OK, so I'm pussywhipped. And before you get the wrong idea, let me clarify: I just can't say no to my cats. When it comes to Zora and Tista, I'm a complete pushover.

Did I say anything when she kicked the books out of the shelf to make room for herself? No.
But that may have been because I really enjoyed seeing her chew the hell out of the MLA Handbook cover.

Let's rewind. Last week, my computer started to freak out. (As I type this, Zora has jumped across me, behind the keyboard, onto the monitor and is now sitting on the tower of my partner's computer, which evidently offers the best view of the outside world. Very very cute. But also somewhat disturbing, given the following story…) So the computer is going haywire, BIOS insisted it needed an update, the update was found, the computer updated, and blimey, that did no good at all. The "c" key no longer typed, and though we aren't often aware of the letter "c" per se, it's a relatively difficult letter to do without. And I'm no Georges Perec. Anyway, things went straight to hell from there. The computer started making that ominous clicking sound that tends to mean hard drive collapse (and I know this because it happened to me last year), and the computer was no longer functional. (This is why there was no column last week.) So I took it, as fast as I could, to the emergency computer doctor. Whimper, Whimper.

The computer doctor said that indeed, it sounded like the hard drive, and that it would take a few days. I mentioned that I suspect my cat's ass might be at fault; it was shortly after she'd sat on the keyboard that these problems had developed, but I wasn't sure it was a causal connection… And as he explained, it very likely could have been my cat's ass, but not because she was typing anything with it; instead, its weight on my keyboard - which, since it's a laptop, is directly above the hard drive and all the other important stuff - could have depressed the reading device into the hard drive, causing it to crash. Great.

I keep trying to tell myself she's not laughing at me here...

"You need to keep the cat off the computer," he said.

I said, "Oh yes, of course." But I wasn't sure I would. Or that I could.

On the surface, it's a rather odd contradiction in character that I can't say no to my cats. Ordinarily, I'm pretty good at asserting myself. My nursery school teachers told my parents that I was assertive and had "leadership skills," which my mother, years later, interpreted for me, quite reasonably, as "a nice way of saying you're bossy." Having taken self-defense courses (verbal as well as physical) has taught me a lot about knowing my own limits, asserting them, and enforcing them when necessary. When I teach, I have a reputation as being strict instructor - not to say that my students don't like me, but they do know that I'm a hardass. (I firmly believe that the problem most of my students have is that they've never had anyone really expect something of them, let alone asked them to meet high standards, and one of their most important college lessons is that they can, in fact, meet those standards.) And socially, I'm pretty straightforward; no one really tries to push me around, in part because my friends aren't the kind who would, and in part because it wouldn't really work so well anyway.

But then there's the cats. I'll walk into my house after having reiterated to a student that I do not accept late papers and I don't care if Mardi Gras was all that and a bag of chips that's no excuse, ready to stomp through the house in a purposeful fashion…and there's Tista, standing at the door to greet me.

"Veyoo," he says, in a high pitch meow. "Veyoo!" I assume in cat language this means "Hello" or "please feed me" - or, more likely, both, since I don't think cats distinguish an awful lot between social niceties and wanting food. And then he comes and puts his paws on me and looks up at me with his sweet little white rimmed eyes… And suddenly, I'm the evil witch meeting Dorothy's pan of dishwater, melting inexorably under the force of, well, of a housecat.

Really. Could you say no to that cute face?

I don't know why I won't assert myself when it comes to the cats - why I prefer not to set limits, which of course means that then I don't have to enforce any limits either. In part, I'm a sucker for cats and always have been; if the cat wants to sleep on the bed, then the cat sleeps on the bed, and the cat is not disturbed because the cat is sleeping, and so I won't move, even though lord knows it's a hell of a lot easier for the cat to get to sleep than for me. But that's not the point, somehow. I love having the cat near me, and if Zora sits on my lap, then the lap must stay there for her, even if that means not getting up for a book or a drink.

Should she be in the file box? No. Did I say anything? Maybe halfheartedly. But then I noticed she'd filed herself under "CATS" (really), and then I just ran to get the camera.

Of course, I will, when I really have to, set limits. I don't miss appointments because my cats wanted to be petted. So it isn't a question of not being able to set limits; it's that I don't want to. I love petting the cats. I get calmer when one of them is sleeping on the bed. I love when they come and sit on my lap. And often, I prefer to sit there with them instead of getting a book, or lie in contorted positions with one cat behind my knee and the other one by my neck instead of spreading out in the bed (well, half the bed) without them. And I think that mostly, I'm ok with that, even if it means other people might mock me.

But I'm going to have to start setting a few limits, starting with the computer. Zora is adorable, but I can't have her breaking my hard drive. And I'll start with that one, and maybe build up to a few others, like not contorting in bed quite so much for them, or getting up to get a book even if there's a cat on my lap.

Definitely not part of the solution...

But what it boils down to is that generally, I prefer having the cat there, even if it means some discomfort. Because the comfort I get from the cats makes up for a lot.

Though it does not quite make up for a broken hard drive.



Ah, Cats

One of the most difficult experiences many cat owners face is giving cats a bath. Most cats - the odd few who actually like showers excepted - hate water. My theory is that's because they know that they look utterly undignified and silly when their fur is wet and matted down, and cats love their dignity (though they love food more). When I was younger, we had to bathe one of our cats, Lillan. Once.

We only did it because we absolutely had to. Lillan had this habit of drinking out of the toilet - a habit that's hard to break a cat of if you have two kids in the house who never remember to leave the lid down. Whatever; we didn't much care about that, until she was in the bathroom while my brother was taking a piss. She was intrigued by this, apparently, and decided to go take a closer look.

Now, my brother, being a boy, had the lid up.

Lillan, however, did not calculate her jumping trajectory to account for this fact.

So she fell in.

My brother zipped up in what must've been record time and called for the rest of the family. When we figured out what had happened we all had to try very hard not to hurt ourselves laughing so hard.

My mother, ever practical, directed my brother and myself to give the poor cat a bath.

Daniel and I, fully clothed as we were (though we might've put on extra sweatshirts), climbed into the bath with the cat. The door was locked. The cat fought tooth and nail. Cats can make themselves awfully big if they're trying to make you believe they would never actually fit in a bathtub...

In spite of being in jeans and long sleeves, we both got big ol' scratches. We did finally get the cat washed, however, which was the key point.

For reasons I no longer recall, once we got her wet, bedraggled and pissed-off (in two ways) self out of the tub and tried relatively unsuccessfully to towel-dry her, we decided that it would be a good idea to use a blowdryer to dry her fur.

Blowdryers make an awful lot of noise. And when we turned the blowdryer on her fur, I think Lillan thought we were trying to kill her. The only way we saved ourselves was by opening the bathroom door and letting her run out, far, far away from us, to cower in a corner underneath the couch and lick her wet fur, staring balefully at us when we tried to go near her.

She got over it, of course, more quickly than Daniel's and my scratches healed. But we never tried bathing her again.

And she learned to stay away from the toilet when it was in use, which was, at least, a step in the right direction...

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May 1, 2002

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