Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Interspecies Communication

A year or so ago, when the wife and I first determined that we were moving to New York, I began to contemplate the return to apartment living. I knew that, for me, this was going to be the most difficult part of the transition, as I had spent the previous decade living in a succession of townhomes and houses. I was used to spreading out my stuff over a very large space, not to mention having enough real estate to separate myself from my fellow tenants. The idea of moving into a three-bedroom or even a (horrors!) two-bedroom space was daunting.

I spent the following months paring off large portions of my life. I joined a gym, eliminating the need for our health equipment, and I sold off or gave away my woodworking tools and machines. The wife and I got rid of about half of our books, as well as our king-sized, four-poster bed, and most of our other furniture. We made hard decisions, shedding blankets, old clothes, memorabilia, and all the other detritus that had begun to fill our lives over several years of sedentery living.

By June, we were ready, and could easily fit our lives into a few small rooms. As hard as the shedding process had been, we felt great. We were smaller, sleeker, and ready to roll. No longer carrying layers upon layers of dead weight, we were definitely built for speed.

We didn't count on the cats.

Of course, there had never been any question about keeping them. Jerome, our orange tabby, and Bagheera, our black Siamese mix, were part of the family, and we never even considered giving them away, much less abandoning them. It would be simple, we decided. Just as we would learn to live in a much smaller space, the cats would also adapt.

I'm not sure that the word "adapt" is in the cat dictionary.

Bagheera and Jerome initally seemed happy with the move. They were pleased to see Virginia again and liked the added attention that they got from Georgia. They approved of the sparse decoration of the apartment, and quickly found spaces for themselves. For the first few weeks, they were clearly in heaven. Then the furniture arrived.

All of a sudden, the apartment got a lot smaller, and the cats found themselves desperately trying to stake out their personal space. The walk-in closet where they had previously set up camp was now filled with storage items, and the bedrooms were packed with furniture. The kitchen had things in every cupboard, and all the bedroom closets were filled with clothes. Needless to say, the cats freaked out.

It's worth mentioning that our cats were used to indoor/outdoor living. Whenever the (three bedroom, two storey) house got a little too small for them, they would exit through a back window that we always left ajar. This is also how they went to the bathroom during most of the year, preferring the wide-open spaces of nature's sandbox to the cramped facilities under the stairs.

Now, all of a sudden, Bagheera and Jerome were confined to a tiny apartment and forced to use a smallish litter box in a shared bathroom. Prior to this, the cats had always been fans of the bathroom, viewing it as a venue for a (literally) captive audience. To put it bluntly, they have long since figured out that it's difficult, if not impossible, to shoo them away when one is busy on the toilet. They take advantage of this situation by hopping on the user's lap and demanding to be petted. Visitors to our house soon learn the value of checking the bathroom for cats before attending to nature's call.

The cats were disgusted to discover that the privacy that they had always taken for granted was no longer available. The shoe was now on the other paw, so to speak, and they were quick to voice their complaints. They initially did this by peeing all over the bathroom floor. This, however, did not have the desired effect of making us move back to Blacksburg. Rather, it led to endless cleaning and swearing, accompanied by the occasional veiled threat about a desire for "fur-lined mittens" or "authentic Korean food."

Cats don't easily accept failure, so Jerome and Bagheera upped the ante. They pissed on a few pairs of the wife's shoes and my bookbag. In my case, this required a visit to the laundromat. In the wife's case, this led to the purchase of new shoes, which was a somewhat mixed punishment.

Unsatisfied with the continued miseries of apartment living, Jerome uncovered his master-stroke: he peed on me. One morning, as I was preparing to get up, he climbed into bed, positioned himself, and took a leak on my drowsing body. He then gave me a couple of off-handed donkey kicks and stalked off.

This was a pretty effective wake-up call, and I bounced out of bed. I immediately grabbed the cat and gave him a quick physics lesson as I hurtled him across the apartment. After showering and scrubbing my skin until it glowed an angry red, I bundled up the bedclothes and went to the laundromat.

Jerome and Bagheera soon had a refresher course in species hierarchy as we took off the gloves and dug out the spray bottles. They found themselves barred from the bedroom and the furniture and generally unwelcome in any room that I occupied. Since our apartment has five rooms, this involved a lot of feline scurrying. After about a week of this, I calmed down somewhat, and permitted the cats to again curl up in my lap. However, it was over two months before I let them in the bedroom again.

That was the low point. Since then, my brilliant wife has discovered puppy pads, absorbent sheets that we position near the litterbox. For some reason, the cats are loath to pee on puppy pads. However, if they do, clean-up is very easy. We have also become religious about our catbox hygiene, cleaning it every day. In general, the humans and cats in the apartment do their best to avoid getting on each other's nerves, and interspecies relations are now on a pretty even keel. In fact, last night, I found myself going to the bathroom at the same time as Bagheera. I discovered an interesting fact: cats, like humans, prefer to keep to themselves while peeing. Bagheera stared at a spot on the wall, determined to avoid eye contact. I, of course, obliged.

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  • Wonderfully entertaining story!

    I had a cat pee on me once. Fortunately for him, he had pancreatic cancer, so he didn't meet up with a wall that day. He did however meet up with the vet before the end of the month. We picked out a nice tin for his remains.

    Cats do not always adjust so well to change. Amazing you all had the patience to see this through!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 30, 2007 at 9:48 PM  

  • template! I wondered if I was in the right place at first!

    Yes, the kitties are letting you know they are not pleased...not at all!! LOL!

    By Blogger Claudia, At October 31, 2007 at 8:59 AM  

  • I like the new look! And I love cat stories...even ones that involve bad cats and their pee.

    Tell your wife I said hi.

    By Blogger Mrs Pinchloaf, At October 31, 2007 at 9:58 AM  

  • Reflecting Pool-
    The wife thought that Jerome might have a UTI, but no such luck. He's just a stubborn bastard.

    Incidentally, way to paste a smile on a sad situation. You kick ass!!

    Yeah, the cats aren't subtle. Not at all.

    Thanks! The old look was getting a little oppressive--I needed something brighter.

    And I'm passing your regards on to the wife!

    By Blogger Crankster, At October 31, 2007 at 10:16 AM  

  • All's well that ends well. I'm rooting for all of you.

    By Blogger The CEO, At November 2, 2007 at 12:53 AM  

  • Yeah, fickle beasts cats, and almost as fond of the double standard as your average man. (bit of blatant sexism for you there.)


    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At November 3, 2007 at 10:56 AM  

  • CEO-
    Glad to know that you're not playing favorites!

    I want to make it very clear that I do not have an illicit relationship with my cats!!!

    Excuse the vehemence, but I've been accused before...

    By Blogger Crankster, At November 6, 2007 at 8:31 PM  

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