Readers who have scanned my bio have already heard of my love for cats, while those who know me personally would describe it more like idol worship. At this point I’ll spare everyone the debate and just admit that my fondness for felines verges on addiction or obsession, while shrugging off suggestions that I should make some attempt at reform or recovery.
Like others with my affliction, I’ve had a lot of cats over the years. Some of them were not literally MY cats since I would hold, pet, and play with them without the benefit of a license, ownership papers, or even a common-law understanding that I was responsible for their support, but as they say: Why buy the cat when you can get the meow for free? Besides, more than one of my cats—and by that I do mean my very own cats—were borrowed or stolen from me over the years—one of them by the wife of my high school principal who cunningly lured Gato to her lair with heavy cream and then convinced him he’d be happier living in their two-story ranch home on the hill than he would be under the steps of our mobile home.
Since losing Gato to Mrs. H. in 1983, I’ve had roughly twenty other cats as pets. Mostly they were garden variety felines—gray tabbies, orange tabbies, gray torties, brown torties, gray tuxedoes, black tuxedoes, solid black, solid gray or solid white—with standard equipment (four legs, two eyes, ears, nose, and tail) although now and again I’d acquire one with missing, extra, or defective parts.
For example, there was Festus, a gray tabby who was bow-legged, blind in one eye, and—like the Gunsmoke character by the same name—spoke in meandering sentences with a heavy southwestern accent and would generously douse with his signature fragrance the shoes and clothing of any human in possession of a Y chromosome. (Okay, only part of that was true, but you’ll have to figure out for yourself which elements are bogus.)
It was always interesting taking Festus to the vet. I say this not because I suffer from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy or have no other useful purpose for the Jarhead’s hard earned salary, but because invariably the person who would call us into the exam room would misread the name on his chart as Fetus, which would cause everyone else in the waiting room look each other with disdain or concern. This would become only that much funnier when the dumbass saying it would shake her head or make a face as if WE were the weirdoes.
Not long after adopting Festus we acquired Electra. She was a fluffy brown tortie who had normal legs, eyes, and toilet habits, but lacked a tail and had an affinity for sleeping in trash bins. Fortunately she would tip them over before climbing inside, or who knows how long it would have been before she found her way home from the landfill to voice her displeasure at our lack of attention to detail.
And then there was Louis XVI, who had long beautiful blonde fur with fine white tips, and a tail so voluminous we suspected he was born to a lion who had shagged a snow fox. Within days of adopting him it became apparent why Nature made him so gorgeous: She needed to ensure that someone would want to provide for him because if he’d had to survive by his wits alone, he would have died moments after weaning.
Of all the cats we’ve had over the years, our all-time favorite is an old female I’ll call the Duchess. I would never admit aloud she’s our favorite for fear of causing her housemates irreparable emotional harm. But since none of them know how to access the Internet, or can read well enough to learn of my bias, I think I’m safe in writing about it.
Despite her nickname, the Duchess actually comes from humble beginnings. Born in a box behind a discarded mattress in a garage in Licola, Italy in 1996, hers is the classic immigrant success story. A black domestic short hair, she was to be named Uhura after the beautiful and elegant communications officer of the Starship Enterprise. But only moments after bringing her home it became obvious that she would never be as graceful as her namesake, so we chose something more befitting her self-assured personality and enormous head and ears.
Since joining our family, the Duchess has put us through a lot—starting with the 12 hour trip from Europe to the US when the Jarhead and I finished our assignment in Naples in 1999, during which she yowled nonstop about, presumably, the food, the water, and substandard accommodations. To be fair, I don’t really know what she was yowling about, but to this day if you put her in a carrier, she will yowl herself hoarse unless you place it directly in front of an air vent and set the fan to hyper drive.
I could go on for hours talking about my cats—or your cats, your neighbors’ cats, or lolcats—but, alas, the Duchess is calling for her dinner, and it’s not polite to keep a lady waiting.