Saturday, mar. 15, 2008 | 0 commentsshell out my $6 and get my in/out privileges, via rubber stamped paw print, and enter another dimension. Immediately I am urged, with a very heavy hand, to buy a program (only $3!) and if I do so, I'll get a really super deal ($1 off the cover price!) on a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine. Articles such as "How to Put Your Cat in Your Will," "Feline Blood: Unleashing its Mysteries," "Bengal Mania" and "Heart Worm--Cause for Concern?" call out to me. A woman who has been thumbing this month's issue chimes in with a heart-felt recommendation--she's been reading it for years and benefits immensely from its many useful tips.
I move on, subscriptionless, to the main arena, where the cats and owners wait to be called for their turn in the sun. Row upon row of cages are set up, each cage its own kitty-sized fantasy: throw pillows, lamé drapes, and to-scale furniture. Varieties of the "your affection may spread infection" sign appear in each cage--you, the unwashed masses, must never touch the royalty. And by each cage sits a guardian, almost always a woman. There is a faint male presence--the husband-in-the-background or the occasional competitor with the look and cadence of Mr. Rogers--but it's invisible in the company of Female Cat Lovers. Jersey-pantsuited, gold-sneakered, high-haired ladies perch near their baby and receive their public. Some sketch or knit. Some gobble wedge fries and Stauffer's gourmet pizzas. But most talk cat. They exchange advice and anecdotes, negotiate stud fees, and sell kittens at $400 a head.
Immediately I am pulled into a "conversation." Two other civilians are already hostages; we exchange fearful, knowing glances as a feline-fevered lass launches a description of the Christmas-themed living quarters she designed for her two Balinese champions, Fric and Frac:
...my husband built the roof and he put in a real chimney and i got this real cute santa and put him in it and i cut all these icicles out of white felt and made it look like it was snowing out and i sewed these two stockings and put their names on it and hung them in the fireplace and they never even teared them down or anything and i made red and green sheets for their bed and i was going to put in this sweet little tree but...
When she carts out the photo album, I wander out of earshot, tempted away by the puffy-painted kitty on sweatshirt and cute key chain booth.
Moments later I succumb to the orbital pull of another fanatic. This woman lives for her cats. She has quit her job so she can spend every waking moment with them. She rises at dawn, eager for her day of brushing her cats' teeth and combing their hair to begin. (Never, ever use human paste on cats. It upsets their stomach.) The idea of brushing my cat's teeth without howling, squirming, blood loss...well. But she advises me to present the cleaning to my cat as something fun to do. Sort of talk it up. And while I massage his gums, I must maintain the running pep talk. Soon, she promises, my cat will look forward to these daily moments of intimacy almost as much as I will.
Still unsure, I move on.
A hop-skip-jump away I find yet another proud owner pontificating. She gives her reason for living, an Oriental longhair named "Booger," intense spiffing before each show. This involves three shampoo sessions, each time using a different and very special feline-only shampoo. That is followed by a blow-dry, then a careful trimming around the eyes (allowing the breed's saucer-eyed look of perpetual accusation to truly shine). She never allows them to groom themselves. When asked about the accuracy of rumors that shampoos and blow-drying are harmful for cats, especially since they have their own god-given (I had learned to speak their language on previous ethnographic outings) system for maintaining freshness, she reasoned "how would you feel without your regular shampoo and styling?" Apparently she was too wrapped up in the competition to take in my greasy split ends and 2-inch roots. My off-color "why-do-cats- lick-their-balls-because-they- can-maybe-you're-robbing-your-pet-of-some-fun" comment was left unanswered as the team's number was called and all amiable chit-chat ceased immediately. A few brisk, finishing-touch brush strokes and they were off to ring number five for the longhaired kitten competition, the crowd parting for their importance.
I ride her wake, slipping into the last available seat just as the games begin. One by one, the kitties are brought forward. Baywatch. Rocket's red glare. Miss Cleo Catra. Izzy Furreal. Rock-of-Ages "Pyromania." Mr. Moon of Aqua Stars. San Xavier of Inheritance. Booger. Stretch Limo. Andromeda. All are stroked, stretched, and examined closely by the judge, who is looking for the traits their breeds are known for: certain proportions, correctly placed ears, eye position, coat quality, and over-all health and alertness (tested by a tease from a tinsel-tipped wand).
Sadly, Booger's grooming regimen met with a disappointing 5th Best Kitty ribbon. Mama Booger's friends, clustered around her, assured her that she had been robbed. I could tell by her speechless, crestfallen expression that she agreed. Perhaps these competitive ladies had overlooked the "I am Your Cat" statement showcased on page 4 of this year's program:
Do not think of me as an object to bring you fame in the show ring, my most prized trophy is a gentle touch from you. Do not expect from me a new family of babies every four months. I love my little ones and want them with me so I may teach and play with them for many months as a good mother should. Do not keep me confined in a cage, I am a free spirit, let me live with you in your home. Do not think of me as an unknowing, uncaring or an independent being, for I need you. Accept me as I am, care for me, love me and be my friend, and I will give you in return: a soft touch of my paw on your cheek when you are troubled; a companion when you are lonely; a clown when you are depressed; a trusting loving purring being, content to share your happiness and sorrow.
Let me be with you in our small part of this world, for HE has created you and me. Do not think of me as a simple creature, for I can see angels you can not see. I can feel the vibrations and wonders of the universe you can not feel. I can communicate with you, if you will learn my language, I understand yours.
And when the time comes when I will have to leave you, remember, I will always be with you, for our Spirits are one.Love me. Cherish me. Care for me. I am your cat.
Terrifying, isn't it. Truly alternative. (Very much more so than the shocking hair color, drug experimentation, dark poetry, ragged clothing and surface irony of yesteryear.) The guard has changed. Now a handful of cat-luvin' fools are the riders of the cresting wave; they are the very definition of cutting edge.