints of feral behavior.
One night there was a terrible storm here in Sacramento and I wanted to make sure my then-wife, Sabrina and Osborn were all cozied in for the night. (Yes, it’s a guy thing.) But Osborn wasn’t in the house—which, as I mentioned, had four stories and enough nooks and crannies to house two other families who’d never have to make eye contact. So I opened every closet door, cupboard and kitchen drawer to find him. Finally, sometime after midnight, I went outside. With howling winds and slapping rains making the whole situation intensely dramatic, I found Osborn underneath the backyard deck, shivering a little, drenched but clearly annoyed when I scooped him up and deposited him in the relative warmth and dryness of the kitchen. I offered him some dry kibble, which he rejected then watched him head back to the door leading outside, all but tapping his feet to hurry up my letting him back into the storm.