A Cat’s Hand

Photo / Graphic by Roman.

That’s the way my cats regarded me: their obedient hands… mostly… except when they were not… yet that was frequently okay too except cats disapprove of being surprised… but they could never understand why humans were blessed with hands, such clever hands, hands with distinct personalities when paws…

What I had set out to do was examine wrinkles, those rewards for having over-soaked in the bath of life. But I got to thinking of what hands mean to be human and my old cats and here I am, cataloguing memories instead.

Dogs Can’t Climb

What every cat and squirrel knows…

Photo by Roman.

I was going to leave it with just the photo of the tree because it struck me that the photo was essentially from a dog’s perspective. But no dog? No squirrel? No cat? Why, what a bunch of low-down click-bait!

A dogged investigation in the park. Photo by Roman.

So here, as an addendum, is a photo of a neighborhood dog that I took last June when I was taking photos of the 2021 Artists of the Wall. Said puppy seemed convinced that I was up to no good but its human reminded the dog that they had places to go and bones to chew. How is a dog to argue with that?

No New Messages

Fido’s net

Photos by Roman.

…on this doggy bulletin board.

“Huh?” you say?

Look: When a dog pees, it’s never just a matter of Fluphy relieving himself. It’s also a statement that Fluphy was here, and not just that Fluphy was here but many of the other things of importance to an interested dog. Fluphy’s health. Fluphy’s sex. What Fluphy has been eating. Maybe even Fluphy’s mood. All to be read by Fido and Spot and Puggy and Wee and all and sundry who come with a nose that can see.

And they reply with a pee of their own, maybe as perfunctory as a “like” or as voluminous as a treatise. Or maybe they’re just trolling.

Back in the days when the internet, for most of us, meant a long-distance telephone call to a desktop computer with a dial-up modem, there was a volunteer service that would pick up and deliver messages between message boards. Yep, it was called FIDO Net.

What with the current fad of teaching dogs and cats to speak, maybe pee has become an underground grapevine, a samizdat between the feral and the domestic. Careful! They may eat us all, someday.

But until then, they mostly keep us sane… or maybe just less deranged… Otherwise I might suggest that you author your own message to see what the dogs have to say in reply.

You’ve Got Mail!

Peemail. Photo by Roman.

Post Script:
Don’t believe everything that I’ve written here. However. Dogs and cats do get information from scents, some of which is social and some of which overlaps that which humans gain through conversation and correspondence. But just what “some” is is still a matter of research and speculation.

And yes: People are teaching dogs and cats to “talk” and there is a small community of folks (and creatures) on YouTube where their efforts are documented. Whether it constitutes speech or not is a debatable assertion best left to those who study such things; I don’t know that there is a consensus on the matter. But it seems pretty obvious to me that at least some of the creatures have adapted the process (whether “speech” or not) to signal their desires and needs.

If you’re curious about this, my two favorites are Billi the cat and Bunny the dog.

Billi is an older cat and living proof that you can indeed teach old cats new tricks. But pause (begging your pardon) before trying this with your cat. After all, do you really want to know that your cat can not stand the really great music you are playing or that your Significant Other is making too much damned noise? For a while, “mad” was one of her favorite words.

Bunny the dog is a young whippersnapper with an existentialist bend… or maybe it’s just her humans… hard to say. But she is a genuinely joyful character (as most dogs are) and apparently pretty articulate, though sometimes she babbles. That may actually be one of her more interesting behaviors.

And then there is the question of identity, the conscious “I”. Both Billi and Bunny have confronted mirrors and seem to understand… about like humans confronting quantum physics for the first time. There’s also all sorts of research on this subject, including trail cams posted by mirrors in the wilderness. Some creatures seem to figure it out. Others clearly do not. And with others, it’s hard to say.

It’s an interesting question with implications ranging from religion to ethics to diet to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

For my part, I promise not to eat any dog or cat with whom I am personally acquainted.

Summer, 2001

For all that it was a broke-down slum, a place for the well-to-do to park their money and for hoi polloi to hunker down for the moment, I still remember this apartment with fondness.

Photo by Roman. Bedroom / office, Summer, 2001.

Neither the apartment nor the building nor the photo really deserve that affection. When I moved in, it was a slum with a simmering tenant rebellion. In the quarter century that I lived there, my particular apartment gradually went from shoddy to shambles.

War of the Roaches

Why did I stay?

During the tenant rebellions, we went through two management companies, but the building lost half its tenants. They were not about to toss out paying tenants that year. The third management company had no sympathy for tenants beyond their rent payments, but unlike the previous two, they were at least competent and not actively malignant.

My lease was up every May, but every year the first several months of the year were occupied by one of those projects that happen on deadline whether all the work is done or not, perfect to awaken you at 2 AM with questions like: Will we complete that? Who is going to do this? What if? And on and on… not exactly anxiety but not exactly excitement either. There was little time and little energy for me to be apartment hunting, packing and moving.

Eventually, and with the fifth management company that the building went through in that quarter century, it occurred to me that perhaps I could get a 14 month lease instead of a year. Management was agreeable and the next year I was gone. (Quite possibly they would have been agreeable to a broken lease as well, but I am not by nature a quarrelsome person.)

