ode to a selfish cat, from a selfish lady

Posted: December 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

bingWhen G and I were preparing to become homeowners last summer, one of the very first things I did (being finally no longer subject to a landlord) was let my sister know that we’d be happy to take Chester Bing off her hands.  This was a great relief to her, as she and her family were in the process of downsizing into an 800 square foot home.  A few months later, Chester left my sister’s little house full of kids and three boisterous dogs and came to our little 800 square feet that houses just the two of us and two meek bunnies in a cage.

Chester Bing first came into our family seventeen years ago.  The day of divorce court, I was out driving and rescued a tiny kitten out in the middle of nowhere along the road with its head stuck in a tin can.  I got out of my car, caught the poor thing, removed the can, and carried it to the porch of the lone nearby house and left it there, presuming that was its home despite no one being around to answer the door that day.  From the moment I left that kitten, I NEEDED A KITTY.  Shortly thereafter my parents had kittens ready for adoption in their barn; I took two little boys home pretty much the first day they were old enough to leave their mother.  We named them Nezzie Pop and Chester Bing.

At that time I was renting from my parents, so getting kitty permission was no biggie.  Later our lives shifted and kitty permission wasn’t such an easy thing with other landlords; in the years since then, Chester and Nezzie were passed all around the family.  You know your family loves you when they take your darn annoying cats that they never wanted in the first place, just because you ask.   The cats eventually landed at my sister’s place and at some point in time Nezzie slipped out and disappeared for good, at which point they discovered in his absence that he’d been the source of the especially vile stench in the litter box area.  I’m sure their relief was great in the house smelling better, and Nezzie was such a sweet and extra-pretty kitty (though dumber than a box of rocks) that I think we all took comfort in supposing some stranger found him on their porch and snatched him up and he was surely happily stinking up someone else’s home now.  Every time I visited my sister’s house, I looked forward to pets with Chester, who would collect as much attention from me as could be managed until the herd of dogs chased him back into hiding.

Of the two cats, Chester had been the one with brains and personality from the get-go.  In those early days when we first had the cats, Chester took great delight in finding ways to annoy me.  He was creative in his approach; one of his favorite things was to walk along the barstools in the kitchen, dragging his tail sideways across the counter and staring at me from across the room.  I’d yell and run to chase him off, being no fan of pet hair in food areas, and he’d take his time getting down, escaping literally at the last millisecond as my hand reached to swat him.  He also had special radar to detect visitors who loathed cats; he’d lavish special attention on them no matter how many times I tried to shoo him off.  He’s always been a naughty one.

Chester has been in our new house since maybe a week after we moved in, so something like three months now.  He’s an old geezer now – I did the research, and 17 is something like 84 years old in cat years.  His personality that was ornery in his youth has evolved into a sort of Oscar the Grouch vibe in old age; happily for me, Oscar was my very favorite of all the Sesame Street characters, so that evolution delights me.  He walks around talking in a crotchety old voice pretty much all the time, even when he’s trying to “charm” pets out of us.  He doesn’t even HAVE a “nice” voice, as far as I can tell.  With Chester Bing, it’s all crank, all the time.

I read along the way that “excessive vocalization” can be a sign of dementia in cats; at this point, I’m fairly certain what we’ve got on our hands is a crabby old dementia cat.  He doesn’t just talk once in a while – he goes on morning, noon, and night.  If we allow him in our room at night (we don’t anymore), he speaks up in the wee hours when it comes to his attention that we’ve failed to pet him for practically HOURS now and this must be immediately remedied.  Since he’s now locked out of our room at night, he paces the halls singing single notes hundreds of times over in the wee hours.  During our waking hours, he stands under our feet hollering, even when he’s been fed and petted.  He’s a great student of acoustics; having studied our house quickly, he knows the couple of spots where his meows are amplified to the point he can practically make the entire house shake when he hits certain points of pitch and volume.  He studies these ranges constantly, singing “the song of his people” at all hours.  Last month when we were out in the back yard preparing for Sukkot, we discovered that with all the doors and windows closed, we could easily hear Chester’s yowling clear back in the alley, some 40 or more feet from the house.  It makes me wonder what our neighbors think of us, since he basically never stops hollering.

The other thing that makes me sure we’re dealing with dementia is the battle about the kitchen table.  This cat will attempt to leap up there sometimes five or six times during a single meal, even when he’s got his own fresh bit of canned cat food in his bowl.  I know 100% for sure my sister didn’t put up with any such nonsense for one minute, and when we had him before this was not an issue.  So I can only assume he’s in the “losing my mind” stage of life and has forgotten his manners and lost his ability to learn from repeated rebuttals.  So we try to factor dementia in as we deal with him.  We try to be kind and gentle while we’re being firm (okay, I’M being firm…G is “the cat’s patsy,” as I tell him laughingly most days.)  We try to do preventative stuff to avoid the problem – if there’s only one of us at the table, we build a “wall” of boxes on the other side of the table to keep him away.  We try to help Chester (and ourselves) to avoid negative interactions as much as possible.

I’ve known for a lot of years that God will use anything and everything in our surroundings to teach us about ourselves and others (mostly ourselves) if we are watching and listening for it.  Chester Bing is a daily reminder about the nature of selfishness.  The dude is a jerk, I’m here to tell you, and if I didn’t love him so much I’d hate him a lot.  Everything is always about him, and he’ll accept no other possible world view.  Every interaction is about what he can get out of us.  The battle to force holding and petting is relentless, and he yells at us when we’re not surrendering on that point, even on our midnight trips to the bathroom.  When he’s not trying to vault onto the breakfast table or in the basement making the house shake with his howls, he’s lying on the floor behind my kitchen chair full out on his side, his face pointed at the ceiling, bitching about the lack of attention.  This and the fact that he fills every surface and all the air in our house with cat hair makes him a difficult roomie, to put it mildly.

I see myself in all these things.  I see my need for everything to be about me.  I see my self-seeking nature, my selfish perspectives, my self-serving decisions.  I see my tendency to complain entirely too much.  And I see my tendency to make messes wherever I go.

Despite all the things that make me want to murder him, in the end I really love this cat.  I enjoy holding and petting him (on my terms, not around-the-clock) and I get a kick out of watching him.  I am even more humored than annoyed by his kvetching.  And this too is a reminder to me that I am loved even amidst all the reasons I am unlovable.  It’s a great source of comfort to me, and it helps me every day in the practice of extending grace where I’d prefer not to.

I don’t suppose we’ll get to have Chester Bing for a tremendously long time, since he’s already so advanced in his geezerhood.  While we’ve got him, I’m deciding every day to enjoy the ride, and to be grateful for the chance to give him a quiet, dog-free retirement home for what is likely the hardest part of his journey:  the transition from life to beyond.

It’s a pretty good gift to get to give.  And I’m soaking up the part of it that is a gift to ME with all my might, ‘cuz I’m selfish like that.


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