May 9, 2009

Guest post by Black Bear

How Mean Cat Got Her Mean  

As I’ve said on the forum and elsewhere, I live with three cats.  They do have names, but as I’m not good at naming things, and I’m even worse at calling things by their proper names once named, I generally refer to them as Big Cat, Mean Cat, and Orange Cat. Big Cat is rather obviously named; he’s one of those enormous soft black-and-white tuxedo cats who weighs nearly 20 lbs and would spend all day cuddling if he could. Orange Cat used to be called New Cat, but I’ve had him over three years now and he’s gotten fairly settled.  So he’s now monikered with his most striking feature, which is that he’s a marmalade tabby and fairly indisputably orange.  But Mean Cat, my only female cat, is a gorgeous rabbity-soft grey/brown calico, slightly rotund, and when people first meet her they ask, “Awwww!  Why do you call her Mean Cat?” as they reach out to pet her. 

Well, usually that question has been answered for them before I can even say “You might want to rethink that petting thing.”  A quick hiss, out come the claws, and I’m standing ready with band-aids and apologies for my shell-shocked guest. She is, without a doubt, the most unreservedly bitchy animal I have ever met in my life.  Despite having reached the ripe age of 14 (nearly) and being a bit pudgy, she can still strike quicker than a snake when provoked.  She doesn’t just sharpen her claws on the furniture; she actively manicures them, so that within 24 hours of my having trimmed them for her, she has nibbled and worked them back into talons of hypodermic precision, ready to deploy at a moment’s annoyance.  And she finds EVERYTHING annoying.  People who want to pet her head.  People who want to stroke her back.  People who want to touch her tail–ooh, that’s the ultimate offense.  Even I don’t touch Mean Cat’s tail without a damn good reason.  She hates children.  She hates dogs.  But more than anything else, Mean Cat hates other cats.  Two of them in particular. 

When Mean Cat first came to live with me, I didn’t know she was mean.  She was a Found Kitten–found, specifically, by the side of the road on a dark summer night on a lonely road near an industrial complex.  I was returning from the video store–the good video store, the little one in Zionsville which has long since been paved over in favor of a chain restaurant, or something–and I had two friends with me, both out of town guests.  The somewhat grainy headlights of my ’74 VW Bug picked up a little blodge of something on the margin as we were sweeping around a curve, and I said, “Holy crap, was that a baby possum?”  “No,” said E, “It was a kitten.”  #@%$, I thought.  Now I HAVE to stop.  Of course I had to stop.  Good People do not leave kittens on the side of the road, so obviously far from their point of origin–the nearest house was nearly a quarter mile off.  So I stopped, and got out, and walked back to the tiny shivering handful of cat that was now wobbling in my direction.  I picked her up, walked back to the car, and handed her to my friend C in the backseat, as E professes to not like cats.  The drive home was punctuated with tiny frantic mews, and quiet murmurs of “Ow.  Ow.  Owww. Ow,” from C, as she was apparently clawing the living hell out of his knees while I drove.   This trend continued when I took her for her first vet visit, wherein she spat, hissed, and windmilled her claws at the very nice veterinary gentleman–who to his credit said, “Oh, she’s ADORABLE, she’s GORGEOUS, hello sweetie!” even as she was trying to put his eyes out right there in the exam room.  Of course he didn’t really need to worry–she wasn’t much larger than a tennis ball at that point.  But still, it seemed reasonable that she might resist being examined against her will, and I didn’t figure that she was necessarily Mean.  She liked ME, and she didn’t mind my parents (I still lived at home at the time) and how could anything that adorably small, fluffy, and cute be Mean? 

Little did I know.  I moved to Chicago for grad school, the year after I got her, and we got a cat-friendly apartment in East Rogers Park.  As I was gone, at classes and the library, for large chunks of the day, I’d come home and she would fling herself at me with pitiful “I missed you, it was so loooooonely” eyes.  So I figured the ideal solution would be a two-cat household.  My former employer had a farm cat who had just had kittens, and among all the female tabbies was one male tuxedo cat, painfully cute and not yet spoken for.  So when the kittens were old enough I drove down to Lafayette, picked him up, and brought him back to Rogers Park.  “Look!”  I said.  “I got you a friend!”  She sized Tiny Cat up, gave it a few seconds’ thought, then promptly tried to eat him. I intervened, figuring that a shakedown period in the relationship was perfectly natural.  However, her pure, white-hot hatred of her new roommate endured without changing one iota as the kitten transformed himself from Tiny Cat (who adored her despite her constant batting at his face and vitals) to Big Cat, who is sweet but dumb and remains painfully clueless as to why this chunky ball of angry grey fur still clips him in the face whenever he walks past. 

The only thing that has softened Mean Cat’s attitude toward Big Cat at all, in the dozen years they’ve been sharing space in this house, was the arrival of Orange Cat.  Orange Cat was also a foundling, but in the way of many tabby boys he is gushingly affectionate and sweet-tempered with people and cats alike.  Naturally, Mean Cat can’t STAND him.  He’s worse than people who want to touch her.  He’s worse than Big Cat, who at least leaves her alone most of the time now.  She despises every inch of him from nose to tail, and whenever he’s within a foot of her she hauls off and socks him, with a hiss for good measure.  It’s a mark of Orange Cat’s temperament that he takes no regard of this whatsoever, and moments later will be cheerfully rubbing his cheek against her flank in an affectionate manner.  She finds him utterly horrifying, and strives to let him (and me) know it at every turn.  I’m amazed every day that I’ve not come home to find him enmeshed in some kind of Rube-Goldberg style trap of Mean Cat’s devising, with a note attached saying “PLS REMOVE.  THX.”  

I love her with all my heart and soul.  But by the gods…. she is MEAN.


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