The building, though, is still there. About a year after I left it was converted into condominiums. The idea of purchasing any apartment in that building is mildly mind-boggling, seeming about as foolish as all the time I spent there. For a one bedroom, the apartment was surprisingly small (somewhere around 550 square feet if I remember correctly) and neither the twisty front stairwell nor the back porch entrance were suitable for moving  furniture of any size. A recliner, for example, might or might not have made it through. Take the legs off that table!

I suspect any fondness is inspired by… not memories of youth but of middle-age.

It’s come to that, eh?

But maybe also cats.

The Landlord

The management company decreed that there should be an inspection of all the units in the building, just the safety appliances you understand, just a moment of your time, you need not even be home and truly we’d rather you were not. And so it was that I was home to receive that knock at the door for that brief inspection, truly brief, no longer than a rectal exam but alas even less pleasant…

I exaggerate.*

Yet it did leave me feeling rather venomous toward the company and that brought to mind a long gone poetry ‘zine that I had subscribed to back in the day when I had hallucinatory aspirations to be a poet. I saved it for this poem by the late John Dickson. I saved it for just an occasion like this. I should have saved it with the aspiration to write as well as this:

From “Poetry &”, December 1976, scanned by Roman.

Poetry & was edited by JoAnn Castagna. It was printed on newsprint and folded to letter size, an inexpensive way of printing a larger press run. I can imagine distribution being something more than a chore. In any case, I don’t recall the ‘zine lasting much beyond Volume 1.

Voilà. With this post, I’ve had a revenge of sorts, the best kind: mostly imaginary.

* Also, it was as much me as them. Regardless, Dickson’s poem addresses, in a general way, the relations involved.


doggerel about a cat

The catnip bird is carefully
Returned to me, who has been so
Careless as to let it fly across the room.

“Is it not good that you have a
Hunting cat, my dear and merely human?”
(he paused to lick his balls)

“Don’t bogart that ‘nip, my friend…
Let it fly again.
But never dare say fetch!”

— Yip

Graphic by Roman.

A Cat Passing in the Night

holes also grow

This happened nearly a decade ago: I had just shut down my desktop for the evening, having finished with some now forgotten project, when I heard the cat.

“!” the cat demanded.

There are no cats in my apartment though once, elsewhere, I had had two. They had been lovely creatures and lovely friends, a family. By that evening they had been dead for about two decades. Their absence has left yet another gaping hole in my life, one that I’ve never attempted to patch or to fill.

“!!” the cat insisted.

Where in tarnation was the sound coming from? I turned away from my work table to face the hallway. It surely couldn’t be coming from the dining room or kitchen. It must be the stairwell.

“?” the cat asked. I could almost hear the implied “please.”

I opened the door. A sable cat, just past adolescence, looked up in momentary astonishment. Then she strode into my apartment, her tail erect in a confident, friendly exclamation. I followed her into the living room where she began an investigation of the boxes beneath the work table.

“Come out, kitten,” I said. “There’s nothing of interest under there.”

She agreed and emerged from the table.

“Come on, let’s find your human,” I said.

The cat accompanied me back to the hallway, a few steps ahead, but diverted to the doorway of the darkened dining room. The air was still fragrant of chicken stewed with rosemary and fennel. She stood for a moment, drinking in the smell. Now this was interesting!

“Let’s go,” I reminded her.

The cat turned and left the apartment.

Without direction from me, she began to climb the stairs. Just before the first landing, she paused to look back (“Are you coming?”). I reached out and she stropped herself against my hand, hard, and purred loudly. She was clearly pleased and confident that I’d open the right door for her.

In fact, I had no opportunity to do so. At that moment one of the apartment doors off the floor above opened. A slightly plump yet comely young woman emerged, a neighbor I had never met.

“Have you misplaced a cat?” I asked.

“Oh yes!” she said and ran down the stairs to the landing. “Oh kitty!” she cried as she scooped up the cat. “Where did you go? How did you get out?” She ran back up the stairs with the cat. “I was looking all over for you and I couldn’t find…”

The door closed: thump. Click, click, snick, said the locks.

And there I was, left behind in the middle of the stairs, thinking, “Bye bye, kitty. Bye bye.”

The cat and I never met again.

(Photo / graphic by Roman.)


Looking for Love in the Wrong Place

Wherein a horny leopard tries to seduce her own image. Or maybe she’s just practising.

“French photographers Anne-Marie, Xavier HUBERT-BRIERRE and their friend Michel GUISS DJOMOU installed six large mirrors (1,2 m x 2,5 m) in the Gabonese jungle near Nyonié. In order to film the reaction of wild animals from different angles as they encounter their reflection, the group also installed cameras equipped with motion detectors in front of each mirror. Just as in humans, self recognition in mammals in not an innate ability. The ability to recognise one’s own reflection is the result of a training process that little by little allows the human, and some rare mammals or primate to understand the mirror’s properties.”

Trail side cameras operated by motion detectors have become quite the tool for ecologists, naturalists, animal behaviorists and generally nosey humans. Add mirrors to the equation and you create quite the interesting set-up. This group has recorded interactions between mirrors and leopards, chimpanzees, gorillas, elephants, palm nut vultures and others. It’s endlessly fascinating. You can find a great many more videos at their YouTube channel.