Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is a post about cats.

I cannot overstate how strange my cats are.  

I’m not sure if they were exposed to radiation in utero, or if they were inducted into an apocalyptic brainwashing cat cult as kittens, or if they’re actually aliens – but whatever the cause, they have manifested some baffling habits and tendencies in the two years since I adopted them. Really, really baffling. 

Their root problem seems to be a base misunderstanding of the relationship between cause and effect. Most animals I have encountered have at least a cursory understanding of how this thing causes or is at least related to this other thing. If I beg for food, I will be fed. If my person throws a ball, I should chase it. If my person has a laptop out, I need more than anything else to lay on that keyboard. If my person takes out a leash, it means it’s time for walkies. 

For my cats, this thought process looks very different. For them, the cause-effect paradigm moves from something linear and concrete into the realms of alchemy, transmogrification and quantum mechanics as telekinesis. 

They demonstrate their consistent misguided understandings of the natural world in several ways, mostly concerning their control of both food and my actual physical presence. 

First, food. This quirk is mostly exhibited by the more fearful and generally anxious of the two cats. Anxious cat seeks consistently to control and manipulate his surroundings, from knocking things off cabinets to strategically relocating all of his toys to places where I tend to step blindly in the mornings before I’m thoroughly awake. My route to the bathroom each morning is like Vengeful Kitty Legoland. 

But anxious cat enters a new field completely concerning his food. My cats mostly eat at night, when I’m asleep, which means that by morning, their bowl is empty. As I’m fuzzily preparing for my day, trying to make sure my argyle is right-side out and that my shoes match, they flick around my ankles, mewling piteously, twining between my feet and trying in their own furry, nonlinear way to herd me downstairs to replenish their supply. 

Inevitably, when I get to the kitchen at last and push their huddled, anticipating forms away from the bowl so I can pour in new kibble, there is already other stuff in the bowl. Any by “other stuff,” I mean an incredibly random assortment of small objects from every minuscule crevice of my apartment. Pony tail holders, rubber bands, a random bow from last Christmas, envelopes, twisty ties, pipe cleaners, thumb tacks, the Arc of the Covenant. Literally all the random things that ever randomed. 

I think I’ve figured out his reasoning. Anxious cat considers himself a budding alchemist, imbued with the power of transforming a non-food substance into food. It’s just that he doesn’t know what that non-food substance is yet, so he has to keep trying any and all other things he can feasibly move to see if they, when deposited in the food bowl (which he clearly understands as magical), indeed become food. 

So, essentially, anxious cat wanders the house, absconding with every reasonably-sized thing he can, and placing it neatly in his bowl. I can just see it: him, pilfered item in his teeth, creeping up to his bowl in the night – placing it primly within – sitting back neatly and still, breathlessly anticipating the change – thinking in his heroic inner cat-voice, “THIS ARE FOOD??” – and then drooping his ears in disappointment as he realizes his experiment has, again, failed, and that he must start again in his eternal quest to generate edible deliciousness from a collection of hair ties and paperclips. 

The other cat, whom I shall refer to as squeaky cat due to her inability to meow like a real kitty (she instead just produces an adorable assortment of piping squeaks), has a thing for clothes. Last time he was here, my dad had to screw a board over the entrance to the little support tunnel under the bed to prevent the cats from going back there and yanking all of my clothes out of the backs of my drawers and spreading them helter-skelter around the house. This, though, did not solve the whole problem: squeaky cat has learned how to open the drawers from the outside. 

If I’m gone for too long beyond my regular workday, squeaky cat and anxious cat open all my drawers and empty them of – well, drawers. When I get home, my unmentionables, socks, pajamas, and tupperware (from the kitchen cabinets) will be spread up and down the stairs, across the sofa, piled on the bedroom rug, and hanging from the cat post. It’s like I live with poltergeists. Every thing that was orderly when I left is in a state of chaos and entropy and flaming wreckage when I get home. Every. Day. 

But it’s worse when I’m for a holiday back home and leave the cats in the care of a sitter. I think, for the first few days, they just pine for me. Then anxious cat will start thinking about his “THIS ARE FOOD??” experiments and, due to his magical transitive alchemy powers, believe that some manipulation of my clothes will summon me home from whatever limbo in which I have clearly been imprisoned because if I were free, I would, of course, be home cuddling with them. 

Over spring break, I went home for about a week. When I returned, late on a Sunday night before school resumed the next day, I dragged my suitcases upstairs, sweating and tired and dirty – and found my fanciest evening gown laid out on my bed. This gown is stored inside a zipped cloth wardrobe on the other side of the house, inside a zipped garment bag

The cats, in some helpless fit of attempted owner-summoning, had gone through two layers of zippers, pulled a gown off a hanger, and dragged it all the way across the house, up onto the bed, and spread it there, neat and flat with the halter strings dangling alongside, in all its glittering splendor, in the hopes that doing so would somehow magically render my absence ended. There was no shed fur on the dress as there would be if they had slept there, and the dress is to heavy for one cat to drag it alone. They literally worked in tandem to practice cat magic. 

But, hey, maybe their ideas aren’t so misguided. Maybe anxious cat considers his experiments successful every time I fill the bowl again; maybe squeaky cat thinks her weird cat fashion show really did bring me home. Maybe they actually are magic. Oh, God. My cats are magic. I have magic cats, guys.